The Price of Acting White

Richard Morin, Washington Post, June 5

It may be even worse than Obama imagined: It’s not just black children who face ridicule and ostracism by their peers if they do well in school. The stigmatizing effects of “acting white” appear to be felt even more by Hispanics who get top grades.

At least that’s the claim of Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. and graduate student Paul Torelli, who have mined an unusually detailed data set on teenage students to study the relationship between performance and popularity in public and private schools.

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Among white teens, Fryer and Torelli found that better grades equaled greater popularity, with straight-A students having far more same-race friends than those who were B students, who in turn had more friends than C or D students. But among blacks and especially Hispanics who attend public schools with a mix of racial and ethnic groups, that pattern was reversed: The best and brightest academically were significantly less popular than classmates of their race or ethnic group with lower grade point averages.

“For blacks, higher achievement is associated with modestly higher popularity until a grade point average of 3.5 [a B+ average], then the slope turns negative,” Fryer and Torelli wrote in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. A black student who’s gotten all A’s has, on average, 1.5 fewer same-race friends than a straight-A white student. Among Hispanics, there is little change in popularity until a student’s average rises above a C+, at which point it plummets. A Hispanic student with all A’s is the least popular of all Hispanic students, and has three fewer friends than a typical white student with a 4.0 grade point average.

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