Cultural invalidations: Deconstructing the "acting White" phenomenon among Black and Latinx college students

Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol. 2019 Oct;25(4):451-460. doi: 10.1037/cdp0000288. Epub 2019 Apr 25.


Objectives: The accusation of "acting White" (AW) represents a common cultural invalidation that youth of color encounter during adolescence. However, few studies have examined the broader implications of AW beyond academic achievement and it is unclear how multiple racial/ethnic groups internalize this invalidation during late adolescence. The present study addresses these gaps by examining the meaning ascribed to AW among a diverse sample of youth and evaluates whether interpretations of AW vary across demographic factors (race/ethnicity, gender).

Method: We utilized a subset of participants (n = 282; 47% Black; 53% Latinx; 68% female) from the Minority College Cohort Study-a longitudinal investigation of minority college students. Qualitative responses were analyzed through content analysis.

Results: The AW construct was defined by four themes: speech/behavior, style/social preferences, cultural ideologies, and academics/success. AW was described most frequently in terms of speech patterns, while achievement/success was the least commonly described theme. Several important demographic distinctions are also highlighted and discussed.

Conclusion: Results indicate that AW invalidations are interpreted in a similar fashion across diverse populations. Our sample defined AW in a manner that critically examined rigid racial/ethnic norms and stereotypes within U.S. society. Findings indicate that cultural invalidations, such as AW, should be examined more broadly because they are relevant for diverse populations and may yield significant psychological implications for individuals targeted by these threats. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adolescent
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Minority Groups / psychology
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Identification*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult