Monday, April 07, 2008

The cost of being born black

Here's another Shankar Vedentam column from a couple of weeks ago with an assertion that simply blew me away. Two psychologists asked white volunteers what it would take, assuming they were in a line waiting to be born and could choose, if they were to be born black but a sum of money would be put into a bank account on the day they were born to compensate them. Whites figured about $5,000 would do it -- while they would want a million bucks to compensate for a lifetime without TV.

It's hard for me the believe the misperception is that dramatic, but the point the psychologists were making is that white people "tend to have a relatively rosy impression of what it means to be a black person in America." I guess that's true to a great extent, but just how dramatic can it be? To be sure, civil rights leaders have often promoted a sense of victimization to an unhealthy degree, but the disadvantages are still dramatic. I would demand millions and a high IQ.

One source of the differences in perception is that white people tend to use the past as a yardstick -- and compared to the past, even in my lifetime, progress has been heartening. But blacks tend to measure the present against an idealized future.

I'm not sure what it all means, but one likelihood is that black people and white people in America still have a long way to go before they really understand each other. Too bad.

No comments: