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‘Acting White’ Does Not Affect Minority Student Achievement, Study Finds

‘Acting White’ Does Not Affect Minority Student Achievement, Study Finds


Whether listening to heavy metal music or wearing khakis, many minority students in schools throughout the United States are accused of “acting White.” If these accusations lead students to avoid “acting White” by shunning academic achievement, educators see a major problem. A researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that minority students, though bothered by the accusations, did not avoid academic achievement. In fact, many of these students were competing for high grades.

Dr. David Bergin, associate professor of educational psychology at MU, and University of Toledo professor Helen Cooks, studied African American and Mexican American students in various urban, public and private high schools, which were predominantly Black, predominately White or racially balanced. They interviewed eighth-graders who had applied for high school scholarship-incentive programs. The researchers conducted follow-up interviews with the same students during their junior or senior year of high school or their freshman year of college. Bergin and Cooks predicted student achievement might falter in the years between the interviews if peers accused them of “acting White.”

“The students clearly voiced their frustration against accusations that they ‘acted White’ or were sellouts, and they disagreed with the suggestions that they had given up their ethnic identity in order to do well in school,” Bergin said. “Most pursued a high-achievement path that included taking honors classes, earning good grades and studying.”

Bergin found the students in the study were annoyed with accusations of “acting White” because they, in actuality, knew more about their ethnic group than their accusers.

“It appears when students affiliated with a group of students who held similar values and goals, they were not so threatened by accusations of ‘acting White,’ ” Bergin said. “Being in a demanding sequence of classes with like-minded peers can reduce the pain of these accusations because of the solidarity that such a group can experience.”

Cooks and Bergin’s study recently was published in The Urban Review, a journal focusing on public education.

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