Want to sell or buy something online? E-Bay is the cyber shopping mall for millions but according to a new study called “Race Effects on E-Bay,” compiled by researchers from Harvard and Yale who tested the different experiences of Black and white people selling things on E-Bay, your race makes a difference on the Internet site.
Here’s how it worked: researchers auctioned off moderately priced baseball cards, which were photographed held in either a Black hand or a white hand. The cards were the same, yet the cards held in a Black hand sold for about 20 percent less than cards held in a white hand.
“Although we would like to believe that we have achieved a post-racial society, the visibility of race and our automatic reaction to skin color often reflects decades of racism. We would love to believe that we are color blind but we are all socially loaded with unconscious racial biases,” notes nationally recognized psychologist and diversity expert Deborah L. Plummer, PhD, professor, department of psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School. “Unfortunately, these unconscious biases or micro-inequities have the same cumulative impact as the older forms of overt racism and result in economic, educational, health, and social disparities.”
The Harvard/Yale study was not the first to be done focusing on race and E-Bay. In 2010, an experiment conducted by the Centre for Economic Policy Research found that Black iPod sellers received fewer responses and fewer cash offers than white sellers, and the cash offers they did receive were significantly lower.
Diversity expert Warren Holyfield/CEO, too, was not surprised by the findings of either study. “Unfortunately, it is neither surprising nor shocking although I wish it were. While tremendous strides have been made in both addressing and working to change the etymology of prejudice, namely pre-judgment, its roots are hard to completely eliminate,” he says but adds that this is an opportunity for action.
“There is an opportunity here to also create an independent consulting firm or panel that provides recommendations and evaluations that can endorse Internet sites for their efforts in taking steps in that direction and those who are wanting to step outside of their own approach and consider other perspectives that could ultimately open up new markets,” he points out.
For users of E-Bay, Holyfield suggests, “Users should, first off, be aware of the potential of this pre-disposition within themselves by knowing that it does still exist. They should re-evaluate their approach if they’re willing to mentally reverse roles. A minority seller may consider providing a variety of ways to present products that cover multiple demographics to make selling as race-neutral as possible.”