The sociological debate over whether black Americans deprecate academic achievement has been raging for decades now with much heat and little light. The item in today’s NYT Magazine about “The ‘Acting White’ Myth” is no better than any of the other mostly uninformed articles on the topic.
I’ve been following this debate for years. Two years ago, I started a MetaFilter discussion on the topic, and today’s NYT article brought it up again. So I chimed in with my attempt to explain why sociological studies come to different conclusions on the subject of alleged black intellectualism.
The phrase “acting white” was unearthed in the sociological community by professors Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu in 1986. The chief problem with these professors’ findings was one of nuance, and they drew much criticism for their paper on the subject. But in 2002, another pair of researchers attempted to polish Fordham and Ogbu’s thesis with a second study. And here I’ll copy and paste from my comment in today’s MetaFilter thread.
What this second study found was that black students were much likelier to reject a plethora of signal behaviors that typically correlate with academic achievement. It’s not the achievement itself. It’s the act of cultural treachery that comes with it. From the study:
Another young man, now a record producer and rap recording artist, had gone away to Exeter, the elite private preparatory school, and come back dressing and speaking differently from when he left. He was accused of acting white. His interpretation of why former friends in the community were a little