“Women account for less than 4 percent of fatal police shootings, but according to our analysis of the Post’s data, almost 20 percent of the women fatally shot by police are Black, even though Black women make up only around 13 percent of women in the U.S. And since 2015, when the Post first began tracking fatal police shootings, at least 51 Black women have been killed. Half of those women have gotten some national media attention in the 60 days surrounding their death, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of media reports, but in most cases, the coverage is limited — five stories or fewer.”
“Researchers at Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland analyzed nearly 300 phrases used as Twitter hashtags between August 2014 and August 2015, a year after the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Though these hashtags are often used to name Black victims of police brutality, not one specifically mentioned a Black woman or girl.
“Mainstream narratives are often still written by men or are tailored toward a male perspective,” said Keisha Blain, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the president of the African American Intellectual History Society. “For these reasons, among others, Black women’s experiences with police violence are too often marginalized.””
“While the “acting white” theory used to be pretty popular to bring up in debates about black academic achievement there’s a catch: It’s not true.
At best, it’s a very creative interpretation of inadequate research and anecdotal evidence. At worst, it’s a messy attempt to transform the near-universal stigma attached to adolescent nerdiness into an indictment of black culture, while often ignoring the systemic inequality that contributes to the country’s racial achievement gap.
Yet McWhorter — despite being a scholar of linguistics, not sociology — has become one of the primary defenders of the “acting white” theory and has dismissed those who debunk it as “pundits” who are “uncomfortable with the possibility that a black problem could not be due to racism.” But the people who challenge it are not pundits — they’re academics who’ve dedicated significant time and scientific scrutiny to this theory. Here’s why they say it’s a myth.”
“The “acting white” theory — the idea that African-American kids underachieve academically because they and their peers associate being smart with acting white, and because they’re afraid they’ll be shunned — was born in the 1980s. John Ogbu, an anthropology professor at the University of California Berkeley, introduced it in an ethnographic study of one Washington, DC, high school. He found what he dubbed an “oppositional culture” in which, he said, students saw academic achievement as “white.”
The acting white theory has since become a go-to explanation for the achievement gap between African-American students and their white peers, and is repeated in public conversations as if it’s a fact of life.
Authors such as Ron Christie in Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur and Stuart Buck in Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation have written entire books (heavy on personal observations, anecdotes, and theories) dedicated to the phenomenon.
Even President Barack Obama said in 2004, when he was running for US Senate, “Children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”
“Despite abundant personal anecdotes by African Americans who say they were good students in school and were accused of acting white, there’s no research that explicitly supports a relationship between race, beliefs about “acting white,” social stigma, and academic outcomes.
Even those who claim to have found evidence of the theory, Toldson explained, failed to connect the dots between what students deem “white” and the effect of this belief on academic achievement.
“Observing and/or recording African-American students labeling a high-achieving African-American student as acting white does not warrant a characterization of African-American academic underperformance as a response to the fear of acting white,” he said.”
“A prime example of a shaky study on this topic, according to Toldson, was Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer’s 2006 research paper “Acting White: The Social Price Paid by the Best and the Brightest Minority Students.” Published by Education Next, the paper purported to affirm Ogbu’s findings by using Add Health data to demonstrate that the highest-achieving black students in the schools Fryer studied had few friends. “My analysis confirms that acting white is a vexing reality within a subset of American schools,” he wrote.
But the numbers didn’t actually add up to support the “acting white” theory, Toldson said. To start, the most popular black students in his study were the ones with 3.5 GPAs, and students with 4.0s had about as many friends as those with 3.0s. The least popular students? Those with less than a 2.5 GPA.”
“Plus, Toldson pointed out, even if the results had shown that the highest-achieving students at all schools had the fewest friends, that would have indicated a connection between grades and popularity, but wouldn’t have supported the core of the “acting white” theory itself. “Methodologically, the study has to make the ostensible leap that the number of friends a black student has is a direct measure and a consequence of acting white,” he explained.”
“In 2009, the authors of an American Sociological Review article, “The Search For Oppositional Culture Among Black Students,” concluded that high-achieving black students were in fact especially popular among their peers, and that being a good student increased popularity among black students even more so than for white students.
