Special Session Summary Racial and Ethnic Identity in the Marketplace: an Examination of Nonverbal and Peripheral Cues

Jerome D. Williams, Penn State University
Kimberly Dillon Grantham, Duke University
[ to cite ]:
Jerome D. Williams and Kimberly Dillon Grantham (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Racial and Ethnic Identity in the Marketplace: an Examination of Nonverbal and Peripheral Cues", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 451-454.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 451-454



Jerome D. Williams, Penn State University

Kimberly Dillon Grantham, Duke University


The focus of the session was to examine the perceptions, stereotypes and implications surrounding racial and ethnic identity in the context of marketplace exchange and advertiser effectiveness. Within the session, authors 1) examined how ethnic identification influences consumer reactions to the use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) in advertising, 2) investigated the use of ethnic identity in comparison to racial identity as a predictor of other-group interactions and 3) determined how racial identity and manner of dress may be used as peripheral cues to influence service provider / consumer interactions. Each session participant considered an aspect of marketplace exchange that is an output of the increasing diversity of today’s marketplace.



Jerome D. Williams, Penn State University

Miriam Stamps, University of South Florida

Kimberly DillonGrantham, Duke University

Williams, Stamps, and Dillon Grantham examined how levels of ethnic identification relate to consumers’ reaction to the use of Ebonics, also known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or sometimes Black English, in advertising. The authors explored how ethnic identify may have an effect on consumers’ attitudes toward Ebonics versus Standard English, and from a consumer behavior perspective, how African American consumers may respond to Ebonics-based advertising copy to appeal to them.

The authors utilized the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney 1990) to assess which groups of African Americans are most receptive to Ebonics usage. This approach allowed them to get a better grasp of the variability among Black consumers, and their corresponding attitudes toward usage of Black English as a communication style in advertising copy.

Being sensitive to the use of Ebonics in advertising is particularly relevant for marketers in understanding African American consumer behavior, given the controversy that erupted over the use of Ebonics in the education arena (Williams 1997). As advertisers frequently use aspects of this controversial dialect to reach African American consumers, they could find themselves being accused of insensitivity toward this target market. This was the plight of educators when they attempted to incorporate Ebonics in the curriculum as a pedagogical tool to teach African American students.

Typically advertisers incorporate elements of Ebonics by adopting what has been referred to as the "right-on" school of advertising. This generally includes injecting lexical features of Ebonics into advertising copy. Although there are other elements of Ebonics, such as syntactical and phonetic features, the lexical elements are the ones most relevant for consumer researchers due to the use of slang expressions in advertising. For example, advertisers have incorporated such expressions as "home boys" and "home girls" in the promotion of products targeted to African-Americans (Jet 1990). One firm which markets potato chips to inner city African-American youths, uses street slang to create names and flavors for its chips, such as "Chumpies," a commonly used term for "the best of the best," and "Bumpin Barbecue," which means something hot and good (Bush 1993).

An implicit assumption in this strategy is the homogeneity of the Black consumer, i.e., all Blacks use Ebonics and the use of such expressions should be effective in communicating with this segment of the market. While a particular segment of African Americans may respond more favorably to such slang expressions, advertisers generally have little understanding of which segment is most responsive to this approach. Furthermore, little research has been conducted to identify the most appropriate African American segment (Williams, Atwater, Nelson, and Toy 1989).

In this presentation, the authors reported on a survey of African Americans in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The City of Philadelphia has a Black population of approximately 40%, and the Philadelphia metropolitan area has a Black population of approximately 16% (U.S. Department of Commerce 1993). A significant contribution of this study was to examine intra-group differences within the African American consumer segment. Consumer researchers in general have failed to capture the diversity within the Black consumer segment. Therefore, they have not been able to properly assess specifically which sub-segments of African Americans would be most responsive to the usage of Black English. Traditional methodologies in measuring race tend to rest on the assumption that ethnic identity is a nominal, dichotomous trait, i.e., one is either Black or white, or Black or not Black.

Using the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure scale, the authors grouped respondents by level of strength of ethnic identity. There were 200 respondents in total, representing various racial and ethnic group in the Philadelphia area. In this presentation, the authors only reported on the comparisons between African American High Identifiers (AAHIs, n=43), African American Low Identifiers (AALIs, n=34), White High Identifiers (WHIs, n=41), and White Low Identifiers (WLIs, n=39).

