Tell me, if you will …

Why is it bad to accuse smart black kids of “acting white” but OK to criticize smart politicians for “acting French”?

What’s the difference between these two cases?

1. Some black children make fun of other black children who display an interest in their studies for “acting white.” That is widely agreed to be A Bad Thing.

2. Chris Suellentrop, Mickey Kaus, and Glenn Reynolds make fun of John Kerry, who answered a Haitian questioner in Haitian Creole, for “acting French.”

In each case, displaying knowledge is taken to be evidence of arrogance and of disloyalty to the group, because the group self-identifies with its ignorance.

Actually, there is an important difference: Suellentrop, Kaus, and Reynolds aren’t poor and socially marginal.

(Just in case you had any doubt about what “acting French” is about, Kaus (October 19, 1:29 am) links it to Kerry’s “wellness” comment. In the debate over health care, the word “wellness” is used to make the point that designing a better system to deliver and pay for professional treatment for people with diagnosable diseases is not the only way, or even the best way, to improve physical and mental health. It’s a silghtly subtle point, and a rather bold one. And, as Kaus demonstrates, easy to make fun of if you think that subtlety is un-American or unmanly.)

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com