Business

Sellers of color: This Craigslist experiment reveals America’s latent racism

Racism persists in the shadows. While many of us won’t admit to favoring white people, researchers who study “implicit bias” find that racial prejudice still persists through people who unwittingly favor some races over others.

For instance, job applicants with white names get 50 percent more callbacks from employers than those with black-sounding names–even though both applications have the exact same resume.

Now, a novel experimental study on Craigslist finds that racism bleeds into everyday transactions. In a fake sale of an Apple iPod, craigslist ads with a picture of a black person’s hand holding the product received 17 percent fewer offers. And, for those that do get offers, “they are 17 percent less likely to include their name in e-mails, 44 percent less likely to accept delivery by mail, and 56 percent more likely to express concern about making a long-distance payment.”

People with a tattoo had similar levels of discrimination leveled at them as those with non-white hands.

The researchers also perform test a number of novel hypotheses to see why people are less likely to buy from sellers they think are black.

“We do find that black sellers have the worst outcomes in high-crime areas: They receive 21 percent fewer offers and $12 lower best offers than white sellers, compared with 2 percent fewer offers and $4 lower best offers in low-crime (thin, Western) markets,” conclude the researchers.

Interestingly enough, in markets that are more competitive (with more consumer choice), the researchers find that there is less racism. They surmise “that discrimination can be competed away.”

Read the full (non-paywalled) report here.


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28 comments
Jim Wolfson
Jim Wolfson

I understand the bit about tattoos - they are permanent evidence of temporary insanity. Sometimes, permanent insanity.

There's something wrong with stupid tattoos in stupid places and the people toting them.

A wrist tattoo?  I predict massive regret and a big future for tattoo-removal companies.

Will Smith
Will Smith

Put it down on the table and stop taking a picture with it in your hand!!!!

Nikhil Shah
Nikhil Shah

Treating people differently because of their race is racism, even if the underlying reason is same-group-preference or something that is not intrinsically racist. It's not just "being attracted" by something you can relate to - it's not sharing your phone number or mail address with certain types of people. In the same way, other studies have shown that people with black-sounding names on their resume are less likely to get job interviews. This may be down to own-group-preference but the result is racist, no question.

Vero Tabares
Vero Tabares

White names? That's pretty racist, Eric.

Eric B. Roy Miley
Eric B. Roy Miley

Dean, that's and interning idea. Wouldn't the system be trained though and the full scope of the patterns lead to a more informed and "unbiased" conclusion versus that of a limited human? Would be an interesting experiment though!

Eric B. Roy Miley
Eric B. Roy Miley

Lukas, fair enough. I certainly did not say implicitly or explicitly that you were and racist b/c of the composition of your friends list. I was merely saying that you might not have the authority and/or experience with these issues to make the counter argument. I do appreciate your point about using caution before jumping to conclusions. Thanks for your input and thanks to the author of this article and sparking the conversation.

Dean Quiñanola
Dean Quiñanola

If/When Artificial Intelligence gains the human-level intuition, I'm sure the same study will yield similar results when performed by machines. We may not like it, but it's intuition that forms prejudice conclusions based on previously learned/exposed experiences. No one is a saint.

Bill Lord
Bill Lord

Every human on the planet is raised with prejudices. We learn them from family and friends as we grow up. "Those people are this." These people are that." Whatever...it's just a fact.

Lukas St-Germain
Lukas St-Germain

For your point about the job applicants, yeah that's probably prejudice and that needs to change. Again, all I was saying is don't jump to conclusions on everything before making sure you filter out all the variables.

Lukas St-Germain
Lukas St-Germain

Eric, it's not because I live in a very small town with few people of colour that I'm a racist. One of my biggest idols is actually black (PK Subban) so If I'm a racist, I'm really bad at being one!! And btw I do have a middle-eastern friend, he's just not on Facebook.

Lukas St-Germain
Lukas St-Germain

Of course in some cases it is racism because in every culture there are a**holes. I just wanted to point to the fact that the results don't necessarily mean that everyone who was part of their statistic is a racist, that there are other explanations possible and they need to test this further. That's all.

Don Wom
Don Wom

i am asian & i dont agree with lukas

Joel Reyna
Joel Reyna

In some cases it is actually racism.

Charles Potts
Charles Potts

Please stop conflating discrimination with racism.

Chi-Diddy Desai
Chi-Diddy Desai

maybe it's based on the stereotype that people who live in high-crime urban areas may sell counterfeit products and just happen to be of that particular ethnic background...

Lukas St-Germain
Lukas St-Germain

Just replace the word "race" with "people who love fast cars". People who love fast cars are more incline to purchase something if there's a fast car in the ad or something related to something they like. It's called marketing, not racism.

Lukas St-Germain
Lukas St-Germain

Yep! And it assumes racism when there could be lots of other factors that might explain what happened.

Sarah Ware
Sarah Ware

They surmise “that discrimination can be competed away.”


I surmise that people who live in cities are less "racist" because of proximity to many different demographics on a daily basis.

Isaac Rayment
Isaac Rayment

Are you discriminating against people with tattoos? This article suggests that tattoos are unappealing. An ignorant assumption considering how many people have tattoos

Navadeep Boruah
Navadeep Boruah

"...black sellers have the worst outcomes in high-crime areas.." Not racism, just smart decision making! Stop blowing things out of proportion here.

Lukas St-Germain
Lukas St-Germain

It would also explain the discrepency from ads with tattoos.

Lukas St-Germain
Lukas St-Germain

It's not necessarily racism. It's proven that in general people are attracted by things they can relate too. I'm just shooting this out there, but is it possible that it's just that there are more white people who shop on craigslist and are just more likely to buy something if they see someone similar to them use it? I'm pretty sure if you make the same study with asians or hispanics or blacks that everytime, those races will be more incline to purchase from ads with their race. It doesn't make them racist, just makes them want to identify with a group they're already part of.