When white Americans were asked in a new study to pick a dollar amount they would have to be paid to live the rest of their lives as a black person, most requested less than $10,000. A minor thing.

In contrast, study participants said they would have to be paid about $1 million to give up television for the rest of their lives.

This would seem to state that white people don't think being black is such a big deal in 2007. Not the case at all, says Philip Mazzocco, co-author of a new study study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Mansfield campus. Instead, he says the results suggest most white Americans don't truly comprehend the persisting racial disparities in our country.



“The costs of being black in our society are very well documented,” Mazzocco said. “Blacks have significantly lower income and wealth, higher levels of poverty, and even shorter life spans, among many other disparities, compared to whites.”

Mazzocco seems to be saying this is either something fundamental to black people or that bigotry is so pervasive black families cannot escape it.

Yet, if either is the case, how can his study be valid? What is the margin of error if the white people taking the test are so prejudiced against blacks that they would intentionally oppress them yet will still lie on an an anonymous survey about it?

“When whites say they would need $1 million to give up TV, but less than $10,000 to become black, that suggests they don't really understand the extent to which African Americans, as a group, are disadvantaged,” Mazzocco said.

Or it may be that white people see blacks, Asians, Latinos, Europeans and everyone else who aren't native to this country doing just fine, depending on their individual natures, goals and drive - the very definition of equality. Is there more racism in America if you want to find it? There may be.

9 out of 10 white Americans reject proposals to give reparations to the descendants of slaves, said study co-author Mahzarin Banaji, the Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University. “Our data suggest that such resistance is not because white Americans are mean and uncaring, morally bankrupt, or ethically flawed,” Banaji said. “White Americans suffer from a glaring ignorance about what it means to live as a black American.”

Note that those are the only choices - morally bankrupt, mean or ignorant. It may be that the people taking the survey know history and math better than Banaji. There were tens of thousands of black people who owned slaves in the pre-Emancipation south and even more that were not slaves at all. How does society separate their descendants from everyone else? What about the white people whose ancestors fought for the Union? Why do people who never owned slaves or whose ancestors fought to free them have to pay just because they have the wrong skin color?

Let's see if we can find their justification for that statement together.

In their survey, 958 whites of different ages and from different parts of the country were asked variations of the same question: “How much should you be paid to continue to live the rest of your life as a black person?”

In some cases, the participants were told to imagine they were actually black, but had always passed for white. The imagined race change required no physical transformation, just a change in public status.

In one study, whites were told to imagine that they were about to be born as a random white person in America, but they were being offered a cash gift to be born as a random black person. Once again, white participants requested relatively small sums to make a life-long change in their race.

It was only after they were told about the income difference of blacks in America - the racial wealth correlation/causation that caused the researchers to go down this road - that whites requested significantly higher amounts than those in the previous studies, about $500,000. Yet the income difference between blacks and whites is only $150,000, so clearly the money was not the only hint the researchers were giving about being a minority in America.

Finally, some participants were asked to imagine they were born into the fictional country of Atria, and were born either into the “majority” or “minority” population. They were given a list of the disadvantages that the minority population faced in Atria (which were identical to the real disadvantages faced by blacks in America). In this case, white participants in the study said they should be paid an average of $1 million to be born as a minority member in Atria.

The missing factor in that last scenario is "America." When the racial income disparities are painted as unchanging fact, the answers are what the researchers want. People would need to be compensated less to be a minority in America than they would need to be a minority in "Atria", precisely because in Atria they assume their income and potential is limited by their minority status - while in America they know it is not. Again, that sounds like equality.

The gist of this is not about equality, it is about paying reparations to descendants of slaves - money, not freedom. According to the conclusion of the surveyors, if you don't agree to pay reparations to black people, that's proof of the very bias the researchers wanted to establish yet couldn't find by asking the questions on race and getting low dollar values as compensation. So you can't win, even if you aren't racist, have never been a racist, moved here after 1865 or generally have white skin.

Race relations have taken huge strides in the last 60 years. To anyone not in the advocacy business, this survey would be a ringing endorsement of the terrific achievements resulting from the many who worked, suffered and sacrificed to have the equality we all enjoy today.

It's time to stop manipulating data in the name of racial politics and get on with being one nation for all.

Mazzocco's study appears in the current issue of Harvard's Du Bois Review, a new publication started in 2007 by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.