“In many ways, the 2020 election was basically like every recent American presidential election: The Republican candidate won the white vote (54 percent to 44 percent, per CES), and the Democratic candidate won the overwhelming majority of the Black (90 percent to 8 percent), Asian American (66 percent to 31 percent) and Hispanic (64 percent to 33 percent) vote. Like in 2016, there was a huge difference among non-Hispanic white voters by education, as those with at least a four-year college degree favored Biden (55 percent to 42 percent), while those without degrees (63 to 35) favored Trump. (There wasn’t a huge education split among voters of color.)1
Other surveys tell the same general story: Trump won white voters overall by a margin in the double digits and won whites without four-year degrees by even more; Trump lost among whites with at least a four-year college degree, lost by a big margin with Asian American and Latino voters and lost by an enormous margin among African Americans.
So the main reason that Trump nearly won a second term was not his increased support among Latinos, who are only about 10 percent of American voters and are a group he lost by more than 20 points. Trump’s main strength was his huge advantage among non-Hispanic white voters without college degrees, who are about 42 percent of American voters. His second biggest bloc of support was among non-Hispanic white Americans with degrees, who are about 30 percent of all voters. According to the CES, over 80 percent of Trump’s voters were non-Hispanic white voters, with or without a college degree. In contrast, around 70 percent of nonwhite voters supported Biden, and they made up close to 40 percent of his supporters. So it is very much still the case that the Republicans are an overwhelmingly white party and that the Democratic coalition is much more racially diverse.”
“Trump did 7 percentage points better among Asian American voters in 2020 compared to 2016, 4 points better among Hispanic voters and 1 point better among both white and Black voters, per the CES. Biden did 4 percentage points worse among Asian American voters and 1 points worse among Hispanic voters compared to Hillary Clinton, while doing 1 point better among Black voters and 3 points stronger among white voters compared to Clinton.
“Other surveys and precinct-level data suggest that the Trump swing among Hispanics could have been larger than CES found, with Trump gaining in the upper-single digits and winning the support of over 35 percent of Latino voters. (Ultimately, we will never know exactly how different racial and ethnic blocs voted, since people aren’t required to state their race or ethnicity when they cast ballots.) But generally, the story of 2020 is that Trump did better with Asian American and Hispanic voters than in 2016, while Biden did better than Hillary Clinton among non-Hispanic white voters.”
“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.”
“He was ultimately suspended for “aggressive and inappropriate interactions in multiple situations.” On December 30, UVA police ordered him to leave campus.
UVA’s administration engaged in behavior that can be described as “gaslighting.” Administrators asserted that Bhattacharya had behaved aggressively when he hadn’t, and then cited his increasing confusion, frustration, and hostility toward the disciplinary process as evidence that he was aggressive. And all of this because Bhattacharya asked an entirely fair question about microaggressions, a fraught subject.”
“Educators’ anxiety is based on reasonable concerns. Covid-19 is a serious illness. And schools are an indoor group setting with the potential to spread infection. But schools, it turns out, with a few basic safety measures, including masks and reasonable distancing, are not a high-risk venue for Covid-19 transmission. In fact, they appear to have far lower rates of the virus than their surrounding communities. Still, some education union leaders are beginning to lay the foundation for schools remaining shuttered into the 2021-22 school year.”
“One sticking point, for example, has been the union’s early and continued insistence that desks remain at least six feet apart at all times. This requirement mathematically determines whether there is enough space for learners in the building. Distancing is absolutely critical to Covid-19 mitigation, but there is no magical threshold that makes six feet the “safe” distance and five feet “dangerous.”
In settings like school, where everyone is wearing a face covering, there really is no measurable difference in risk between being three feet and six feet apart. That is why there is no official guidance from any relevant public health body that mandates six-foot distancing at all times.”
“The union also named a lack of asymptomatic testing for teachers as a major barrier to return to in-person learning. To get kids back to school, we implemented such a routine testing plan, at great cost and logistical effort. We discovered that since testing began in January 2021, the positivity rate among teachers and staff has been approximately 0.15 percent — while cases were surging in the Boston metro area — and our contact tracing efforts have not identified any cases of in-building transmission.
Even so, the union continues to resist a return to full in-person learning. What’s more, the goalpost seems to have shifted again, now to universal vaccination of teachers.”
“last spring, we observed the experiences of other countries like Scotland, Singapore, and France, where schools reopened and masks and social distancing seemed to prevent large-scale transmission.
In the US, epidemiologists compared the timing of school closures to changes in Covid incidence. Some studies found that school closures might have reduced the spread of illness, but the findings are complicated because we were also making other major public health changes at the same time. And overall they failed to find a strong link.
Data and patterns also began to emerge about children’s Covid-19 test results and their exposures. Playdates with friends emerged as the common exposure among the infected; time in school did not.
Still, as reassuring as the data were, they were all indirect. The gold standard to learn if schools can open safely is fairly simple: Open schools, measure Covid incidence, and see what happens. Many US school districts have now done this, and we have the data.
First, researchers in North Carolina published results from 11 school districts and over 100,000 students and staff. Schools in those districts employed mandatory masking and six-foot distancing where feasible, but no major capital improvement to HVAC systems or buildings. In the first quarter of this school year, they found the rate of transmission of Covid in schools was dramatically lower (roughly 1/25) than the level of transmission in the community. Among all of the Covid-19 infections observed in school, the state health department’s tracers found 96 percent were acquired in the community, and there were no documented cases of the virus passing from child to adult in schools — zero.
Second, a similar study followed 17 schools in Wisconsin. Like North Carolina, those schools required masks indoors, three-foot distancing with effort to distance farther whenever feasible, and no major capital improvements. Between August 31 and November 29, with over 4,500 students and 650 staff, they found seven cases of Covid transmission to children and also found no cases of Covid transmission to educators in the buildings. Further, these schools eliminated Covid transmission at the same time that the surrounding community saw a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases.
A third important preprint study analyzes data from two schools in Atlanta. This study is small, but it is important because the schools were conducting routine asymptomatic screening of students, teachers, and staff. In Atlanta, 72 percent of the limited number of transmission events in one school were known to be the result of non-compliance with masking. And again here, there were no cases transmitted from students to teachers.
Sadly, at the same time that we are learning definitively that we can open schools safely and essentially prevent Covid transmission, data are emerging about the real damage being done to children by prolonged remote learning”
“Chicago Public Schools, though, has already implemented many of the mitigation strategies that government planners have in mind, and the district believes teachers can safely go back to class. Officials have good reason to think this: Outside major cities, many schools—including a great number of private schools that lack easy access to government dollars—have been open since at least September, and there’s simply no evidence of widespread disease in classrooms. Schools have not played host to superspreader events, and there’s little reason to think that students are infecting their teachers. Even the CDC, which is hardly known for taking an incautious approach to resuming normal life, says that schools can reopen safely.”
“Wiping out student loan debt for American college graduates would benefit the wealthy much more than it benefits less privileged students, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Blacks and Hispanics would also benefit substantially less than balances suggest,” the authors say.
In the paper, titled “The Distributional Effects of Student Loan Forgiveness,” economists Sylvain Catherine and Constantine Yannelis conclude that universal student loan “forgiveness would benefit the top decile as much as the bottom three deciles combined.””
“”There are a number of ways in which debt can be discharged, with important distributional implications. For example, forgiveness can be universal, capped or targeted to specific borrowers. These debt cancellation policies can benefit different socioeconomic and ethnic groups. This paper explores their distributional impacts. We find that the benefits of universal debt forgiveness policies largely accrue to high-income borrowers, while forgiveness through expanding income-contingent loan plans instead favors middle-income borrowers.””
“full or partial loan forgiveness regardless of income and loan size would be “highly regressive, with the vast majority of benefits accruing to high-income individuals,””