Research shows that African American children do not have a cultural prejudice towards academic achievement. Previous studies have indicated that negative regard to achievement at school is a process that develops over time and is more likely to take place in schools were minority students are less represented in the most challenging courses.
The research project, titled “Breeding Animosity: The ‘Burden of Acting White’ and Other Problems of Status Group Hierarchies on Schools,” followed 125 pupils between the
years 2000 and 2001 in North Carolina elementary, middle and high schools. Authors evaluated components associated with low minority participation in gifted programs,
honors classes and Advanced Placement classes.
Interviewers asked students a standard set of questions about their grades, academic placement, course selection and sentiment toward school, learning and achievement,
as well as other aspects of the school experience. Teachers, administrators and
counselors were also interviewed.
Findings of the study indicated that during the primary years there was no apparent
aversion to academic excellence. Researchers discovered that adolescent youth in
North Carolina had a generally negative attitude toward academic achievement
despite one’s race. 11 schools reported anti-achievement attitudes. In these eleven
schools, negative sentiment toward academics was highly related to minority under representation in the most challenging courses. African American children developed
a sense of animosity towards high performing students in those courses.
Researchers claim that findings of the study counter the claims of well-known African American figures like entertainer Bill Cosby and politician Barack Obama. They claim
that anti-achievement sentiment is part of the cultural psyche of black children, who
fear being labeled “trying to act white” if they excel academically.
Researchers stated that African American children who are fortunate enough to
strongly excel during the elementary grades via advanced placement classes are often characterized by peers as “wannabes” and “Uncle Toms.” These derogatory comments denote poorer performing children’s assertion that black children don’t belong in the
world of high academic achievers.
Authors concluded that oppositional stances to achievement are not fostered in the black community but rather created in learning environments under specific conditions.
The research suggests that animosity toward high-achieving students – regardless of
race – grows over time and develops from a general concern among elementary-age students about arrogance to a more focused concern among adolescents about
academic inequities between status groups.
Complete findings of the study appear at Duke University’s School of Public Policy
First published December 1, 2004