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The Science of a Young Black Man in a Suit: The Primary Prejudice Is About Money?
By Heath Shive
In 2012, Trayvon Martin – a young black man – was wearing a hoodie as he walked home. George Zimmerman thought he looked suspicious, so he accosted, fought, and fatally shot Martin.
Would Martin be alive today if…he had worn a suit?
In 2014, Eric Garner was strangled fatally when police arrested him for allegedly selling “loosies” on the street. Would Garner still be alive if he had been wearing a suit?
Both of these cases made national headlines with a media spotlight on race relations in America.
But was racism the real prejudice?
Justine Damond was shot and killed by a rookie police officer in Minneapolis in 2017.
But, she was white, a woman, unarmed, and in an affluent neighborhood!
Damond was wearing pajamas at the time of her shooting. Would she be alive today if…she had been wearing a pantsuit?
To the science of a young black man in a suit!
The Chicago Study
In Chicago, researchers Uri Gneezy, John List, and Michael K. Price created an experiment. In the experiment, a tester (working for the scientists) would walk around in Chicago and ask people for directions to a local landmark. The study would measure 2 things: whether the people responded to the question, and how long they talked to the tester.
There were 40 testers consisting of 8 groups of 5 each, divided by race (white and black), age (20 and 50), and gender (male and female).
There were a total of 3,000 respondents and here are the results.
A 20-year old white female had the highest response rate and response time.
A 20-year old black male had the lowest response rate and time.
True to stereotype, right?
But did you notice something non-stereotypical?
The prejudice in action was not simply about race.
So the researchers went one step farther.
The Science of a Young Black Man in a Suit
The researchers sent the 20-year black male testers back into the streets for another test run.
But this time, they didn’t wear hoodies. The young black men wore…business suits.
In the words of Uri Gneezy and John List in their book The Why Axis: “Indeed, this time, the young black men were treated quite well and received the same quality information the young women had received.”
The young black men’s response rates and times roughly equaled the highest rates of the entire study!
All it took was a business suit!
Uri Gneezy and John List include this study – among many others – in their incredible book The Why Axis. The book is about discrimination in all its economic aspects. And some of their findings are not only relevant, but surprising as well.
Really, what is a suit? A suit means a "successful" job at a "successful" wage. It means money. A suit carries a prejudice - it creates a standard appearance for success. Without a suit, how important can you be?
We talk about race a lot in this country, but do we dare to ask: what were they wearing? Is the primary prejudice in this country an economic one?
Clothes don’t make the man. But clothes do change our perception.
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Gneezy, Uri, & John List. The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life. PublicAffairs, 2013.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.