Discrimination Is Costly to Black Men, No Matter Their Income

black man surrounded by bills

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Key Takeaways

  • A UCLA study tallies up the cost of being Black in the US
  • Researchers have identified a “Black tax” paid by Black men by way of discrimination 
  • This tax has both financial and physiological effects on Black families 

Over the last decade or so, with the help of social media, we've become increasingly aware of the ongoing challenges people of color face in the United States as a direct result of systemic racism.

Whether that is someone bird watching in a park, entering an apartment building, or driving during rush hour, viral videos have shown us that an ordinary day can turn into a hostile situation caused by unconscious bias and someone being seen as threatening.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that this reality—either through actually happening or having the heightened awareness of an incident occurring—can be costly to a Black man.

Black Men Face Greater Discrimination

The UCLA study found that Black men of all income levels face more discrimination than their white counterparts. According to psychology professor and senior study co-author Vickie Mays, "Black men face constant experiences of discrimination and disappointment when they try to contribute. They are treated like criminals in a society where they often are not allowed to achieve their full potential." 

The study finds that, while white men often feel protected by their money, that protection doesn’t always extend to Black men. This is also evidenced in a 2019 Pew Research study that found that the more education a Black man has, the more likely he is to face racial slurs and people treating him like he isn't smart.

Vickie Mays, PhD

Black men face constant experiences of discrimination and disappointment when they try to contribute. They are treated like criminals in a society where they often are not allowed to achieve their full potential.

— Vickie Mays, PhD

Susan Cochran, a professor of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health explains, "In the United States, many people believe that higher levels of income and education provide relief against being treated differently, badly or unfairly.” She says that “structural barriers” often inhibit a Black man’s ability to take advantage of his achievements the way that a white man can. 

Perceived discrimination was measured in 1,271 Black men and 372 non-Hispanic white men. They were asked questions about being followed in stores, receiving poor services, and being called names. The results show that, almost daily, Black men face microaggressions and discrimination year after year.

This is the recipe for weathering, which describes the physiological toll that this kind of adversity can lead to. Weathering puts you at an increased risk of cardiometabolic conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Mays explains, "It takes a toll on your physical and mental health. You get depleted." The study did not address the financial and social tolls taken by discrimination, but it brings up the Black tax-a decades’ old idea that it is costly to be Black. 

What is the Black Tax? 

There are many aspects to a Black tax. The physiological toll is major, but it also extends to actual financial practices.

A 2020 MIT study found that Black families pay more as homeowners than white families. This includes higher insurance premiums and interest rates on mortgages. They may also receive lower appraisals on their homes. This was proven recently when a Black couple had their white friends pose as the homeowners after their house appraised at half a million less than what it was worth.

A. Donahue Baker, a CPA and founder and CEO of Money Avenue also describes it as, “The ‘Black Tax’ is a term many use to describe the financial cost that successful Black professionals pay, often to support less fortunate family members. It is exacerbated by societal pressure and an economic system that has historically denied Black people opportunities to build generational wealth.” 

Baker also describes how successful Black people feel obligated to offer a leg up to family members who may have sacrificed to help that one person get to where they are. “Being the first to graduate college in my family meant I was the first to have a six-figure job” says Baker. “So, I understand the Black Tax. My family began to look at me as the source of funds for everything just because the perception was that I could afford it whether that was true or not.” 

What Baker understands as a contributing factor is the legacy of discriminatory practices that have prevented Black families from building wealth and thus causing a wealth gap between them and white families.

Shervin Assari, Lead Study Co-Author

Successful Blacks expect better treatment and think they deserve it but often do not get it.

— Shervin Assari, Lead Study Co-Author

It would take 228 years for Black families to obtain the same amount of wealth as white families, and redlining and the GI Bill have been major contributors. Some realtors have not been able to show houses to Black families in white neighborhoods, and banks would not lend in Black neighborhoods.

The GI Bill helped to jumpstart the wealth of over 1 million soldiers after World War II, through tuition assistance, housing allowances, and low-cost mortgages, but only 12 percent of the 1.2 million Black soldiers were able to go to college.

How Do We Create Equity? 

Lead study author Shervin Assari says that upward mobility may be harmful because more Black people may now be in white spaces. "Successful Blacks expect better treatment and think they deserve it but often do not get it." However, the authors believe discrimination needs to be addressed on an institutional level before change can come about. 

According to May, "Change has to come faster. Change has to be permanent. We are tired of hearing 'wait your turn.' Black men's dreams have been deferred for far too long."

What This Means for You

According to the study, "Developing an enhanced understanding of the drivers for high-income African American men’s cognitive appraisal of discrimination may be useful in anticipating and addressing the health impacts of that discrimination." The study also recommends further investigation into the health and wellbeing of high-earning Black men as they strive for upward mobility.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Assari S, Cochran SD, Mays VM. Money protects white but not african american men against discrimination: comparison of african american and white men in the same geographic areas. IJERPH. 2021;18(5):2706.

  2. Geronimus AT, Hicken M, Keene D, Bound J. "Weathering" and age patterns of allostatic load scores among blacks and whites in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2006;96(5):826-833. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.060749 

  3. The Unequal Costs of Black Homeownership. MIT Golub Center for Finance and Policy (GCFP).

  4. Hamilton, D.; Darity, W., Jr. Race, Wealth, and Intergenerational Poverty: There will never be a post-racial America if the wealth gap persists. Am. Prospect 2009, 20, A10–A12.

  5. Collins C, Asante-Muhammad D, Hoxie J, Nieves E. Report: Ever-Growing Gap. Institute for Policy Studies.

  6. Turner SE, Bound J. Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and World War II on the Educational Outcomes of Black Americans. NBER.

By Tonya Russell
Tonya Russell is a Philadelphia-based journalist with a passion for mental health, wellness, and culture. When she isn't writing, she's training for a marathon or riding horses.