McWhorter has dismissed this study as one that “encourages us to pretend,” because he says that black kids may be dishonest when asked if they value school. It’s unclear why the suspicion of dishonesty only applies to black students and not the white students who were also studied. He’s also written the self-reports can’t be trusted because, according to reasoning he attributes to Fryer, “[a]sking teenagers whether they’re popular is like asking them if they’re having sex.” That may be fair, but it doesn’t explain the stronger link between being a good student and self-reports about popularity for black teens than for white teens.
In 2011, Smith College’s Tina Wildhagen, in the Journal of Negro Education, tested the “entire causal process tested by the ‘acting white’ theory,” using the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, and found that “the results lend no support to the process predicted by the acting white hypothesis for African-American students.”
“in a study published in the American Sociological Review in 1998, James Ainsworth-Darnell and Douglas Downey, using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, found that black students offered more optimistic responses than their white counterparts to questions about the following: 1) the kind of occupation they expected to have at age 30, 2) the importance of education to success, 3) whether they felt teachers treated them well, 4) whether the teachers were good, 5) whether it was okay to break rules, 6) whether it was okay to cheat, 7) whether other students viewed them as a “good student,” 8) whether other students viewed them as a “troublemaker,” and 9) whether they tried as hard as they could in class.
Findings like these fly in the face of the idea that black students think academic achievement is “white” or negative, or that it’s something they must actively shun for acceptance and popularity.
When Toldson analyzed raw data from a 2005 CBS News monthly poll of 1,000 high school students who were asked their opinions on being smart and other smart students, he saw this reflected again.
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?” The responses of black boys, black girls, white boys, and white girls were around the same. But black boys were the most likely (17 percent) to consider such students “cool.”
Students also answered this question: “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.” Black girls were top among this group, with 95 percent saying they’d be proud. Meanwhile, white boys, at 17 percent, were the most likely to say they would be “embarrassed or keep to self” or report that they “did not know” how they would handle the news that they were doing very well academically.
As recently as 2009, researchers have revisited the theory and confirmed the findings of pro-school attitudes among black students.”
“Fryer’s research found that the very highest-achieving black kids were the least popular — but this likely had much less to do with beliefs about acting white and more to do with the fact that the very smartest kids of any race tend to suffer social stigma.
“In my own research, I have noticed a ‘nerd bend’ among all races, whereby high — but not the highest — achievers receive the most social rewards,” Toldson said. “For instance, the lowest achievers get bullied the most, and bullying continues to decrease as grades increase; however, when grades go from good to great, bullying starts to increase again slightly. Thus, the highest achievers get bullied more than high achievers, but significantly less than the lowest achievers.”
In a 2003 study titled “It’s not a black thing: Understanding the Burden of Acting White and Other Dilemmas of High Achievement,” published in the American Sociological Review, researchers concluded that the smartest black and white students actually had similar experiences and that the stigma was similar across cultures”
“Jamelle Bouie gave his take on the distinction between these two experiences in a 2010 piece for the American Prospect:
“As a nerdy black kid who was accused of “acting white” on a fairly regular basis, I feel confident saying that the charge had everything to do with cultural capital, and little to do with academics. If you dressed like other black kids, had the same interests as other black kids, and lived in the same neighborhoods as the other black kids, then you were accepted into the tribe. If you didn’t, you weren’t. In my experience, the “acting white” charge was reserved for black kids, academically successful or otherwise, who didn’t fit in with the main crowd. In other words, this wasn’t some unique black pathology against academic achievement; it was your standard bullying and exclusion, but with a racial tinge.””
“(McWhorter has vigorously defended the “acting white” theory against academic critics primarily by citing 125 letters he says he received from people describing their experiences that reflect the theory. While he argues that accounts in these letters should be accepted without question, he disregards data such as the scientific study responses indicating pro-school attitudes among black kids because of his view that “personal feelings are not reachable by direct questioning.”)”
“some high-achieving black kids — like kids of all races — experience social stigma. These individual facts are painful, and they resonate with people in a way that makes it easy to blur what’s missing from the “acting white” equation: an actual, causal connection between the accusations of acting white, social stigma, and lower academic outcomes. There isn’t one.”
“The median Black household has a net worth of only $24,100, a fraction of the $188,200 in net worth the median white household has, 2019 Federal Reserve data shows.