As predicted, results indicated a significant interaction effect between ethnic identify and race of respondent on frequency of usage of Black English. As shown in Figure 1, based on a 7-point scale, AAHIs (4.89) used Black English more frequently than AALIs (4.07), while WHI (1.76) used Black English less frequently than WLIs (2.34). Both WHIs and WLIs used Black English less frequently than either AAHIs or AALIs. The authors also found a similar significant interaction between ethnic identity and race of respondent on familiarity with Black English (see Figure 2).

Previous studies estimated that elements of Ebonics are used by 80% of Blacks in the United States (Dillard 1972). However, in this presentation the authors’ research suggests that Ebonics is not used by all Blacks, and that there may be significant variation in the extent of usage based on degree of ethnic identity. Other authors also have suggested that there may be variation in usage based on social class, gender, age, region, socioeconomic levels, etc. (Payne 1986, Jenkins 1982, Kochman 1981, Smitherman 1984). In this study the authors indicated that situational context also may be another important factor accounting for variation in usage. For example, their results indicated on a 7-point scale that African Americans used Black English less frequently at places of employment (2.31), compared to in school (3.49) and in conversation with family and friends (4.55). Interestingly, AAHIs were higher than AALIs in usage of Black English among family and friends, but lower in usage at places of employment and in school.







The authors also considered another situational context, namely advertising, which, as pointed out earlier, is highly relevant for marketers and consumer researchers. African Americans (3.49) were slightly higher than Whites (3.16) in favorable attitude toward usage of Ebonics in advertising to appeal specifically to the African American consumer segment. Similarly, African Americans (4.64) were slightly higher than Whites (4.04) in favorable attitude toward usage of Ebonics in advertising to appeal to a generally mixed audience of Black and White Consumers. However, the authors failed to find significant differences between Black and White high and low ethnic identifiers for this situational context.

As noted above, Ebonics is composed of several elements, including syntactical features, phonetic features, non-verbal features, etc., but lexical features (meanings of words, e.g., slang expressions) is the element most relevant for advertisers and consumers researchers. The authors operationalized Black English lexical identity by measuring respondents on level of familiarity with and usage of ninety-one Black English expressions. The authors identified these ninety-one expressions by consulting a number of Black English dictionaries and by administering a series of pre-tests to students at a major East Coast university to identity the most commonly used expressions. Table 1 lists the top ten expressions using a scale where respondents first indicated if they were familiar with each expression, and if so, their frequency of using each expression, based on a 7-point scale.

Finally the authors surveyed respondents on attitudes toward Black English using the 44-item Black English attitude scale. This scale measures a range of attitudes, including situations where Black English usage is appropriate, social acceptability of Black English, whether Black English should be used in schools, at work, in the home, etc. The results generally indicated that AAHIs were move favorable toward Black English than AALIs.



Carol M. Motley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Thomas L. Ainscough, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

Motley and Ainscough sought to determine if the physical appearance of customers influences the services received in retail establishments. Visually prominent physical features such as race, gender, age and manner of dress allow people to rapidly categorize and make inferences about others. As such physical appearance can be conceptualized as a form of nonverbal communication that cues social schemas or stereotypes. Once activated, the stereotype can influence the nature of the relationship between the perceiver and the target. If the schema contains negative beliefs about the group, then the perceiver may behave in a discriminatory fashion.

Understanding this type of behavior is particularly important in an era of increased competition in the marketplace and more sophisticated and demanding consumers, and where service providers are recognizing the high cost of losing customers. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that there are service providers that do not maintain a consistent level of customer service and drive members of some groups away. For example, recent "hidden camera" investigations on television news magazines such as Dateline and 20120 have shown apparent cases of discrimination against members of minority groups in retail settings. In addition, many articles in the popular press have charged that African -Americans

wait for inordinately long times or arc denied service at restaurants (Hawkins 1993; U.S. Attorney General News Release 1997) and automobile rental agencies (Philadelphia Inquirer 1997; Tejada 1996), and African-American males are not picked up by taxicab drivers (New York Times 1995); females are not granted fitness club memberships; and some suggest that restaurants and other businesses refuse to deliver to sections of towns seemingly on the basis of race or class alone (New York Times 1996). The immediate outcomes of these incidents are dissatisfied customers who are likely to discontinue patronizing the establishment and disseminate negative word-of-mouth. The potential long-term consequences of disparate treatment of groups of consumers include organized boycotts, negative publicity, lawsuits, and less than optimal financial performance of the firm. With the exception of research on race and gender discrimination in the rental of apartments (Donnerstein, Donnerstein and Koch 1975; Johnson, Porter and Mateljan 1971), the provision of financial services (Myers and Chan 1995), and price quotes from new car dealerships (Ayres and Siegelman 1995), relatively little recent scholarly attention has been directed toward investigating prejudice and discrimination in the marketplace.

