Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management

Major Professor

David Schumann

Committee Members

Richard Reizenstein, Sarah Gardial, Ann Fairhurst


The purpose of this dissertation research was to understand perceptions of discrimination as experienced by African American women in retail settings. Because the emphasis here was on understanding the phenomenon from the target’s perspective, an existential phenomenological approach was used. Existential phenomenology “seeks to explicate the essence, structure or form of both human experience and human behavior as revealed through essentially descriptive techniques including disciplined reflection” (Valle, King and Halling 1989, pg. 6). In-depth interviews were conducted with African American women who believed they’d received negative treatment because of their race in a retail setting. The analysis provided a rich description of retail perceptions of discrimination. Specifically, the phenomenon emerged as involving four themes (identified in emic terms by italics). The participant was subjected to Invisible/criminal treatment by sales associates and/or retail managers. At some point during the encounters described, participants internally attributed this treatment to discrimination. Sometimes this attribution arose quickly, other times it arose subsequent to a process of testing. For the experiences described, there was a point where the participant knew (I knew) she was being discriminated against. The perception of discrimination produced primarily negative emotions, corresponding cognitions and behaviors collectively described by the theme Have restraint - Show my butt. The perception of discrimination is facilitated by the notion that, despite social norms against these practices, discrimination is an omnipresent threat because Racism Exists. Both parental socialization and personal experiences with discrimination in other settings influence retail perceptions of discrimination. This study contributes to marketing and retailing research (e.g. understanding negative critical incidents of diverse consumers) as well as social psychological research (e.g. understanding how prejudice is experienced by targets). Specific implications for marketing and retailing faculty, researchers and practitioners; public policy officials and consumers are described.

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