And these numbers don’t always show the nuance of financial instability for many Black families. A quarter of Black households have zero or negative net worth, compared with a tenth of white families, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The reasons for the wealth gap are complicated and multi-layered, with racism, historical injustices, structural inequality, and educational disparities all playing a huge role. So do career choices, marriage status, and inheritance levels for Black people, which are starkly lower than for white people. The practice of redlining, for example, under which the government would not guarantee loans for Black Americans who were trying to purchase homes, as well as the effect of mass incarceration on Black representation in the workforce, are just a couple of examples of how African Americans are systematically prevented from building wealth.
Consequently, here’s the harsh reality about being Black in America: The deck is often so stacked against you that the weight of it all can feel overwhelming — no matter your income, your net worth, or how much you’ve achieved. For African Americans like me, systemic inequities and generations of poverty can make it seem like whatever you’ve done is never enough, especially when you know you’ll have to help support relatives or make contingency plans for any number of scenarios out of your control.
The reality is that for those of us able to generate wealth and reach a level of comfort, we are often also financially supporting family members or paying down debt. We simply don’t have that generational wealth that so many white families have to fall back on and start out their adult lives with. Even two people earning the same income can be looking at totally different financial situations based on their race and class: One could be putting money into savings or investing, while the other might be using that same income to pay a family member’s rent or help support an aging parent’s retirement.
I know that people like my mother don’t have any real safety net other than relatives. There’s no inheritance coming. As a result, for far too many Black people, low income and low wealth translate into a lifetime of scraping by.”
“Among Black Americans, it’s not uncommon for those who can to help family members financially: Some call it the “Black tax,” a term commonly used in South Africa that refers to the obligations of first-in-the-family college graduates, professionals, or others who “make it” to assist their family members.
I’m happy to help out my mother by covering her needs when she’s short on cash. But it can be an emotional experience for her to even ask”
“The Senate and Electoral College systematically underweight the votes of people of color — and the judiciary operates directly downstream of those biases. Washington, DC, home to the largest plurality of Black Americans in the country, is excluded entirely from federal representation. The filibuster has historically been used to block or delay anti-lynching laws and civil rights legislation”
“Since 2000, 40 percent of presidential elections have been won by the loser of the popular vote. A 2019 study found that Republicans should be expected to win 65 percent of presidential contests in which they narrowly lose the popular vote, and could potentially win while losing the popular vote by as much as 6 percentage points. And this November, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver calculates that Democratic nominee Joe Biden only has a 6 percent chance of winning the Electoral College if he wins the popular vote by 0 to 1 points, a 22 percent chance if he wins by 1 to 2 points, and less than a 50 percent chance if he wins by 2-3 points.”
“The Senate is even more extreme. In a 2019 Data for Progress analysis, Colin McAuliffe found that the Senate has a 3 percentage point tilt toward Republicans (double the 1.5 percent skew in the Electoral College). And that is probably an understatement — Silver recently calculated that the Senate is “effectively 6 to 7 percentage points redder than the country as a whole.” As my colleague Matt Yglesias points out, in 2014, Republican candidates won 52 percent of the popular Senate vote and gained nine Senate seats; in 2016, Democrats won 54 percent of the vote and gained only two seats; and in 2018, Democrats won 54 percent of the vote and lost two seats.
“Because the president appoints federal judges and the Senate confirms them, these biases are also reflected in the judiciary, where the Trump administration has already filled federal court benches with an unprecedented number of young, highly ideological conservative judges, including two Supreme Court justices.
It’s important to underscore the mechanism that generates and sustains this partisan bias: US political institutions systematically underweight the interests of nonwhite Americans.”
“Analyzing the results of the 2016 presidential election, statisticians Andrew Gelman and Pierre-Antoine Kremp found that “per voter, whites have 16 percent more power than blacks once the Electoral College is taken into consideration, 28 percent more power than Latinos, and 57 percent more power than those who fall into the other category.”
Behind the Senate’s partisan tilt is that it overrepresents people living in small states who tend to be whiter, on average, than people living in larger states. California, which has large Black and brown populations, and Wyoming, a predominantly white state, have equal representation in the Senate, despite the former having over 60 times more people than the latter.”
“this racial skew distorts policy preferences on issues ranging from gun control to the minimum wage to environmental policy. For instance, 48 percent of Americans believe controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting gun rights; however, when you weigh voter preferences as the Senate does — giving equal representation to each state — support for gun control drops a whopping 5 points, to 43 percent.
