What About Asians in the Empirical Analysis of Acting White?

The Fryer-Torelli paper, An Empirical Analysis of Acting White, has gained much attention and buzzworthiness among scholars in The Academy as of late, which found an inverse relationship between good grades and popularity among Blacks and Latinos.

“Among whites, higher grades yield higher popularity. . . . [However, a] black student with a 4.0 has, on average, 1.5 fewer same-race friends than a white student with a 4.0. Among Hispanics, there is little change in popularity from a grade point average of 1 through 2.5. After 2.5, the gradient turns sharply negative. A Hispanic student with a 4.0 grade point average is the least popular of all Hispanic students, and has 3 fewer friends than a typical white student with a 4.0 grade point average. Put differently, evaluated at the sample mean, a one standard deviation increase in grades is associated with roughly a .103 standard deviation decrease in social status for Blacks and a .171 standard deviation decrease for Hispanics. For students with a 3.5 grade point average or better, the effect triples.” (Fryer-Torelli, 4)

Since the Fryer-Torelli paper failed to include research and analysis of Asian Americans, I wonder what anecodotal evidence and narratives we could gather here on 8A to consider the good grades and popularity relationships among Asians. If you’re white, according to this paper, your GPA won’t affect how many white friends you have. However, if you’re Black or Latino, your GPA does affect how many Black or Latino friends you have. What about Asians? Did my GPA in high school affect how many Asian friends I had? Or did the fact I lived in an all-white suburb in middle America have something to do with how many Asian friends I had? Ooh. Tough, tough questions.

The foundational premise of the Fryer-Torelli paper comes across to the reader, or at least to me, as this: doing really well in school is a ‘white’ thing and so if you do well and you’re not white, you’re ‘acting white,’ which will invariably incite the wrath of your same-race peers, which means you will have fewer same-race friends.

One article in the Washington Post asserted: “As commonly understood, acting white is a pejorative term used to describe black students who engage in behaviors viewed as characteristic of whites, such as making good grades, reading books or having an interest in the fine arts.” We could intensify this discussion by drawing in the classic model minority myth Asians face.

Mainstream white society labels Diasporic Asians the “model minority” because we’ve been generalized, as a race, to make good grades, read books or have an interest in the fine arts (in other words we play the piano and violin). These characteristics, while we within the community have always referred to as psycho-typical-Asian-parenting-discipline-is-next-to-godliness-we’ll-disown-you-if-you-come-home-with-a-B, are apparently “white” characteristics…according to whites… because making good grades, reading books, and enjoying the fine arts are commendable and therefore white-people-like, not merely psycho-typical-Asian-parenting-discipline-is-next-to-godliness-we’ll-disown-you-if-you-come-home-with-a-B-like.

So really. How do our GPAs affect our popularity, in light of the Fryer-Torelli paper?

Perhaps the “acting white” phenomenon manifests itself a bit differently in our community. I’ve heard before Asians referring snidely to Asians who overachieve as trying too hard to be the model minority, which of course is what marks us the “other white meat” because we’re “acting white” by being overachievers. While similar to the phenomenon in black and Latino communities as referenced above, it’s a slight variation on the theme. I’ve also heard Chinese immigrants who move out of Chinatown to live in the suburbs be accused of “acting white.” Thus, it baffles me that Fryer and Torelli could ignore completely Asian Americans in their research, especially considering how we’ve got that model minority myth pegged against/for us. I hope a social scientist fills that void soon and one day I’ll read empirical analyses of “acting white” in my ethnic community. (Oh, the joys. I can’t wait.)

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About akrypti

small town roots. enthusiast of many trades. oh, and yeah, high-maintenance like you wouldn't believe. tweet with me @akrypti.
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