Using data from a 1989 factorial survey of 194 white students at a small liberal arts college, this paper demonstrates that observers' perception of the seriousness of verbal racial harassment depends both on the harassing behavior itself and on the account offered by the harasser for the behavior. Apologies and some excuses reduce perceived seriousness, while justifications and other excuses increase it, though only apologies have statistically consistent effects. Unexpectedly, personal experience with racial harassment does not affect perceived seriousness, though gender does. A comparison of the influences on the perception of sexual harassment is provided.

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