What is a sell out? People throw the word around so freely with very little thought as to its exact meaning. Not too long ago Clutch took a look at the “Oreo,” which is apparently more than just two yummy chocolate biscuits separated by white creamy filling.

This issue, we’d like to examine the “sell-out.” We often hear the term used when referring to interracial couples, typically of the Ebony & Ivory variety as well as black people who have interests, lifestyles and/or any other traits that deviate from stereotypical African American customs.

In many ways, the “Oreo” and “sell-out” are synonymous, as the former are condemned for their ‘whiteness’ being sandwiched by a chocolaty façade. Oddly enough, the small percentage of Black folks who dig Nascar, monster truck racing, death metal music, or any other stereotypical “ultra white” activities are rarely mistaken for the tasty Nabisco snack (perhaps because they’re widely ignored).

Clutch’s Risa Dixon put us on to the very meaning of the antiquated slur:

[An Oreo is] A black person who is regarded as having adopted the attitudes, values and behavior thought to be characteristics of middle class white society, often at the expense of his or her own heritage.

And it don’t quit. It’s the classic polarization of Black & White; the vile versus the virtuous. How tragic is it that we live in a day and age when our entire culture is viewed as embracing ignorance, poverty, and narrow-mindedness, as if every culture on the planet doesn’t lay claim to a segment of those who are less fortunate? So, what is a sell-out? Is it an individual who dares to ignore dreadful stereotypes that have bombarded our culture for centuries, or simply a modern day Uncle Tom who upholds the illusion of African inferiority?

It would seem as though there is a difference between a sell-out and a person who freely pursues interests and activities irrespective of cultural mores. Sadly, the history of Africans in the new world is one absent of deep cultural roots, resulting in our identity being assembled from the insane blueprint of our oppressed heritage. Situations tend to get rather turbulent as we struggle to redefine ourselves. It’s no wonder that folks fear having their “Black Card” revoked when making the even the slightest deviation from the unwritten rules of blackness.

If an African American enjoys a wide variety of music, regardless of the artists’ origin, does that make him/her a sell-out? What about a brother or sister who prides themselves on speaking grammatically correct English, subscribes to a lifestyle geared towards academic success, or loves to partake in cold-weather sports? Perhaps it is these individuals who are actually in the process of redefining what it means to be African American.

All knowing Wikipedia (wink-wink) defines sell-out as:

The compromising of one’s integrity, morality and principles in exchange for money, ‘success’ (however defined) or other personal gain. It is commonly associated with attempts to increase mass appeal or acceptability to mainstream society. A person who does this, as opposed to continuing along his or her original path, is labeled a sellout and typically regarded with disgust and immediate loss of respect. Selling out is often seen as gaining success at the cost of credibility.

Why do so many black folks lose respect for an another who chooses to indulge in their inalienable right to ‘do them,’ especially when it’s not at the expense of others’ well-being? Perhaps the label “sell-out” should be reserved for those who personify the term. Russell Simmons has been accused of selling out due to his love of non-black women, despite the fact that he’s one of the few black celebs who is always involved in efforts to enhance African American life. On the other hand, fellows such as Ward Connerly, Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes actively work to do the opposite – which is why those cats are “sell-outs” in every sense of the term.

Next time you’re witness to someone accusing another of being a “sell-out,” try asking that person to articulate how the alleged traitor’s behavior is compromising his/her integrity, or the integrity of his/her people. In the words of Spike Lee: “That’s one of the frailties of the human condition-people fear that which is not familiar.” In all likelihood, the time will come when we are all familiar with living outside the limitations of bigotry – if you look closely, you’ll see that those seeds are being planted every single day.

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  • These are EXACTLY the same kind of questions I have! Well-written, insightful article. I would like to link this page to our site (at The Pantheon Collective). Coincidentally, I have an upcoming book called “Sellout” and it explores issues similar to what’s discussed in this article. You can find a blurb of it here: http://www.pantheoncollective.com/?page_id=29

    Thanks for your time and hope to hear from you soon!