The presentation by Motley and Ainscough attempted to fill this gap in the marketing literature by examining if discriminatory behaviors are exhibited in the provision of retail services. In addition, they extended the extant literature on marketplace prejudice and discrimination by including manner of dress as an independent variable in addition to race and gender.

The authors reported on two studies. Specifically, in Study 1, they explored the impact of visible individual characteristics-race, gender and manner of dress-on the service provided customers attempting to return items to retail outlets. In Study 2, "mystery shoppers" were used to determine if sales associate approach and other non-verbal behaviors are affected by the customer's gender and attire. They also examine the relationship between the service encounter and customer satisfaction.

The results from their field audits in which nonverbal behaviors were measured suggested that there are inequities in the treatment of some groups of people in the retail industry. The results from Study 1 indicated that blacks wait longer for customer service than whites of the same gender. While males as a whole tended to have longer waits, the black male confederate had significantly longer waiting times than any other participant in this study. In addition, findings from Study 2 suggested that well dressed individuals receive a higher level of service and are more satisfied with that service than poorly dressed individuals. These results not only contribute to the academic literature on marketplace discrimination, but also provide meaningful managerial implications.



Ronald C. Goodstein, Indiana University

Renee Goodstein, St. Francis College

Tammy McCullough, Eastern Michigan University

Goodstein and Goodstein explored the relationship between racial identity (visual), ethnic identity (salience), and other-group orientation. The authors suggested implications for each model's use as a cue for marketers to distinguish between consumer groups. To date, most of the research in the domain of consumer ethnicity has been studied using visible racial group models. To compare racial models based on visible cues to ethnic identity models for Black subjects, Goodstein and Goodstein examined the use of Cross' (1995) stages of ethnic identification. Each stage of this process has a corresponding salience and depth of ethnic identity, as well as other-group orientation. The stages include: (a) pre-encounter, during which a Black person devalues her/his race and holds attitudes that are anti-Black and pro-White; (b) encounter, during which the person is confronted with experiences that shake her/his pre-encounter attitudes; (c) immersion-emersion, during which the person tries to destroy any remnants of the old anti-Black frame of reference, becomes intensely involved in discovering her/ his Black heritage, and holds pro-Black and anti-White attitudes; and (d) internalization and internalization/commitment, during which the person internalizes a positive Black identity, while at the same time holding a nonracist perspective that leaves open the possibility of friendships with White people.

Using this framework, Goodstein and Goodstein explored the relationship between Black students' racial and ethnic identification and other-group orientation. Pearson product-moment correlations for 126 Black students revealed that those holding anti-Black and pro-White attitudes showed low ethnic group attachment, whereas those Black students with internalized attitudes showed high ethnic group attachment. Further, those students in encounter and immersion-emersion stages held negative other-group orientations.

To compare racial models based on visible cues to ethnic identity models for White subjects, Goodstein and Goodstein examined the use of Helms and Carter's (1990) development of non-racist identity. These stages consist of (a) contact, during which an individual is unaware of her/himself as a racial being, and benefits from racism without awareness; (b) disintegration, during which the person acknowledges her/his Whiteness and experiences negative emotions due to the internal dilemma of having unfair advantages in a racist society; (c) reintegration, during which feelings of guilt and anxiety turn into hostility and anger towards Blacks; (d) pseudo-independence, where anger and hostility dissipate and is replaced by an intellectual curiosity about both Whites and Blacks; (e) immersion-emersion, where the person actively seeks information about becoming an anti-racist White; and (f) autonomy, which is characterized by a person's acceptance of her/his Whiteness, an appreciation of racial differences, and a commitment to end racism. For White students. Goodstein and Goodstein found no significant relationship between ethnic and racial group attachment, but a significant relationship was found between ethnic development and other-group orientation. In this case, contact, pseudo-independence, and autonomy related positively to other group orientation. Conversely, disintegration and reintegration were associated with negative other-group orientation.

This study integrated both racial and ethnic identity into a single design. The results revealed that racial (visual) identity had little correlation with other-group orientation, whereas ethnic (salience) identity relates significantly to other-group orientation depending upon one's stage of ethnic development. Goodstein and Goodstein provided initial evidence that distinguishing groups in terms of race can be an ineffective strategy. All Blacks, and similarly all Whites, will behave differently to marketing attempts by in-group and out-group others depending upon the Black/White consumer's stage of ethnic development. Future research will attempt to correlate demographic and psychographic characteristics to these stages of development in order to be able to identify these distinctions more readily in the marketplace.


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