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You the Consumer Have the Power

Black Enterprise's President/CEO reminds consumers of their financial power and right to great customer service

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For decades, African Americans have been hit with what has been called the “Black tax.” Regardless of our income level, we’re continually overcharged when we make just about every major purchase. In recent years, middle- and upper-income African Americans have been among those most victimized by high-cost subprime loans. And historically, we have paid much higher interest on car loans. A 2007 Consumer Federation of America study found that African Americans paid a 7% rate on new car loans compared with a typical rate of 5% for all borrowers. On used-car loans, African Americans paid a rate of 9.5% versus 7.5%.

To give you an idea of the pernicious nature of this brand of economics, I conducted my own research. I Googled “African Americans overcharged.” Scrolling down the index that appeared on my laptop screen, I found we’re charged more for just about every category of product and service—including psychic readings. I kid you not.

To further add insult to injury, we tend to receive horrendous service across the board. To my dismay, the area in which African Americans have suffered some of the most inhumane, undignified treatment has been in the doctor’s office. (See the feature “Become an Empowered Patient” in this issue.) Over the past decade, such revealing books as Unequal Treatment and the more recent Seeing Patients have uncovered that African American and Latino patients get poor treatment regardless of the size of the wallet. It’s more than a rude, dismissive physician rushing you off the exam table. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

What has also incensed me is that a number of African American consumers will allow White-run practices or businesses to get away with such shoddy service but the same individuals would not permit even a minor error from Black establishments. One of my friends had a shirt returned from a Black-owned dry cleaner with broken buttons. Upon receipt, he immediately swore off all Black businesses because they couldn’t possibly meet his uncompromising standards. Don’t get me wrong; I believe all businesses should operate in a professional, courteous, and excuse-free manner. We should not penalize all Black businesses, however, for the mistakes of one when we’re willing to give majority businesses the benefit of the doubt.

If you’ve had a history of overpayment and inferior treatment, I’m here to tell you to stop being a victim. Don’t allow your consumer dollars to be marginalized or taken for granted. It’s a buyer’s market, so there’s absolutely no reason for you to let any establishment provide less than the service you deserve or target you for price-gouging.

When it comes to getting the right price, I urge all of you to join the 21st century. You see, I have always viewed technology as the great equalizer. The Internet is an empowerment tool that’s agnostic; it doesn’t care about race, gender, or age. And it lets you shop for the most affordable flight, hotel accommodations, vacation package, physician, automobile, or whatever. When I’m buying a car I’m never intimidated in the showroom, because I’ve done the homework necessary to gain the advantage. The result: the best price and financing. In fact, I’ve downloaded a shopping app on my smartphone to gain immediate access to all necessary information for pricing on any product with a bar code. Now, I’m able to bargain from a position of strength—and not let any vendor take advantage of me. You should view these informative resources as the consumer version of WikiLeaks … except they’re all legal.

The old maxim was the customer is always right. Today consumers have all the power literally at their fingertips. It’s up to you to make every service provider or vendor fully accountable. And being an informed consumer is the only way to gain respect and maintain control.

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