Wednesday, July 21, 2010

TAPPED post on the book

At TAPPED (the blog of The American Prospect), Jamelle Bouie has a post disagreeing with my book. He says:
By and large, this exchange is almost entirely anecdotal; if you set aside personal childhood memories, there simply isn't much broad empirical evidence for the claim that black students in integrated settings have a racialized antipathy toward educational achievement.
There's a lot more evidence for "acting white" than personal childhood memories. Out of the many studies on the issue, the best is Roland Fryer's empirical study of a nationally representative database in which students had been asked (among other things) to list out a certain number of friends. It turned out that after controlling for other variables that affect popularity, black students above a 3.5 GPA became significantly less popular. This was true mostly in integrated schools, and particularly in schools with internal integration:
I also find that acting white is unique to those schools where black students comprise less than 80 percent of the student population. In predominantly black schools, I find no evidence at all that getting good grades adversely affects students’ popularity. . . .

Unfortunately, internal integration only aggravates the problem. Blacks in less-integrated schools (places with fewer than expected cross-ethnic friendships) encounter less of a trade-off between popularity and achievement. In fact, the effect of acting white on popularity appears to be twice as large in the more-integrated (racially mixed) schools as in the less-integrated ones.Among the highest achievers (3.5 GPA or higher), the differences are even more stark,with the effect of acting white almost five times as great in settings with more cross-ethnic friendships than expected. Black males in such schools fare the worst, penalized seven times as harshly as my estimate of the average effect of acting white on all black students!

This finding, along with the fact that I find no evidence of acting white in predominantly black schools, adds to the evidence of a “Shaker Heights” syndrome, in which racially integrated settings only reinforce pressures to toe the ethnic line.
Bouie continues:
Even Buck, whose book is the focus of the discussion, leaves room for alternative explanations. From the beginning, he concedes that the evidence for his claim isn't conclusive and that to some degree, he is relying on the "absence of evidence" against it.
This is a mistaken interpretation.

The only thing that Bouie could be referring to is a single passage of the book, wherein I offer an admittedly speculative theory that the true effect of "acting white" is probably greater than could ever be empirically measured, because young adolescents often may be unaware of (or unable or unwilling to articulate) how deeply they have been influenced by peer pressure. Indeed, we are all affected by peer pressure in ways that we don't normally think about. For example, no one wears a swimsuit to an important business meeting -- not because of express peer pressure, but because we don't even imagine doing so. We just instinctively know that to do so would upset our peers. Thus, perhaps peer pressure is the most powerful where people aren't even consciously thinking about it.

In that context, I admitted that this particular argument -- that acting white could be far more powerful than we realize -- was possibly making too much of the absence of evidence. I do this sort of thing throughout the book; that is, I expressly raise and address counterarguments, while admitting the limitations of my own data and arguments. But I never suggest that the "acting white" phenomenon itself is characterized by the "absence of evidence." Far from it.



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