Racial tension in the United States has been a hot button issue, especially since the 2016 presidential election. A simple truth that everyone can agree on, however, is that sadly, race still plays a large role in how a person is experienced by the world.
Now, a new study has shed light on the rampant racial profiling that occurs in the retail industry.
The study, titled “Shopping While Black,” was published in the Journal of Consumer Culture and delves into the hostility that African-Americans face while shopping, and how some feel they have to modify their behavior to simply buy what they need.
While you would think economic disparity would be the greatest influence in how shoppers are treated, the study shows that even a wealthy black shopper faces hostile or discriminatory treatment in stores.
This was especially true in stores that sold high-end clothing, when black professionals shopping for work clothes at high-end retailers were often judged to be poor.
“The privileges and entitlements that come with economic resources are often not afforded to African-American shoppers,” said Cassi Pittman, one of the study authors and an assistant professor of sociology at Case Western Reserve University.
Pittman interviewed 55 middle-class African-Americans from New York City, asking about their personal experiences shopping and if they felt any discrimination or hostility based on their race.
The results of the interviews show just how serious the issue is. 80 percent of the study participants said they experienced racial stigma and stereotypes while shopping, 59 percent were perceived as a shoplifter, 52 percent reported receiving poor or even no service, and 52 percent were perceived as poor.
The study participants also reported that they had experienced being followed around in stores, told where the location of the store’s sale selection was without asking, were ignored by store staff, and told the price of more expensive items without asking.
The interviewees reported similar results in grocery stores, drugstores, and boutiques and often reported that they felt the need to modify their behavior or downplay their race to be able to go about their shopping.
“Many shoppers feel their race undermines their credibility in stores,” Pittman said. “They’re treated differently, but not wholly denied access. In many ways, this a microcosm of racial exclusions embedded in American society.”
The results are yet another example of the hostility and discriminatory behavior that people of color face on a daily basis.