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Class, Race, and the Marketplace
August 01, 2009
Class and racial inequality are always visible in the marketplace, according to Dr. David Crockett. So, he says, "What you’re really trying to do is figure out, 'How does it operate in this setting?'"
An associate professor of marketing, Crockett’s research focuses on the sociological aspects of consumer behavior, particularly the consequences of social inequality. His research settings have included sub-par grocery stores in predominantly black neighborhoods, stores where black customers are treated differently than white customers, public schools, and private homes.
Among his conclusions:
- Marketplace discrimination directed at African-American men as a group is widespread—and extremely stressful. Blacks’ coping strategies include dressing more nicely so they will be less likely to be targeted, making formal complaints to the management, or walking out but then warning friends about a particular store’s discriminatory treatment. A bigger issue, says Crockett, “is trying to understand from the consumer’s perspective what they feel has actually gone wrong, and why they think the store failed. Often a simple explanation [by a manager] about what happened could go a much longer way toward alleviating the issue than many other kinds of remediation."
- Differential treatment at a place of business affects people (called "co-consumers") who see such treatment -- not just the customer who is on the receiving end. Such unfair actions can cost the firm in dollars lost and also reputation, so it behooves managers to train their front-line employees thoroughly.
- School dress codes give the illusion of control to administrators, teachers, and parents, but dress is only one symbol of the roots of culture that are permeated by class, race, and gender distinctions. Such dress policies, therefore, are "unlikely to meet with long-term success in masking the symbolic expressions of class and race that serve as a basis for school violence.
- Ideology underlies credit behavior, among all classes of families. One family, for example, buys a more expensive home than they can actually afford to ensure that their children have access to the neighborhood’s good public schools. "They don’t see taking out the mortgage as being profligate, but as an investment that will bestow certain kinds of advantages on their children,” Crockett’s research shows. By contrast, another family buys a pricey second home because they see it as a way of eventually passing on wealth to their heirs. "Ideology is at play in both of these decisions."
Crockett, a native of Missouri, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona. Before coming to the University of South Carolina in 2002, Crockett was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard, where, as part of Harvard’s Initiative on Social Enterprise, he worked on a strategic plan for the NAACP’s board of directors. It was the first strategic plan the iconic group would adopt in its nearly 100 years of existence.
Written by Jan Collins
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