Will Obama Have to Spend More Than His White Rivals?

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Will Obama Have to Spend More Than His White Rivals?

Joan Steinau Lester

Will Barack Obama have to spend more than a white candidate would to secure the Democratic Party nomination? It seems preposterous, but actually, across the board, African Americans pay more for almost everything.

Just before Christmas I decided to give my granddaughter one of the big items on her Santa wish list: Baby Alive. She talks, she pees, she poops! Once I resolved to honor the grandkids' wishes, I assumed that one click of the mouse would secure me a Baby Alive, ready to ship.

But alas, there were choices. The first item to appear on Amazon was Baby Alive Caucasian for $32.99, who came with special extras: a "bonus diaper bag and diapers." Aside from the fact that she looked like a Stepford wife, with hideously unnatural blonde hair, I wanted to at least add to my mixed-race granddaughter's collection of variously complected dark-skinned dolls.

I clicked again. Two more came up: Baby Alive Hispanic and Baby Alive African American. Other than skin color and hair styles, they appeared exactly the same as the white doll. (Baby Alive Hispanic, with her straightened hair, looked like a Junior Supreme.) But these two dolls of color were $39.99 each and came with minimum accoutrements: no bonus diaper bag, no extras.

Should I pay a $20 premium to buy a darker doll with paraphernalia that, if bought separately, would cost another $14.99, for a whopping 70% price differential? (After Christmas the accessory pack cost grew to $17.99.) For two days my thrifty upbringing warred with my social conscience. In the end, I bought Baby Alive Hispanic.

But wow, I reflected: from redlined neighborhoods, with their premium mortgages and inflated house costs, to higher grocery store bills, Buying In Color costs more. A lot more. (After Christmas, when Baby Alive's prices jumped, the disparity increased further: the white doll, who still comes with "bonus diaper bag and doll diapers," now costs $44.99, while Baby Alive Hispanic is $79.99--no extras--meaning she costs more than double, if you include the stand-alone accessory pack, and Baby Alive African American, also with no bonus bag or extra diapers, is a bewildering $69.99.) Like fractals, a pattern which repeats throughout nature in varying sizes, this premium pricing permeates every aspect of U.S. life--even to the presidential primary, where Barack Obama spent more on Iowa advertising (about $7.5 million) than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican.

On Christmas Day my excited granddaughter called to tell me about Baby Alive's gastrointestinal delights, but she did acknowledge, "We only have two diapers and they're used up. Mommy is taking me tomorrow to get more." So they'll buy those bonus diapers that came free to white Baby Alive.

We've long said," A person of color or a woman has to be twice as good as a white man to succeed." Should we add: "And spend a lot more, too"? If Barack Obama does secure his party's nomination, let's hope it won't cost him a Buying While Black premium to get it.

Joan Steinau Lester's most recent book is FIRE IN MY SOUL (Simon and Schuster), a biography of Washington D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

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