Roland Fryer: It’s Official, He’s a “Genius”

I first met Roland Fryer a decade ago. It didn’t take me long to figure out he was a genius. It took the folks at the MacArthur Foundation a little longer to come to that realization, but they finally got on board last week when they gave Roland one of their high-profile MacArthur “Genius” Awards.

Most of Roland’s research has been devoted to understanding the factors influencing Black economic progress. He’s worked on segregation, the sources of the Black-White test score gap, the reasons why Black longevity is less than that of Whites, and the Ku Klux Klan, among many other topics. Recently, he has been the source of some of the most innovative ideas and experimentation in public education, partnering with some of the most influential people in education: Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, etc. I’m not sure how, but Roland has managed to be one of the few economists who is both a top academic and an influential policy player.

Given all that Roland has accomplished, it is hard to believe he is still in his early thirties… a veritable baby when it comes to academic economics. And he’s done all this despite the fact that he gave everyone else a twenty-year head start (see Freakonomics to learn more about the unlikely path that led Roland to where he is today).

On top of it all, Roland is one of the most likable, honest, and engaging people you could ever find. More than just a friend, he’s a part of our family. Nothing could make me prouder or happier than watching Roland’s success. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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  1. Frank Nabor says:

    Why do black academics seemingly focus exclusively on issues related to “blackness” — this guy Fryer, Henry Louis Gates, Cornel West, etc. — where are the black intellectuals who are making major contributions to theoretical physics, to genome sequencing, computer science? Do they not exist?

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    • Chris Blount says:

      @Frank Nabor Open your eyes. Or your search bar. Google “blacks in science” or “black physicist” for a good start. Or you can ask your media outlets to start covering more blacks. And btw, did you ever think that studying black issues may also help our society as a whole.

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      • Frank Nabor says:

        @Chris Blount – I never claimed that there were e.g. no black physicists, only that there are none (at least none I know of) “who are making major contributions” to e.g. physics. The Nobel Prize, while an imperfect gauge of anything, is nonetheless a good place to start looking, and this Wikipedia list of “Black Nobel Laureates” ( has no winners from the “hard sciences”; instead, they’ve all won for “peace” or “literature”, and one for the softish (sorry, Freakos) science of economics.

        “you can ask your media outlets to start covering more blacks” – hmm, is there a hidden trove of e.g. black physicists doing groundbreaking work that the media is failing to cover?

        “did you ever think that studying black issues may also help our society as a whole” – hmm, in a certain sense, maybe, a little bit. But will “studying black issues” help society as a whole as much as, say, superconductors, transistors, lasers, or the Internet?

        “Open your eyes.” – hmm, I’d say my eyes are already pretty wide open already, thanks just the same. – Frank Nabor

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      • Well... says:

        I think that it’s simply that when academics look for questions to study, many of the more salient questions come from introspection or from their immediate environment. I’m a moderate-liberal son of a fairly conservative mother- therefore, my own research interests deal with the political socialization of the family. I don’t think anyone would criticize me of doing a, “white,” topic, but my question comes from my experience within a white middle class background. I think that when Professor Fryer looks for questions about society, he arrives at those questions in much the same way. Therefore, I would say that Fryer’s interests are no more, “black,” than mine are, “white”; both come from curiosity with the world we interact with. (so, I’m kind of in agreement with Enter your name…).

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      • robyn ann goldstein says:

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I think that we see black people overrepresented in black studies because white elites are much less interested in the subject. Ultimately, all subjects are studied by the people who are most interested in them.

      I think that black elites are more interested in black studies because, unlike white elites, they have two pervasive situations to make sense of. One is matters that have affected their daily lives, at least in small ways: if everyone gets out of the hotel’s swimming pool as soon as you jump in, 20 times out of 20, then a smart person starts wondering why. The other is how and why they have become the elites, while so many other black people have not. When looking at less fortunate people, I think they have a greater sense of “there but for the grace of God, go I”.

      The typical white elite doesn’t have so many slightly “off” experiences to make sense of, and he’s got a wide variety of excuses for the behavior: that person won’t look me in the eye because he feels inferior to me. The family got out of the pool because it was small, they had been there a long time, and they didn’t want their kids to splash the important-looking professor. Additionally, he’s already got a culturally reinforced explanation for why he’s an academic elite, and the white trash people aren’t: he is part of the elite through a combination of genetic luck and hard work (including “hard work once removed”, i.e., that his parents were smart and wealthy). The typical member of the white elite doesn’t need to explain why he’s part of the elite rather than the trailer trash, because he doesn’t actually believe that (short of mental illness) such an outcome was plausible for someone with his brains and work ethic.

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      • robyn ann goldstein says:

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    • july41930 says:

      you ask, “Why?” how absurd a question. he is being pressured today to not look at issues involing black awareness. In fact, I have never heard of the guy but thanks. I will teach my 12 year old about him and to look out for him.

      quote…”Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains?” it is later stated that it , “is a fantasy of self deception and comfortable vanity.”

      We don’t have a legacy or history. We have HIS-story and we know things are missing so the foundation isn’t right to build upon.

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    • Bryant G. says:

      This is an old post, but Roland Fryer gave a pretty powerful and entertaining lecture that is probably the best answer you’ll find as to why he’s so passionate about help solving the often underserved minority communities.

      During the Q&A he passionately explains how he’s lucky to be where he is… He’s lucky to have the opportunities that most Americans have and take for granted… Pretty hard to fault a guy for that. Maybe you think the miss-education of blacks doesn’t affect you, but it does.

      BTW, His wife is also a “Black academic” she’s a cancer research scientist.

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  2. John Doe says:

    Congratulations Roland!

    It’s a sad fact that the first 7 comments listed are race baiting and that none mention your work.

    This is exciting news and hopefully will embolden you to work on even more innovative experiments in education.

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  3. TruthTeller says:

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    • David says:

      Congratulations Roland! I share John Doe’sopinion.

      Thanks TruthTeller for sharing your vast knowledge and expertise in bigotry.

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    • BiLlY BOb says:

      You are racist and a bigot. Please keep keep your repressive ideas to yourself and your fellow clansmen.

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  4. Dana Allen says:

    I must admit, my first impression has not receded to be less than that of yours. Roland Fryer is the first person that resonated my mind with the fact that: there is a solution to combat generational, society-driven stigmas.

    He spoke at my alma-mater Metro State in Denver years and years ago. His explanation of the reward program that they had just begun to test was phenomenal. He is nothing less than a genius and I am glad that years later, I google his name and find that he is getting the much-deserved recognition that I thought he should have received years ago.

    I am truly thankful for this Black man’s influence on our world (school by school, state by state, child by child).

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  5. Linda says:

    Fryer could add nuance to his perspective by reading “Sorry, I’m Not Taking This Test”, by Kristina Rizga, in Mother Jones, Sept./ Oct. 2015.
    Quoting, “Urban students spend far more time on district -mandated tests (266% more) than those
    in the suburbs.” If reports are true that Fryer receives substantial funding from school privatizers and corporatizers, then he might want to ask possible mentors, Bill Gates and Arne Duncan, why they send their kids to schools that reject the testing model they both advocate.

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