John Uzo Ogbu (May 9, 1939 – 20 August 2003) was a Nigerian-American anthropologist and professor known for his theories on observed phenomena involving race and intelligence, especially how race and ethnic differences played out in educational and economic achievement. He suggested that being a "caste-like minority" affects motivation and achievement, depressing IQ scores. He also concluded that some students did poorly because high achievement was considered "acting white" among their peers. Ogbu was also involved in the 1996 controversy surrounding the use of African American Vernacular English in public schools in Oakland, California. The 2000 book Eminent Educators: Studies in Intellectual Influence focused on him as one of "four intellectual giants of the 20th century."
Early life and education
Born in the village of Umudome in Ebonyi State, Ogbu attended Hope Waddell Training Institute and Methodist Teachers' Training College. He enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, but soon transferred to the University of California, Berkeley to study anthropology, earning his baccalaureate in 1965, his master's degree in 1969, and his Ph.D. in 1971. He taught at UC Berkeley from 1970 until his death.
Ogbu observed that in some cases groups of people of the same race but located in different countries manifested different ability and/or achievement levels according to some measures. He studied how, why and to what degree this might be so. He concluded that U.S. Americans could be divided into "voluntary minorities" (groups of immigrants who chose to come to the United States, and their descendants) versus "involuntary" or "caste-like" minorities (descendants of groups of persons who found themselves in the United States, or under United States jurisdiction, against their will). In Minority Education and Caste (1978), Ogbu argued that "involuntary minorities" often adopted an "oppositional identity" to the mainstream culture in response to a glass ceiling imposed or maintained by white society on the job-success of their parents and others in their communities. Therefore, he reasoned, some non-whites "failed to observe the link between educational achievement and access to jobs." 
In 1986 Signithia Fordham co-authored, along with Ogbu, a study which concluded that some African American students in a Washington, D.C., high school did not live up to their academic potential because of the fear of being accused of "acting white." Ogbu further echoed these findings in his 2003 book Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement (which summarized his nine-month research on the educational gap between white and African-American students in the Shaker Heights City School District located in the upscale Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio). He concluded that these students' cultural attitudes hindered their own academic achievement and that these attitudes are too often neglected by parents, educators and/or policymakers.
Though the study's conclusions gained a popular foothold and have been espoused by such noted figures as Bill Cosby, a later study obtained different results. In 2003, Karolyn Tyson, a sociologist, and William Darity Jr, an economist, both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, directed an 18 month study at eleven North Carolinian schools which found that white and black students have essentially the same attitudes about scholastic achievement; students in both groups want to succeed in school and show higher levels of self-esteem when they do better in school. The results of this study have been published in a book by Stanford sociologist Prudence Carter
A 2006 study titled An Empirical Analysis of "Acting White" by Roland G. Fryer, Jr. at Harvard University and Paul Torelli suggested that the phenomenon has a statistically significant effect on black student achievement, but only in certain school contexts. In public schools with high interracial contact and among high achieving students, there was an effect, but there was little or no effect in predominantly black or private schools.
African American Vernacular English
In 1996, Ogbu played a prominent role in the debate about the utility of African American Vernacular English. As a member of a task force on African American education in Oakland, California he noted that linguists (e.g., William Labov, John Rickford, Walt Wolfram, and others) have long distinguished between the "standard" or "proper" English required in the classroom and black vernacular English spoken at home and with peers. Ogbu encouraged teachers to become familiar with and to make use of this variety (called "Ebonics" by the Oakland Unified School District) in helping speakers of African American Vernacular English acquire Standard American English in addition to their "home" variety.
He died in 2003 after suffering from a post-surgery heart attack at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center. He is survived by his wife, Marcellina Ada Ogbu, and his children Elizabeth, Nnanna, Grace, Cecilia, and Christina. He was buried in Nigeria.
- Carter, Prudence (2005). Keepin' It Real: School Success Beyond Black and White. Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 29. ISBN 0-19-516862-3.
- NY Times article
- Acting White manuscript
- Berube MR (2000). Eminent Educators: Studies in Intellectual Influence. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-31060-2.
- Beuchling O (2012). Bildung als Adaptation? John U. Ogbu und der kulturökologische Ansatz der Minderheiten- und Sozialisationsforschung. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Berlin. ISBN 978-3-86573-2.
- Brandes S, Dundes A, Nader L. In memoriam: John Ogbu. via University of California.
- Freedberg L (August 23, 2003). John Ogbu—Expert on Ethnic Success. San Francisco Chronicle.
- Gardner-Kitt Black student achievement: The influence of racial identity, ethnic identity, perception of school climate, and self-reported behaviorespse.ed.psu.edu/schoolpsych/126
- Gibson MA, Ogbu JU (eds.). Minority Status and Schooling: A Comparative Study of Immigrant and Involuntary Minorities. New York: Garland, 1991.
- Goleman D (April 10, 1988). An Emerging Theory on Blacks' I.Q. Scores. New York Times Education Life, p. 23.
- Maclay K (August 26, 2003). Anthropology Professor John Ogbu Dies At Age 64. UC Berkeley News.
- Ogbu's Theory (December 1996). Special issue of Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4.
- Ogbu JU (1978). Minority Education and Caste: The American System in Cross-Cultural Perspective. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
- Ogbu JU (1981). Origins of Human Competence: A Cultural-Ecological Perspective. Child Development.
- Fordham S, Ogbu JU (1986). Black students' school success: Coping with the "burden of 'acting white'." The Urban Review.
- Ogbu JU (1992). Understanding Cultural Diversity and Learning. Educational Researcher.
- Ogbu JU (1987). Variability in Minority School Performance: A Problem in Search of an Explanation. Anthropology & Education Quarterly.
- Ogbu JU (2002). Cultural Amplifiers of Intelligence: IQ and Minority Status in Crosscultural Perspective, J. M. Fish Race and Intelligence: Separating Science from Myth. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Ogbu JU, Davis A (2003). Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement. Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers. ISBN 0-8058-4515-1.
- Ogbu JU, Simons HD (1998). Voluntary and Involuntary Minorities: A Cultural-Ecological Theory of School Performance with Some Implications for Education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly.
- Staff report (November 21, 1997). "What 15 Top Anthropologists Are Working On Now." The Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. B7-B8.
- Tang HH (2003) New Arrival Students in Hong Kong: Adaptation and School Performance sunzi1.lib.hku.hk/hkuto/record/B29803810