Price Discrimination? Racial Discrimination?

From a reader named Philip Mulder comes this photograph:

Philip says this is a hair-cutting joint in Washington, D.C. As you can see, it offers a 50% discount if your name is — in this case — Amanda, Rachel, Katie, Peter, Andrew, or David. I don’t have my master database of black-white names handy (hey, it’s summer), but I’m pretty sure that at least five out of those six skew pretty white. So, a couple of questions:

+ What names do you think will be featured the following week?

+ Could this price-discriminating advertisement in fact be construed as racial discrimination? If there’s a plausible argument to be made that tipping should be outlawed because blacks systematically earn less than whites, might some legal wizard — armed with black-white names data — see this sign as a discriminatory discount?  

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 42


  1. Jack R says:

    I visited a bar in Denver that has a promotion like this. Everyday they have 3 names that drink free for the day (I think just rail drinks at least). However, the names are determined by a drawing. People write their name and submit it and the bar draws three everyday. Perhaps this hair place does the same.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 47 Thumb down 0
    • Bch says:

      I am physically sickened by this article. This is race-baiting nonsense. This is NOT a “hair cutting joint”, it is a tanning salon called Fit to be Tan! Not only did the author not check on an easily checkable fact, but the writer intentionally lied just to get people worked up with a meaningless discussion on race. . Obviously a tanning salon is, and should, be allowed to focus their specials on “white” names without being considered racist.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 46 Thumb down 17
  2. Troy says:

    I am black and I know black people with every name on that list. Grow up.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 62 Thumb down 32
    • Matt says:

      Which proves nothing. The wording above was “skew pretty white,” not “are exclusively white”.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 8
    • RandomJokester says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 20
    • Jeet Ghorpade says:

      It’s not just blacks that would be affected by the racial discrimination… Even though this is a harmless, somewhat fun business strategy to bring in customers, I sort of feel price discriminated against because I’m sure I’ll never see my name up on that list. I’m Indian. But even so, I’m sure they use names that are already in their client database.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0
  3. Barman says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 33
    • Enter your name... says:

      The restaurant doesn’t get more money when the tips are higher. Tips go to the employees, not the restaurants.

      Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4
      • Geoff says:

        Technically, a restaurant does get more money when the tips are higher. If the value of a waiter’s tips don’t bring his compensation up to minimum wage then the restaurant has to cover the difference. So the restaurant keeps more profit when tips cover enough of the waiter’s salary to protect the restaurant from minimum wage.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  4. Steve says:

    Last time I checked, a name is not a race. Stop racially charging everything. This business did not give people their names. They’re trying to promote in a unique way.

    Plus, it’s not hard to imagine that there are differences in hair texture and styling between white and black people. Who owns the joint? What kind of experience do they have with styling hair? Maybe they’re advertising to their strengths and away from their weaknesses.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 24
  5. Alvaro says:

    Even if you could, why would you want to call racism on this? You would just ruin the party to those who would have gotten the discount. (They’re not going to halve their prices just like that)

    And maybe, I dont know… they have a right to discriminate? Seeing how it’s their business and all….

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 21
  6. MRB says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 19
  7. Nil says:

    Almost all hair-cutting joints tend to specialize by race. Barbershops and salons are possibly even more self segregating than churches.

    Whomever wrote this sign is probably also wasting space by advertising 3 female & 3 male names. The majority of hair salons outside of the big chains also tend to specialize by sex nearly as much as race/ethnicity and it would be rare to see a shop with a clientele with anything close to a 50/50 sex ratio.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 1
  8. Reggie says:

    It’s also a hair place. They likely discriminate racially anyway…

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6
  9. CarlT says:

    1. It depends what neighborhood the shop is in. It is a great gimmick to get people’s attention and draw them into the shop. Maybe they rotate names of long time customers to give them a break for patronage and to attract those who pass by.

    2. Aren’t naming conventions also based on socioeconomic backgrounds? Are these the names of “wealthy” people?

    2. Couldn’t everything be construed as discrimination? Are toll roads and HOT lanes are discriminatory against people who don’t have expense accounts or own their own business (no deduction for taxes). Is the DC metro discriminatory because it costs more than riding he bus?

    3. This isn’t 1950 America. The only races aren’t black and white. Many Filipinos, Latinos and Jews have the name David, for example. There are plenty of people born in the US with varied ethnic backgrounds that have primarily English names. Have you ever met an Asian named David, Peter, Amanda . . .?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1
    • James says:

      And what exactly is an English name, anyway? David & Peter aren’t. David comes from the Hebrew tradition (i.e. King David of the Bible), Peter perhaps from Latin? I’ve yet to meet anyone with good traditional English names like Ælfweard, Æthelred, or Eadwulf.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
  10. RajivV says:

    I think this tactic will backfire. If you’re not one of these selected names (whether you are black, white, or blue), you feel you’re being ripped off. By putting up relatively common names, my guess is that the Jacks and Jennifers walking by will decide to wait until their name comes up instead of getting a hair cut right then.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4
  11. CarlT says:

    1. It depends what neighborhood the shop is in. It is a great gimmick to get people’s attention and draw them into the shop. