The joy of shopping has often been a bittersweet experience for African-Americans, who nevertheless go about it with a greater intensity than almost any other group. In addition to budgeting, choosing items and finding a parking space, they have to contend with being followed, watched surreptitiously, differential service and often, plain disrespect.
Social scientists have charted the “black tax” in a number of well-structured studies that pair similarly situated black and white shoppers for items as distinct as clothing, automobiles and most recently mortgage lending.
The most egregious examples include actual physical violence on black shoppers, including being forced to strip in public by security and/or police. One of top legal foes of what he has termed “consumer racism” is Washington, D.C. attorney Donald M. Temple, who has won several judgments through trials or settlements in cases against stores such as Eddie Bauer and Forever 21.
While more celebrated police brutality cases often fall in a gray area of street confrontations, Temple often has to work on behalf of petite teenagers or college students being confronted in malls as if the constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty does not exist.
Temple, a former chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Commission in the District of Columbia and chief counsel of the House District Committee, has taken a broader view of the problem, viewing the power of direct consumer action as a civil rights tactic throughout the 20th century from Harlem in the 1940s with Adam Clayton Powell to the Montgomery bus boycott and the consumer actions against Woolworth in the 1960s.
He’s developing a new website called cashblack.com which gives black consumers a much more proactive way to engage the shopping landscape. It is one of the first entries in the e-commerce industry to offer savings and reduced shipping costs to black consumers. Its access to thousands of retailer and manufacturers also has the advantage of allowing customers to pick up the items in the nearest store.
His objective is that at least some of the hundreds of billions in disposable income used by African-Americans come back to individual consumers and to such causes as education, health and affordable housing.
A tool like cashblack.com ultimately has the potential to prevent such predatory abuses as sub-prime mortgages and rent-to-own by giving black consumers more options. It would be one step towards the abolition of the “black tax.”