Skip to Content Skip to Footer
A Call for Further Research at the Intersection of Race, Marketing, and Public Policy

A Call for Further Research at the Intersection of Race, Marketing, and Public Policy

Benét DeBerry-Spence, Aronté Marie Bennett, Samantha N. N. Cross, Akon Ekpo and Francesca Sobande

In memory of Geraldine Rosa Henderson, whose tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to fostering and expanding our understanding of race in the marketplace stands as a model for all. Her contributions to the field of marketing and public policy exemplify excellence in scholarship and mentorship, and a passion for pushing the field forward.

Race is intertwined with the structures and actions of and within society. Evidence of this is found in the systemic nature of racism. Bus boycotts, sit-ins, social media–initiated protests, and other forms of consumer activism are clear and visible demonstrations of the importance of acknowledging that race is unequivocally embedded in marketplaces and rooted in marketing practices. Taking this as our lead, this curation is a call to action for further research related to race and marketing. Racial identity is a fundamental aspect of our lived experience, if not our belief systems. Thus, it is imperative that the corpus of knowledge we develop around consumers and marketplaces directly considers the lived experiences of people from different racial backgrounds and the structural relations that uphold racism, including antiblackness. Even though there have been significant challenges, there is an important history of efforts to include critical studies of race and its intersection with public policy and marketing (Bennett, Hill, and Oleksiuk 2013; Bristor, Lee, and Hunt 1995; Harris, Henderson, and Williams 2005; Thomas 2013; Williams, Qualls, and Grier 1995).


The Journal of Public Policy & Marketing has a proven record of examining race. In its inaugural edition, two articles that focused on segmentation included tangential considerations of the impact of race (Durand, Klemmack, and Roff 1982; Trombetta and Morgan 1982). Three years later, the first article that tackled race directly appeared (Hirschman 1985). Notably, in subsequent years, the frequency of related articles has been inconsistent. Searches using combinations of the terms race/racial/racism and either consumer or marketplace uncovered 54 articles, of which only four explicitly mention race in the title (Bristor, Lee, and Hunt 1995; Harris, Henderson, and Williams 2005; Thomas 2013; Williams, Qualls, and Grier 1995). Although these studies approach the concept differently, each features race as the focal object of study, rather than an individual difference. Setting the stage for a broad consideration of the impact of race in the marketplace, Bristor, Gravois, and Hunt (1995) establish important connections between racism in advertising and the dominant white ideology pervading the industry, and how this shapes portrayals of minority populations. Helping develop a more detailed understanding of the implications of race, Williams, Qualls, and Grier (1995) link racialized advertising to decision making by revealing how racialized discourses from advertising messages are reproduced in consumption choices. Harris, Henderson, and Williams (2005) then identify the structures that support racial inequities, investigating and categorizing the disparate treatment of racialized consumers in the marketplace through an examination of U.S. federal court cases, developing a framework of consumer racial profiling. Thomas (2013) turns our attention to specific consumer experiences, considering how race is reified and reproduced in the marketplace and subsequently affects how consumers (re)construct their identities, calling attention to the potentially deleterious impacts that marginalizing marketplace experiences have on consumer well-being. Although race does not show up in the article’s title, Bennett, Hill, and Oleksuik (2013) also address it directly, from the perspective of specified consumer experiences, investigating how brand perceptions are racialized and may serve as signals to exclude or fail to include consumers of color.

While the aforementioned studies focus squarely on race and its pervasiveness in everyday life and marketplaces, others instead investigate concepts such as marketplace stigma  (Mirabito et al. 2016) or emphasize the context or sample characteristics that evidence the complexities of race and its role in the marketplace (Johnson, Meyers, and Williams 2013). On the whole, race is typically only alluded to and/or a tangential study consideration. Concepts such as culture, identity, and stigma are often a proxy for race, and/or race is merely a context or characteristic of the study sample. Circumventing direct investigations of race, then, relegates race to a contextual, situational, or an individual characteristic, devoid of theoretical underpinning. Consequently, what remains missing in conversations on race in marketing is the acknowledgement and inclusion of race as theoretical and thus part and parcel of marketing theory.

