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What's Race Got to Do with It? Responses to Consumer Discrimination


  • Acknowledgments: This research was supported in part by funding from the Prudential Chair in Business and The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Deployment (CUEED) at Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick. Special thanks to Philip Vaughn for extensive statistical consultation and analysis. We would also like to thank Margo Monteith, Terri Conley, and Shaun Gabbidon for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.


Consumer discrimination occurs when sales clerks and other store employees, including security personnel, treat customers differently because of their race or ethnicity. The goal of the present research was to examine how participants perceived a case of consumer discrimination and what actions they felt the victim should take. Based on Robinson's theory of perceptual segregation, we examined whether the perceptions and responses of white participants differed from those of people of color. We also drew on the liberation psychology tenets of conscientization and de-ideologization with particular emphasis on taking the perspective of the oppressed, by measuring participants’ level of perceived societal discrimination. These two individual difference variables (participant race and perceived societal discrimination) significantly predicted participants’ perceptions of the situation and their emotional responses, which, in turn, mediated how they thought the customer should respond.