Social psychologists Philip Mazzocco and Mahzarin Banaji once asked white volunteers how much money would cover the "costs" of being born black instead of white. The volunteers guessed that about $5,000 ought to cover the lifetime disadvantages of being an average black person rather than an average white person, in the United States. By contrast, when asked how much they wanted to go without television, the volunteers demanded a million dollars. [...]
"The point we were making is, whatever the cost of being black might be, whites are vastly underestimating it," said Mazzocco, of Ohio State University at Mansfield. "You throw in the 5-to-1 wealth gap . . . if you wanted to put a dollar-and-cents value on the difference, you would come up with a number much larger than $5,000."
The unusual experiment is one of dozens that have found that whites tend to have a relatively rosy impression of what it means to be a black person in America. Whites are more than twice as likely as blacks to believe that the position of African Americans has improved a great deal. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to believe that conditions for African Americans are growing worse. [...]
Mazzocco and Banaji, who teaches at Harvard, found that when volunteers learned about the disparities, they started to demand much larger sums of money.
"Many whites assume blacks are making use of old crimes to gain present-day benefits that are unearned," Mazzocco said. "Underlying this is a misunderstanding and ignorance about black costs and white privilege."
On a related note, here's Outlook reporter S. Anand's candid assessment of unearned privileges he has enjoyed as an upper caste person in South India: Notes on my Brahmin self.