Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Black costs and white privileges"

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."

From this interesting article by Shankar Vedantam in the Washington Post [via The Situationist].

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.


  1. Anant said...

    Frankly I think there is simply too much being made out of this Brahmin business. Much like Anand I grew up in Hyderabad, and I am from the same background, except that my forefathers would have work ash on their foreheads rather than vermillion. I must say that there was practically no consciousness about this stuff when I was a kid. Living in Madras for 5 years in IIT, I did not really think about this nonsense either. But I find that much to my horror, as time has gone on, this caste stuff is being talked about all the time, all over the place. I never read about caste being talked about openly when I was a kid in Hyderabad newspapers, except at election time when one knew so many seats went to Reddys, and so many to Velamas, and so many to Kammas. But today in Deccan Herald, they have no compunctions in talking about this kind of brahmin, or that kind of God knows what. Enough of this, I say! Yes, it is an inequitous and unfair world. The `fair skinned' have a better chance in Bollywood, (with the exception of Nandita Das). But why is there no discussion for the future? How do we put this shameful state of affairs into the dustbin of history and move forward? Is it not so that all enlightened and not so enlightened sections all participate and build a new country, a new future, a new life? If you are really ashamed that your forefathers illtreated Dalits, work for a world where such things never happen.

  2. Anonymous said...

    A more interesting read would be Shelby Steele's "White Guilt"

  3. Anonymous said...

    Brahmin bashing is the new name of the game.

  4. Anonymous said...

    I've found S. Anand an idiot, the article is as usual vague (but JNU folks like vague), it doesn't mention even one of the privileges he supposedly got.

    That is not to say that there is no Tamil Brahmin politics or attitude. Some of the Brahmins I know are insufferable, but I know an equal number of Bengalis, some of them Brahmins, with similar attitudes, always pontificating about their language, culture and history and whatnot. Both groups play really petty politics, act-less-yak-more, hate physical work, and both groups somehow seem to produce the most irritating and bossy females anywhere on the planet. On the better side, they also produce some of the best music and food, and appreciate ideas better than other groups. They've also gone to great lengths to keep alive and contribute to their traditions, which I appreciate. But there is no anti-Bengali movement, or even an anti-Brahmin movement in Bengal, I wonder why?

    Overall, I don't find Brahmins the demons they are made out to be. Maybe quite irritating, like the Jews, but since there is no equivalent of Brahmin AIPAC and Brahmin Israel, and probably never will be (unless the Maoists start a Brahmin Holocaust), they are mostly harmless. I think the Jew analogy is closer than the white/black one, which is a much more complex equation.