esthercepeda

Esther Cepeda

It's hard for people to be empathetic about racial and ethnic discrimination if they've simply never experienced it themselves.

The very fact that they've never been mistreated, disrespected or given less leeway because of the color of their skin or an accent makes it difficult to believe such slights actually happen.

Or maybe these people have been mistreated and disrespected in the past and, therefore, are highly skeptical of the idea of having "white privilege."

But, time after time, studies of everyday, human behavior show that white people do enjoy a real advantage — if not in an individual sense, then at least as a part of their larger demographic group.

Case in point, the most recent entry in an ever-expanding body of research illustrating how people of color get the short end of the stick in everything from job opportunities to health care to housing — a report titled "Discrimination When Buying a Car: How the Color of Your Skin Can Affect Your Car-Shopping Experience."

The research was conducted by the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Center for Responsible Lending, two nonprofit organizations. They sent eight pairs of white and nonwhite testers to car dealerships in Virginia to inquire about purchasing the same vehicle.

The findings detail how nonwhite testers who had better financial qualifications than their white counterparts received more costly pricing options 62.5 percent of the time. This would have resulted in nonwhite testers paying an average of $2,663 more over the life of the loan than less-qualified white testers.

More insidiously, the report found that 75 percent of the time, white testers were offered more financing options than nonwhite testers, and dealers went out of their way to help white testers in ways that they didn't for nonwhites. For instance, in this study, dealership staff attempted to "bring down interest rates and car prices using incentives and rebates or by making phone calls to personal contacts for white testers more often than they did for nonwhite testers."

Perhaps worse — and least surprising to any person of color — the study found that in addition to the pricing differences, "nonwhite testers were subject to dismissive and disrespectful treatment more frequently than white testers."

Ugh.

I hate even writing about this sort of thing — to nonwhite readers it'll be completely self-evident to the point of absurdity (hey, let's read a report about the sky being blue while we're at it!).

And it'll be insulting to every white person who's also been treated poorly by a jerk down at their local car dealership.

But it's important to note that the slights people of color experience in places where whites have power over them are real. They've been noted, studied and quantified enough that the skeptics of the world can rest assured that this sort of mistreatment isn't just an emotional overreaction by people who are affected.

That said, now that I've raised public awareness of the discrimination people of color experience, let me suggest something to anyone who worries they might get taken at a car dealership: Buy your car off the internet.

When I bought my nearly brand-new car, I found it on the site of a popular used-car retailer with a locked-in list price. I reserved it, made my way to the dealer, signed the financing paperwork and drove off.

It only had a few thousand miles on it and looked pretty good, so I didn't even test drive the darned thing — and it's been a super great, reliable car.

Mind you, this is not an adequate solution to the implicit biases that white service providers (knowingly or unknowingly) carry with them that end up disadvantaging nonwhites.

That problem will be fixed only when people of color fill up the ranks of car dealership owners, managers and salespeople at the same rate they exist in society at large.

Still, over-the-internet financing for large-ticket items favors people with decent credit regardless of skin color, accent or any other racial or ethnic signifiers. If you have the means, cut out the middlemen.

And if you happen to run into any car-dealership managers who are indignant that you're not shopping "locally," ask them how many people of color are on their sales staff and see where the conversation goes.

Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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