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THE COST OF BEING BLACK: White Americans' Perceptions and the Question of Reparations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 May 2007

Philip J. Mazzocco
Department of Psychology, Ohio State University at Mansfield
Timothy C. Brock
Department of Psychology, Ohio State University
Gregory J. Brock
School of Economic Development, Georgia Southern University
Kristina R. Olson
Department of Psychology, Harvard University
Mahzarin R. Banaji
Department of Psychology, Harvard University


White Americans have long resisted the idea of reparations to the descendants of slaves. We examine the psychological basis of such resistance, primarily testing the possibility that resistance may be a function of Whites' perception of the ongoing cost of being Black. White participants (n = 958) across twelve independent samples (varying in age, student status, and geographic location) were asked variations of the question: How much should you be paid to continue to live the remainder of your life as a Black person? Participants generally required low median amounts, less than $10,000, to make the race change, whereas they requested high amounts, $1,000,000, to give up television. To the extent that larger amounts were requested, support for reparations also increased. Attempts to educate participants about Black cost/White privilege had negligible effects on assessments of the cost of being Black and support for reparations. Together, these results suggest that White resistance to reparations for Black Americans stems from fundamental biases in estimating the true cost of being Black. The implications of our findings for color-blind and multiculturalist conceptual approaches are discussed.This work was facilitated by a postdoctoral fellowship to the first author from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. In addition, we are greatly indebted to Hal Arkes for comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

© 2006 W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research

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