Acting White? Or Acting Affluent? A Book Review of Carbado & Gulati’s Acting White? Rethinking Race in 'Post-Racial' America
27 Pages Posted: 14 May 2014 Last revised: 13 Mar 2015
Date Written: May 30, 2014
Acting White? Rethinking Race in “Post-Racial” America (2013) is the latest installment in Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati’s decade-plus collaboration regarding issues of race and employment. This review lauds the book’s comprehensive treatment of the double bind that racial minorities — especially blacks — experience within principally white institutions. In this volume, the authors expand on their prior employment-centered work to consider, for example, Barack and Michelle Obama’s presence on the national political stage, racial identity and performance in the context of higher education admissions, and racial profiling by law enforcement. With a focus on intra-racial diversity, Carbado and Gulati begin to gesture to the intersection of class (more precisely, the struggle for upward class migration) with blackness in the high-brow settings that are the employment staple for Acting White?'s analysis.
What Carbado and Gulati overlook, however, is intra-racial diversity among whites. While the authors give a nod to aspects of identity such as gender and sexuality, acknowledging that, like race, these may render individuals “Outsiders,” they otherwise treat whiteness as monolithic, as simply the foil for black identity work. In so doing, Carbado and Gulati overlook the struggle for assimilation that poor and working class whites — aspiring, striving class migrants — experience when they seek to integrate these same “white institutions.” The point is that all employees are expected to assimilate to institutional norms that, in elite professional settings, are as much about class (affluence) as about race (whiteness). I thus suggest that the book might have been titled, Acting Affluent?, although that alternative would have been misleading, too, because the identity work expected in these upscale milieu implicates both race and class. Ultimately, neither the title Carbado and Gulati chose nor the one I suggest is very precise because affluent black identity and affluent white identity are unlikely to be identical. While Acting White? grapples with some very complex and potent intersections of race and class, it looks right past many other such intersections, including that of white skin privilege with class disadvantage.
Keywords: race, ethnicity, gender, employment, discrimination, anti-discrimination, socioeconomic class, critical race theory, intersectionality, whiteness, racial profiling, racial identity
JEL Classification: K30, K31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation