Skip to main content

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

  • Philip J. Mazzocco (a1), Timothy C. Brock (a2), Gregory J. Brock (a3), Kristina R. Olson (a4) and Mahzarin R. Banaji (a4)...

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.

Corresponding author
Professor Philip J. Mazzocco, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University at Mansfield, 1680 University Drive, Mansfield, OH 44906. E-mail:
Hide All


Allen, R. L. (1998). Past Due: The African-American Quest for Reparations. The Black Scholar, 28(2): 217.
Bell, D. A., Jr. (1973). Dissection of a Dream [Review of The Case for Black Reparations]. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 9(1): 156165.
Bittker, B. I. (1973). The Case for Black Reparations. New York: Random House.
Blascovich, J., J. Loomis, A. C. Beall, K. R. Swinth, C. L. Hoyt, and J. N. Bailenson (2002). Immersive Virtual Environment Technology as a Methodological Tool for Social Psychology. Psychological Inquiry, 13(2): 103124.
Bobo, L. (1998). Race, Interests, and Beliefs about Affirmative Action: Unanswered Questions and New Directions. American Behavioral Scientist, 41(7): 9851003.
Bobo, L. (2000). Race and Beliefs about Affirmative Action: Assessing the Effects of Interests, Group Threats, Ideology, and Racism. In D. O. Sears, J. Sidanius, and L. Bobo (Eds.), Racialized Politics: The Debate about Racism in America, pp. 137164. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Bobo, L., J. R. Kluegel, and R. A. Smith (1997). Laissez-Faire Racism: The Crystallization of a Kinder, Gentler, Anti-Black Ideology. In S. A. Tuch and J. K. Martin (Eds.), Racial Attitudes in the 1990s: Continuity and Change, pp. 1542. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2003). Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Campbell, A. (1971). White Attitudes toward Black People. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.
Coates, R. D. (2004). If a Tree Falls in the Wilderness: Reparations, Academic Silences, and Social Justice. Social Forces, 83(2): 841864.
Cook, T. D. and B. R. Flay (1978). The Temporal Persistence of Experimentally Induced Attitude Change: An Evaluative Review. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 11: 157. New York: Academic Press.
Crocker, J., R. Luhtanen, B. Blaine, and S. Broadnax (1994). Collective Self-Esteem and Psychological Well-Being among White, Black, and Asian College Students. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(5): 503513.
Cummings, R. G., D. S. Brookshire, and W. D. Schulze (Eds.) (1986). Valuing Environmental Goods: An Assessment of the Contingent Valuation Method. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld.
Cunningham, W. A., K. J. Preacher, and M. R. Banaji (2001). Implicit Attitude Measures: Consistency, Stability, and Convergent validity. Psychological Science, 12(2): 163170.
Dawson, M. C. and R. Popoff (2004). Reparations: Justice and Greed in Black and White. Du Bois Review, 1(1): 4791.
Eagly, A. H. and S. Chaiken (1993). The Psychology of Attitudes. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Eibach, R. P. and J. Ehrlinger (2006). “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”: Reference Points and Racial Differences in Assessing Progress Toward Equality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(1): 6677.
Fischoff, B. (1997). What Do Psychologists Want? Contingent Valuation as a Special Case of Asking Questions. In R. J. Kopp, W. W. Pommerehne, and N. Schwarz (Eds.), Determining the Value of Non-Marketed Goods: Economic, Psychological, and Policy Relevant Aspects of Contingent Valuation Methods, pp. 189218. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Gaertner, S. L., J. F. Dovidio, P. A. Anastasio, B. A. Bachman, and M. C. Rust (1993). The Common Ingroup Identity Model: Recategorization and the Reduction of Intergroup Bias. In W. Stroebe and M. Hewstone (Eds.), European Review of Social Psychology, 4: 126. New York: Wiley.
Gaertner, S. L., J. F. Dovidio, B. S. Banker, M. Houlette, K. M. Johnson, and E. A. McGlynn (2000). Reducing Intergroup Conflict: From Superordinate Goals to Decategorization, Recategorization, and Mutual Differentiation. Group Dynamics, 4(1): 98114.
