Customers Choosing White Men

An article in the June 23, 2009 issue of the New York Times’ Science section discusses the results of a study to be published in a future issue of The Academy of Management Journal.

The researchers divided 86 college students into three groups and showed each group one of three video clips about sales clerks. The sales setting details in the clips were identical, with one important exception: the demographic characteristics of the sales clerks varied. In one clip the sales clerk was a white woman, in the next a black man, and in the last a white man.

There were substantial numbers of women and nonwhites in each group, but the students rated the white man’s performance highest.

The study’s lead author stated in an interview that

Everyone –white, black, men, women—think the white man is more valuable. Someone needs to call customers out on their biases.

It’s a noble suggestion, but in all likelihood the outcome will not be the one hoped for: Customers will be more cautious about expressing in public their true beliefs on sex and race.


  1. Black Girl

    How do they know the White man was more “valuable”? What if he looked more “approchable”. What were they all wearing?

    Maybe they think the White man looks more secure in his answers.

  2. José Cobas Author

    Siss, interesting indeed.

    Black Girl:
    It is impossible to know what the students were thinking. No study has access to this sort of information. “Approchable” and “Secure,” however, are valuable traits. Regardless of which favorable quality the students had in mind, the article’s point was that the students, in all probability, associated “white” with positive traits. This interpretation relies on the knowledge of the racist character of U.S. society.

  3. José Cobas Author

    Black Girl
    You are absolutely right: it isn’t new knowledge. But it still is valuable, especially as a reminder to those who argue that racism “is a thing of the past.”

  4. Dave Paul

    I think this a result of years of socialization into the dominant white racial frame. White consumers (and possibly consumers of color as well) spend years watching media representations of people of color, most of which depict Blacks (especially Black men) in a negative light. It is no surprise then, that white consumers prefer to deal with white workers. And I don’t want to hear any “birds of a feather” baloney. The fact of the matter is that most white people are socialized to view Blacks with scorn and distrust. This is the American way. Our nation needs to really, REALLY analyze how we teach our children about people of diffferent backgrounds. And we need to overhaul our media outlets to provide more avenues for Black expression. Until we have public spaces where Black Americans can speak openly and publically, and until we challenge the whole racist “prison industrial complex,” we will continue to teach our young to view people of color with scorn. We need to truly challenge the racial stereotypes we propagate in media, music, science, public policy, and education. Children need to grow up with diverse peoples and views represented. I could rant and rave but I’ll stop there.

  5. Randy B.

    Dave- I agree with you totally, this is a result of years of socialization into the dominant white racial frame and shows a continuance of white privilege in society today. I am not surprised that most people find the white male as more valuable. And I agree with Black Girl that is could be because there was a since of approachability or security with the white sales representative that did not exist with the other two sales people, but really I think that the media has so saturated us with the idea of white male salespeople, we subconsciously chose white male salespeople when we are given a opportunity. Let’s take a small look at Infomercials and pitchmen. Heck the word pitchmen suggests a gender bias. On late night television, how often do you see non white females pitching products? You don’t! What are white men the only ones out there that can pitch Kaboom or Oxyclean. Couldn’t an African-American pitch Shamwows or Snuggies? Even in health and fitness equipment commercials, I predominately see white men.

    But the media isn’t going to change anytime soon. Not as long as 95% percent of the wealth in America is controlled by 3% of the people, all white men. I am not sure what the solution is, but at least some people out there are still pointing out that system still has a racial problem, and the election of a bi-racial, predominately Black man to the office of the Presidency does not mean that the racial issues in America are now solved.

  6. Vladamir

    Everyone –white, black, men, women—think the white man is more valuable. Someone needs to call customers out on their biases.

    Why do they need to be called out? It is choice and it is true a white man is more valuable

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