Why? Because the Senate overweights the preferences of white Americans, who tend to favor gun rights, and underweights the preferences of Black and brown Americans, who tend to favor gun control. By that same mechanism, McAuliffe finds that support for a $15 minimum wage also drops 5 points (from 58 to 53 percent), and a $100 billion yearly investment in green social housing drops 3 points (63 to 60 percent).”
“This is the status quo that Just Democracy’s coalition members aim to change — and they have a few proposals to do so.”
“I was a freshly minted 26-year-old U.S. diplomat, stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Mexico, just a few miles from the border. Ciudad Juarez and El Paso are effectively two halves of a single metropolitan area of over 2 million people, and the line between them is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. Residents of one side frequently drive over the border to shop, go to the doctor or dine at restaurants. All the diplomats working at the consulate visit El Paso frequently; some even send their children to school on the Texas side, and cross the border as often as twice a day for school activities.
If you’re working at the State Department, like I was, and traffic isn’t bad, your trip across the border usually just takes a few minutes. The border between Juarez and El Paso has two lanes set aside for “trusted travelers,” people who travel frequently into and out of the country and who’ve been vetted in advance by the U.S. government. This group, which includes business travelers and diplomats, carry a pass known as a SENTRI card, issued by CBP, which is supposed to allow “expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.” You’re directed to special lanes and hold your card up to a camera a few feet in front of a booth manned by CBP officers. Most of the time the officers wave through travelers using SENTRI cards, so the whole process takes just a few seconds. But if the officers have questions about the identity of the travelers, or any other suspicion, they can flag them off to the side for additional questioning and searches, including putting the car through an X-ray machine.
This is called “secondary inspection,” and sometimes being picked out for secondary inspection is just arbitrary, like a random check by the Transportation Security Agency at an airport. It’s rare for U.S. consular officers to be regularly pulled over; in addition to having a SENTRI card, we carry diplomatic passports. Some of my fellow diplomats have told me they had not once been pulled into secondary inspection after living in Juarez for years. One told me he was always greeted with, “Welcome home to America, sir.””
“On one level, there was no obvious reason they were stopping me. I had passed extensive background and security checks to get my job and to qualify for a SENTRI card. CBP’s own website says that to get a SENTRI card, “all applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview.”
There was one difference between me and my colleagues who rarely if ever got stopped: The vast majority of my colleagues were white, while I’m Black. But I was a U.S. citizen, and a diplomat. I had taken an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Could the color of my skin really be why I was being singled out?”
“Black women are disproportionately impacted, dying in childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women.”
“Many factors contribute to overall maternal mortality in the US, from underlying conditions like diabetes to a lack of adequate health insurance. All of these disproportionately impact Black women — Black Americans, for example, are 60 percent more likely than whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. And 11.5 percent of Black Americans were uninsured as of 2018, compared with just 7.5 percent of whites.”
“For Black women, “even when we get prenatal care,” Crear-Perry explained, “even when we are normal weight and not obese, even when we have no underlying medical conditions, we are still more likely to die in childbirth than our white counterparts.” In New York City, for example, a 2016 study found that Black patients with a college education were more likely to have pregnancy or childbirth complications than white patients who hadn’t graduated from high school.”
“Part of the issue is that providers treat Black patients differently from white ones. Black women and other women of color often aren’t listened to when they express pain or discomfort, Jamila Taylor, director of health care reform at the Century Foundation, told Vox.
Racist beliefs about people’s bodies and their ability to experience pain are shockingly widespread: Half of the white medical students and residents surveyed in one 2016 study, for example, believed at least one myth about racial differences in pain perception, such as the idea that Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s. The more myths someone believed, the more likely that person was to underestimate a Black patient’s pain.”
“Advocates have long been calling for greater access to non-hospital births, whether at a birthing center or at home, as a way to combat the discrimination Black patients and other patients of color can face in hospital settings. “Other countries that have better outcomes than we do create a system and a network of birth centers and home births that allow for people to make choices based upon their needs,” Crear-Perry said.”
“As calls to defund and abolish the police grow around the country, a new poll by Gallup finds that a large majority—81 percent—of black Americans want the same or increased levels of police presence in their neighborhoods. Just 19 percent of black Americans said they want the police to spend less time in their neighborhoods”