The 'Acting White Theory' Doesn't Add Up

Show Me the Numbers: Why the academic achievement gap is not rooted in black anti-intellectualism.

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To further examine evidence for the Acting White Theory, I analyzed raw data from a CBS News monthly poll. This special-topic poll surveyed more than 1,000 high school students nationwide on their perception of being smart and their opinions about smart students (i.e., students who study hard and receive good grades).

In the most pointed question, students were asked, "Thinking about the kids who get good grades in your school, which ONE of these best describes how you see them: 1) cool, 2) normal, 3) weird, 4) boring, or 5) admired?" Response differences between black males, black females, white males and white females were not statistically different; however, at 17 percent, black males were the most likely to consider such students "cool."

Among the other students, there were 11 to 12 percent who considered students who make good grades "cool." The vast majority (about 60 percent) of all students, regardless of race or gender, considered kids who make good grades "normal," and rarely considered them to be "weird" or "boring."

Another question asked, "In general, if you really did well in school, is that something you would be proud of and tell all your friends about, or something you would be embarrassed about and keep to yourself?" Eighty-nine percent of all students said they would be "proud and tell all." At 95 percent, black females were the most likely to be proud of doing well in school. At 17 percent, white males were the most likely to be "embarrassed or keep to self" or report that they "did not know." Corresponding feelings of embarrassment or dissonance for black males was 10 percent and 4 percent for black females.

The final question that related to feelings about being smart was, "In general, how would your friends react if you couldn't hang out because you were doing homework or studying for school? Would they 1) be supportive of you, 2) make fun of you or try to disrupt you, or 3) they wouldn't care one way or the other?" At 45 percent, black females were the most likely to say their friends would be supportive, with black males and white females tied at 40 percent. White males were significantly lower. Only 24 percent of white males reported that their friends would be supportive.

What Black Kids Think About College

Consistent with other national surveys, the CBS News poll found that most black students want to go to college. Across races, about 65 percent of males and 75 percent of females planned to go to a four-year college after graduating from high school. More black students, regardless of gender, planned to go to vocational or technical school, and more male students, regardless of race, planned to go to the armed forces.

When responding to the question, "Would you say most of your friends probably will or probably will not go to college?" black male and female students were significantly more likely to respond, "Will not." Forty percent of black males and 31 percent of black females stated that their friends probably would not go to college, compared with 23 percent of white males and females.

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When asked the question, "What do you think your friends would like more: If you go to college, OR if you don't go to college, OR your friends would not care either way?" black students were more likely to report that their friends wanted them to go to college. White students were more likely to state that their friends would not care either way.