Are Black Students Punished for “Acting White”?: Race, Academic Achievement, and Friendship Choices

Jennifer Flashman, University of California, Los Angeles

Many believe that black under-achievement results from a burden of “acting white”. Although previous research attempts to establish this burden, these studies confound adolescents’ opportunities for friendship with their friendship choices. In this paper, I model adolescents’ friendship group choices. Using data from Add Health and discrete-choice analysis, I estimate the effect of racial and academic friendship group composition on individuals’ probabilities of choosing friendship groups. I further show how individuals’ race and academic achievement interact with friendship group characteristics to affect their friendship choices. Preliminary results suggest that high and non-high-achieving blacks have similarly high probabilities of choosing friendship groups with a majority of blacks, and that high-achieving blacks prefer high-achieving friendship groups while non-high-achieving blacks are equally likely to choose high- or non-high-achieving friendship groups. These results support the conclusion that high-achieving blacks are rejecting their non-high-achieving black peers, rather than the other way around as the “acting white” hypothesis suggests.

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Presented in Session 163: Racial Differences in Education