Many black people can say that at one point in their lives – particularly in their childhoods – they were called an ‘oreo’ by someone else. An ‘oreo’ is a black person who ‘acts white’ and is thus referred to as ‘black on the outside, white on the inside’. While such jokes may appear to be harmless jabs with no real consequence, they’re actually reflective of society’s narrow understanding of black people and how it manages to infect black communities themselves.
The most important thing to do here is to address the fact that all of this stems from the myth that there is some kind of monolithic criteria that makes up a black person. The idea that black people have to act a certain way to ‘be black’ is damaging as it limits the potential for young black children to follow their genuine interests and dreams. The composition of a ‘black person’ that society has created includes someone who speaks ‘ghetto’, has waves or a high top, wears a wig or weave, has an ‘attitude’, listens to rap, hip-hop, and R&B exclusively and has aspirations to become a sportsman, entertainer or musician. And don’t forget, you’re definitely not black unless you like watermelon, fried chicken, and grape soda!
“The idea that black people have to act a certain way to ‘be black’ is damaging as it limits the potential for young black children to follow their genuine interests and dreams.”
A black person who doesn’t fit this box, a kid who listens to Coldplay instead of Kodak Black, who reads Harry Potter instead of playing 2k or wants to study Chemistry instead of pursuing an athletic scholarship is referred to as an ‘oreo’, ‘bounty’ or ‘coconut’. The reason why this is damaging is because it means that some black children are coaxed into pretending to enjoy things they don’t which means that their true ambitions and interests aren’t fully explored. This creates a lack of diversification within black communities and can (along with other facts such as racial prejudice and an imbalanced education system) be partially responsible for the lack of black lawyers (Source), the lack of black physicians (Source) and the lack of black CEOs in the US (Source).
Similar trends can be found in British industries where diversity in high-skilled industries is depleting. Subconsciously, we are limiting black people to performative professions and roles in society and it needs to stop.
What’s even more reprehensible is the fact that this suppression of potential within black communities comes predominantly from black people themselves. It often derives from an assumption that those who attempt to reach beyond the confines of society’s understanding of a black person are ‘sellouts’ or an ‘uppity black’. To be black, according to some, you have to be entirely down with ‘the struggle’, you shouldn’t see life beyond the estate or ‘the hood’ unless it’s through means of entertainment, music or sports.
“To strip someone of their ‘blackness’ treats us as though we’re commodities, something batch-made and generic and that if you don’t fit a particular set of qualities then “you’re not reaaaaally black, are you?” “
To want to be a writer, a lawyer or (God forbid) a police officer, you’re ‘fruity’ or ‘weird’. To strip someone of their ‘blackness’ treats us as though we’re commodities, something batch-made and generic and that if you don’t fit a particular set of qualities then “you’re not reaaaaally black, are you?”
There are also those non-black people who think of it as a sort of compliment. “You’re not really black” has many other hidden connotations that usually include:
- You aren’t loud
- You are articulate
- You’re well educated
- You were (potentially) brought up in a good neighborhood
- You love to read
- You dress simplistically
- You strive for success.
PSA: It is not a compliment.
I was sent to a private school by my working class parents who scraped the money together for school fees in 2010. Since then, it’s astounded me how much people challenge something as simple and clear as the color of your skin over how you act. I am an 18-year-old, black man from an estate in South London, I aspire to study Politics, Philosophy and Economic at university, I listen to a range of music from Grime, Funky House to R&B, I read profusely and, most importantly, I am blackity black black.