A reader wrote last February:
I sold cars on assorted lots during my summers off from college. What you're saying [in debunking Malcolm Gladwell's theory that car salesmen are unconsciously offering higher prices to blacks and women] is true.
As a matter of fact, because of this phenomena of black men wanting to appear to be big spenders, I reflexively used what is called a "negative sell" approach. When a black man would tell me what car he was interested in, I'd "try" to dissuade him. "That's kind of an expensive model. Not everyone can swing that. Maybe you should take a look at a Ford Focus? Obviously, it isn't like the car you're interested in, but they're easier to finance."
Most often, he would say, "Oh no! I can afford what I want, no problem." I'd reply with plenty of enthusiasm, and show his car of choice. Back in the office, if he gave me any objections, I'd remind him that I told him it might be a little too expensive for him to handle, and he told me it would be no problem. That usually squelched any lowballing efforts.
Where did I learn this? Through experience, and the advice of mentors who had been selling cars for decades. Nothing unconscious about it. We all just wanted to make money. What race a fellow was being irrelevant except as it may pertain to getting them out with one of our cars under their butts. If I'd been told blacks enjoy English tea and crumpets, and I found it to be true, all my black customers would be sipping Earl Grey.
Race did not matter to me. Making the sale did. Matter of fact, professional sales is all about psychological self-discipline. Generally for a professional salesman, being a racist is not cost effective. Being observant of human behavior, and accurately identifying how to exploit it... is.
It's striking how often those who denounce me for noticing some racial difference so often assume that I must be saying it's 100% genetic in origin. For example, to my mind, where a group falls on the urge to drive a hard bargain vs. to be seen as a big spender appears to be far too variable over time, place, and situation to be purely genetic. Earlier this year, I quoted one of America's most insightful social observers on his own tribe's cheapness:
"We're talking about an ethnic cultural trait. And the simple fact is that the urge to drive a hard bargain famously varies between ethnic groups. As Dave Barry notes in his new book Dave Barry's Money Secrets (Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar?):
"I'm the world's worst car buyer. I come from a long line of Presbyterians, who get their name from the Greek words pre, meaning 'people,' and sbyterian, meaning 'who always pay retail.' … My idea of an opening tactical salvo is to look at the car's sticker price and say to the salesperson, 'This looks like a good deal! Are you sure you're making enough profit on this?'"
Quite true today, but I suspect that a few centuries ago, Barry's Scottish Presbyterian ancestors were viewed by English Anglicans as tight-fisted cheapskates.
Groups can change. The point, however, is that change is frequently slow enough that clear patterns can be discerned and exploited by the knowing.
It doesn't do black car buyers any good for Malcolm Gladwell to tell them that car salesmen are not consciously trying to get them to pay higher prices. Blacks are better off knowing the truth -- that they are being intentionally discriminated against by dealers who use their own typical behavioral patterns to extract more money from them.
Blacks should get mad at this situation and take steps to end it. Buy Saturn's that come with a no-haggling single price. Practice not falling for dealers' playing tricks on delicate egos about their financial situations. Complain. Criticize other blacks who fall for gimmicks like the ones described above. Do something.
The truth shall set you free.