The Fear of “Acting White” and the Achievement Gap: Is There Really a Relationship?

Brando Simeo Starkey and Susan Eaton

Educators and social commentators have long lamented a purported phenomenon among African American students that has come to be known as a fear of “acting white.” The popular press and politicians commonly perpetuate the claim that a major reason African American students don’t perform to their potential is because they fear being labeled “white” by their African American peers. This review of the research literature finds evidence for such a phenomenon and valid reasons for efforts to counteract it, but no evidence that such a phenomenon accounts for any quantifiable portion of the black-white achievement gap. This CHHIRJ research brief places the “acting white” fear in its proper perspective – that the phenomenon is likely one of many, likely more powerful factors, contributing to the achievement gap. We offer concrete recommendations to educators, policymakers, youth workers and members of the media.

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