Is it possible that school desegregation actually hurt African American students? That's the argument Stuart Buck advances in a new book called Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, sparking earnest debate among reviewers and bloggers.* He suggests that desegregation is part of the reason for the "acting white" phenomenon, part of a destructive anti-academic culture he identifies among black students where black teens accuse those who try too hard at school of "acting white." But is there enough evidence of an anti-academic sentiment among black students? And does that really mean segregated schools would be better?
*Update: Stuart Buck clarifies in the comments below that he is not arguing that desegregation had a net negative effect on African American students, but rather that "desegregation was an overall benefit with one unfortunate side effect." For more, see this post by WNYC's Celeste Headlee.
- 'Acting White' a Problem, But Is It Really the Fault of Desegregation? Richard Thompson Ford, reviewing Buck's book for Slate, approves of several of Buck's points, but says Buck is "neglect[ing] the bigger picture. The power of the epithet 'acting white' is just one manifestation of a belligerent youth subculture among poor blacks that rejects mainstream institutions generally." In a Bloggingheads discussion with John McWhorter, he suggests that it's "not just poverty but the concentration of poverty, the hollowing out of many inner city neighborhoods, the exodus of the black middle class from those neighborhoods ... those phenomena I think are more likely culprits for the general depressed academic performance among African Americans, which is of course a problem even in segregated schools."