November 21, 2022 • By Kathy Nguyen
“The customers are always right,” goes the maxim of the business world. Exactly who they are, however, is another matter; rarely by default do they include African-American women.
The racial injustice of the marketplace is an area of concern for Jazmin Henry, a graduate student researcher at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business. As she concentrates in Marketing for her Ph.D. in Management, she attunes herself to symptoms of colorism, from blatant to subtle, that product advertisements and other marketing strategies manifest.
Along with her advisor Dr. Tonya Bradford, she elaborates in their recent work, “Light vs. Dark: Understanding the Role of Colorism through Advertisements in the Marketplace.” As consumers, black women are at a severe disadvantage. One example is difficulty finding adequate foundation makeup for darker skin tones. And when such foundations are available, they in product displays are given dehumanizing labels (”chocolate” and “cocoa”) and arranged in an implicit hierarchy that ranks skin tones from left to right. Time and time again, these instances, among many, demonstrate the marketplace’s failure to cater to the needs and wants of black consumers.
Henry’s research extends to the crevices of the metaverse. Her dissertation proposal focuses on the cyber harassment of black women, who are an especially vulnerable demographic in the game industry. Concurrently, she is working with Dr. Bradford on another article that continues the discussion on colorism. With every advance in her studies, Henry treads further upon newer territory. “If I would’ve studied race ten, twenty years ago, …I wouldn’t have received as much support,” she says.
While the literature itself is fairly new, the experiences and disillusionment of the community are not. As a black woman herself who grew up in North Carolina, Henry attests to racial discrimination, from racial profiling in stores to product limitations. Moreover, through her research, Henry aims to expand upon current documentation and studies, and in so doing, help foster awareness, understanding, and change.
In conjunction with researchers like Henry, firms have the power to enact proposed solutions, and to benefit multiple parties across the board. The consumer spending power of black Americans, Henry emphasizes, is massive; as of 2021, the Harvard Business Review cites it to be $1.3 trillion. Thus, by giving the economic significance of these individuals due justice, businesses would benefit from long-term increases in total profit and consumer engagement. Additionally, a societal departure from prejudiced undertones would reinforce initiatives for inclusivity and diversity, for to not depart would go against these values. Henry’s and Dr. Bradford’s research findings : their mock advertisements, with subtle hints of colorism, were enough to provoke protests and anti-racist funding campaigns.
Inclusion anywhere, not simply in the marketplace, increases morale—and empowers all around. Henry, being the only African-American woman in her Ph.D. program, has found support and opportunities to thrive in what, too, has progressed over time: academia. She would like to thank her support system: God, her family, Dean Williamson, Dr. Bradford, Dr. Mary Gilly, and her senior classmates (Angela King, Xuan Xie, and Xiajing Zhu). As she works to reform the market economy and invites others to do so, she offers advice to others:
“Just keep going. Don’t take no for an answer…. Have a very good support system…. Be respectful, don’t burn bridges. Surround yourself with positivity, because this journey is not easy…. Your passion will definitely help get you through those tough times.”