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.”
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.
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.