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I Don't "Act White"

Even if you've never been to Detroit, you've heard—through other people, the media and Hollywood—the rumors and stories about how bad it is here. And from that, you've developed a stereotype of the city, the way it functions, and the people living in it. The average Detroit teenager must have horrible grades, come from a broken family, be failing out of school, and be mixed up in drugs, right? Well if that's true, then what does that make the Detroit teenager who doesn't have those problems?

Evidently, it makes him white.

For a while now, probably since the beginning of high school three years ago, I've been called white, or it's been said that I "act white," when I say or do something that doesn't fit my designated stereotype as a Detroit-bred, black male teen.

No, I don't speak in slang and slurred forms of English. No, I do not live in a bad neighborhood where break-ins occur often and houses are boarded up. No, I don't wear my pants around my knees and my shirts three sizes too large. A lot of black teens today call this background and behavior acting or being white.

That doesn't bode well for any of us. Why is being proper, for lack of a better word, considered—by my own people—being something I'm not? If anything, we should want to be known as a group of people who are educated, and who conduct ourselves in a proper fashion—not as people who decided that being that way is a bad thing.

I'd take offence to being characterized that way if I was white, just as any self-respecting black person would take offence to someone saying that being in a gang was acting black. There's no specific way to act white or to act black—there's only one way to act: like yourself.

[Joshua Jamerson is part of the "TIME 11", a group of Detroit area high-school students working with Assignment Detroit. He is a junior at Renaissance High School. Click here for a related story by Taylor Trammell.]

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