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An Economic Analysis of "Acting White"

  • David Austen-Smith
  • Roland G. Fryer

This paper formalizes a widely discussed peer effect titled "acting White." "Acting White" is modeled as a two-audience signaling quandary: signals that induce high wages can be signals that induce peer group rejection. Without peer effects, equilibria involve all ability types choosing different levels of education. "Acting White" alters the equilibrium dramatically: the (possibly empty) set of lowest ability individuals and the set of highest ability individuals continue to reveal their type through investments in education; ability types in the middle interval pool on a common education level. Only those in the lower intervals are accepted by the group. The model's predictions fit many stylized facts in the anthropology and sociology literatures regarding social interactions among minority group members. "Some African-American students, unable to extricate themselves from the quicksand of self-defeat, have adopted the incredibly stupid tactic of harassing fellow blacks who have the temerity to take their studies seriously. According to the poisonous logic of the harassers, any attempt at acquiring knowledge is a form of "acting white" © 2005 MIT Press

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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 120 (2005)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 551-583

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:qjecon:v:120:y:2005:i:2:p:551-583
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