Gates, H. L., Jr., W. R. Grant, and P. W. Kunhardt (Executive Producers) (2006). African American Lives (part 4), February 8. [Television broadcast]. Chappaqua, NY: Kunhardt Productions.
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Green, M. C. and T. C. Brock (2000). The Role of Transportation in the Persuasiveness of Public Narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5): 701721.
Hacker, A. (2003). Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. New York: Scribner.
Harmon, A. (2006). Seeking Ancestry, and Privilege, in DNA Ties Uncovered by Tests. New York Times, April 12, A1; A17.
Henry, P. J. and D. O. Sears (2002). The Symbolic Racism 2000 Scale. Political Psychology, 23(2): 253284.
Hitt, J., W. E. Gary, A. J. Pires, R. F. Scruggs, and D. C. Sweet (2000). Making a Case for Racial Reparations: Does America Owe a Debt to the Descendants of Its Slaves? Harper's Magazine, 301: 3753.
Horowitz, D. (2001). Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks—and Racist, Too!〉 (accessed October 13, 2006).
Jackman, M. R. (1996). Individualism, Self-Interest, and White Racism. Social Science Quarterly, 77(4): 760767.
Janken, K. R. (2005). Walter White and Passing. Du Bois Review, 2(1): 1727.
Jost, J. T., M. R. Banaji, and B. A. Nosek (2004). A Decade of System Justification Theory: Accumulated Evidence of Conscious and Unconscious Bolstering of the Status Quo. Political Psychology, 25(6): 881919.
Kinder, D. R. (1998a). Communication and Opinion. Annual Review of Political Science, 1: 167197.
Kinder, D. R. (1998b). Attitudes and Action in the Realm of Politics. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology, 4ed., pp. 778867. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Kinder, D. R. and L. M. Sanders (1996). Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Kinder, D. R. and D. O. Sears (1981). Prejudice and Politics: Symbolic Racism versus Racial Threats to the Good Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40: 414431.
Kluegel, J. R. (1985). If There isn't a Problem, You Don't Need a Solution: The Basis of Contemporary Affirmative Action Attitudes. American Behavioral Scientist, 28(6): 761784.
Kluegel, J. R. and E. R. Smith (1983). Affirmative Action Attitudes: Effects of Self-Interest, Racial Affect, and Stratification Beliefs on Whites' Views. Social Forces, 61(3): 797824.
Kluegel, J. R. and E. R. Smith (1986). Beliefs about Inequality: Americans' Views of What is and What Ought to Be. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Kong, D. (2002). California Report Lists Insurers that Offered Policies for Slaves. Columbus Dispatch, May 2, A5.
Kravitz, D. A. (1995). Attitudes Towards Affirmative Action Plans Directed at Blacks: Effects of Plan and Individual Differences. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25: 21922220.
Landis, J. R. and G. G. Koch (1977). The Measurement of Observer Agreement for Categorical Data. Biometrics, 33(1): 159174.
Luhtanen, R. and J. Crocker (1992). A Collective Self-Esteem Scale: Self-Evaluation of One's Social Identity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18(3): 302318.
McConahay, J. B. (1986). Modern Racism, Ambivalence, and the Modern Racism Scale. In J. F. Dovidio and S. L. Gaertner (Eds.), Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism, pp. 91125. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
McIntosh, P. (1988). White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women's Studies. Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Working Paper No. 189.
Mitchell, R. C. and R. T. Carson (1989). Using Surveys to Value Public Goods: The Contingent Valuation Method. Washington DC: Resources for the Future.
Neville, H. A., R. L. Lilly, G. Duran, R. M. Lee, and L. V. Browne (2000). Construction and Initial Validation of the Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (CoBRAS). Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47(1): 5970.
Oliver, M. L. and T. M. Shapiro (1995). Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. New York: Routledge.
Park, B. and C. M. Judd (2005). Rethinking the Link Between Categorization and Prejudice Within the Social Cognition Perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9(2): 108130.