To some extent, the relative scarcity of scholarship in this area can be understood as a reflection of the racial inequities and dynamics that define and shape both who and what is likely to be published. It should be acknowledged that marketing academia plays a role in (re)producing knowledge structures and mechanisms that perpetuate racism in markets, racialized consumer experiences, and policies that account for structural inequities. This is captured in the narrow and prescriptive paradigms that often define what constitutes theory and scholarship, thus denying the reality of racism and delegitimizing the work of scholars critically exploring race and racism in markets and public policy contexts. Typically, when scholarship on race and marketing is published, it tends to be featured as part of infrequent, yet vital, special issues. This suggests that the contributions of critical research on and about race is both underrepresented and undervalued in marketing discourse.

Succinctly put, there is more work to be done. This includes building on research that has focused on social inequalities (Mirabito et al. 2016) but has not specifically and critically accounted for race and racism. A greater number of critical examinations of issues related to race and intersecting oppressions in the marketplace can result in the field of public policy and marketing scholarship more robustly tackling structural racism. We urge readers to consider contributing, or contributing more, to critical scholarly conversations about the racial and racist dynamics of public policy and marketing. In doing so, we also call for more of such research to be rooted in theoretical frameworks, praxis, and principles that are aligned with social justice goals and that foreground the perspectives of those who are affected by racism.


Bristor, Julia M., Renée Gravois Lee, and Michelle R. Hunt (1995), “Race and Ideology: African-American Images in Television Advertising,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 14 (1), 48–59.

Bennett, Aronté Marie, Ronald Paul Hill, and Daniel Oleksiuk (2013), “The Impact of Disparate Levels of Marketplace Inclusion on Consumer–Brand Relationships,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 32 (Suppl.), 16–31.

Durand, Richard M., David L. Klemmack, and Lucinda Lee Roff (1982),  “Citizen Preferences for the Allocation of Federal Tax Dollars: A Segmentation Approach,” Journal of Marketing & Public Policy, 1 (1), 169–80.

Harris, Anne-Marie G., Geraldine R. Henderson, and Jerome D. Williams (2005), “Courting Customers: Assessing Consumer Racial Profiling and Other Marketplace Discrimination,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 24 (1), 163–71.

Hirschman, Elizabeth C. (1985), “Marketing, Minorities, and Consumption: Traditional and Neo-Marxist Perspectives,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 4 (1), 179–93.

Johnson, Guillaume D., Yuvay J. Meyers, and Jerome D. Williams (2013), “Immigrants Versus Nationals,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 32 (Suppl), 38–47.

Mirabito, Ann M., Cele C. Otnes, Elizabeth Crosby, David B. Wooten, Jane E. Machin, Chris Pullig, et al. (2016), “The Stigma Turbine: A Theoretical Framework for Conceptualizing and Contextualizing Marketplace Stigma,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing,35 (2), 170–84.

Thomas, Kevin D. (2013), “Endlessly Creating Myself: Examining Marketplace Inclusion Through the Lived Experience of Black and White Male Millennials,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 32 (Suppl), 95–105.

Trombetta, William L. and Fred W. Morgan (1982), “Market Segmentation and Product Liability,” Journal of Marketing & Public Policy, 1 (1), 15–24.

Williams, Jerome D., William J. Quails, and Sonya A. Grier (1995),  “Racially Exclusive Real Estate Advertising: Public Policy Implications for Fair Housing Practices,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 14 (2), 225–44.

Professor of Marketing and Department Head, University of Illinois at Chicago | bio

Associate Professor & Associate Department Chair, Villanova University | bio

Associate Professor of Marketing, Iowa State University | bio

Assistant Professor of Marketing, Loyola University Chicago | bio

Lecturer in Digital Media Studies, Cardiff University | bio