ACTING WHITE by Ron Christie


The Curious History of a Racial Slur
Email this review


A notable black Republican’s jeremiad on African-American self-image.

Christie (Political Science/George Washington Univ. and Haverford Coll.; Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush’s West Wing, 2006) opens with a 1991 encounter he had with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, when he was an assistant to a Republican congressman; she accused him of being “a sellout to your race... nothing but an Uncle Tom!” Meanwhile, the author was mentoring Washington, D.C., schoolchildren who viewed “White DC” as a separate world. “I vowed from that day forward,” he writes, that “I would do my best to eradicate the slur of acting white once and for all.” Christie’s argument is strongest when he explores how the notion of “Tomism” developed historically. He begins by analyzing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, then looks at Reconstruction's failure, the rise of Jim Crow and responses among African-Americans to the Supreme Court's shameful “separate but equal” ruling, including the conflicting philosophies of Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois. Christie seems stricken that, in contrast to Du Bois’ era, when blacks fought for voting and educational rights, now “a large segment of the black community is voluntarily ceding intellectual development without conscience.” His argument weakens when he emphasizes that “the seeds sown by affirmative action over the decades have blossomed into a culture that prides itself on victimization.” Though the author has been castigated by black peers for his Republican leanings—he was an advisor to both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney—he declines to discuss any of the Republican philosophies which many would argue have done great harm to African Americans since the 1960s. Christie's core argument—with its unsettling implications about education and youth violence—is valid, at least on a cultural level. However, his primary grievance is the lonely persecution of black conservatives like himself, Clarence Thomas and J.C. Watts (both mentors to the author). Tellingly, he does not explore his claims with any actual African-American teenagers, and he clumsily assesses the Obama presidency's effects on race relations.

Heartfelt but disappointingly disengaged from broader social realities, except as perceived by the author's party-mates.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-59946-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2010


NonfictionLONG WAY HOME by Bill Barich
by Bill Barich
NonfictionSLEEPWALK WITH ME by Mike Birbiglia
by Mike Birbiglia
NonfictionEXTRA LIVES by Tom Bissell
by Tom Bissell
NonfictionSPENT by Avis Cardella
by Avis Cardella


NonfictionWE WEAR THE MASK by Brando Skyhorse
by Brando Skyhorse
NonfictionPASSING STRANGE by Martha A.  Sandweiss
by Martha A. Sandweiss
NonfictionONE DROP by Bliss Broyard
by Bliss Broyard