Pratto, F., J. Sidanius, L. M. Stallworth, and B. F. Malle (1994). Social Dominance Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(4): 741763.
Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rigby, B. (2002). 12 Companies Face Slavery Suits; Reparations Sought for pre-1865 Gains. South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 4, A5.
Robertson, T. (2000). Prominent Black Scholars Join Push for Reparations. Boston Globe, February 29, A1.
Robinson, R. (2001). The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. New York: Plume.
Ross, L. (1977). The Intuitive Psychologist and his Shortcomings: Distortion in the Attribution Process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 10: 173220. New York: Academic Press.
Rothenberg, P. S. (2004). White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism, 2ed. New York: Worth.
Schmoke, K. (2001). Reparations for Past Ills are Overrated. Columbus Dispatch, September 1, A8.
Schuman, H., C. Steeh, and L. Bobo (1985). Racial Attitudes in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Schuman, H., C. Steeh, L. Bobo, and M. Krysan (1997). Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, Revised edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sears, D. O. and T. Jessor (1996). Whites' Racial Policy Attitudes: The Role of White Racism. Social Science Quarterly, 77(4): 751759.
Sidanius, J., E. Devereux, and F. Pratto (1992). A Comparison of Symbolic Racism Theory and Social Dominance Theory as Explanations for Racial Policy Attitudes. Journal of Social Psychology, 132(3): 377395.
Sidanius, J. and F. Pratto (1999). Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sidanius, J., F. Pratto, and L. Bobo (1996). Racism, Conservatism, Affirmative Action, and Intellectual Sophistication: A Matter of Principled Conservatism or Group Dominance? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3): 476490.
Skitka, L. J., C. W. Bauman, and E. Mullen (2004). Political Tolerance and Coming to Psychological Closure Following the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks: An Integrative Approach. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(6): 743756.
Sniderman, P. M. and P. E. Tetlock (1986). Reflections on American Racism. Journal of Social Issues, 42(2): 173187.
Son Hing, L. S., D. R. Bobocel, and M. P. Zanna (2002). Meritocracy and Opposition to Affirmative Action: Making Concessions in the Face of Discrimination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(3): 493509.
Swim, J. K. and D. L. Miller (1999). White Guilt: Its Antecedents and Consequences for Attitudes Toward Affirmative Action. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(4): 500514.
Thaler, R. (1980). Toward a Positive Theory of Consumer Choice. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 1: 3960.
Thornton, M. and M. A. Yanochik (2003). Slavery Caused Extensive Structural Weaknesses in the Economies of All Slaveholding Regimes. In M. G. Malvasi (Ed.), History in Dispute: Slavery in the Western Hemisphere, circa 1500–1888, Volume 13, pp. 173177. Detroit, MI: Thomson and Gale.
Tuch, S. A. and M. Hughes (1996). Whites' Racial Policy Attitudes. Social Science Quarterly, 77(4): 723745.
Viles, P. (2002). Suit Seeks Billions in Slave Reparations. 〈〉 (accessed October 13, 2006).
von Hippel, W., L. A. Silver, and M. E. Lynch (2000). Stereotyping Against Your Will: The Role of Inhibitory Ability in Stereotyping and Prejudice Among the Elderly. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(5): 523532.
West, S. G., J. C. Biesanz, and O. Kwok (2004). Within-subject and Longitudinal Experiments: Design and Analysis Issues. In C. Sanson, C. C. Morf, and A. T. Panter (Eds.), Handbook of Methods in Social Psychology, pp. 287311. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Williams, J. (2001). Get a Check? No Thanks. GQ, September, pp. 229234.
Wolff, E. N. (2001). Racial Wealth Disparities: Is the Gap Closing? The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College Public Policy Brief, No. 66.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 16 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 213 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.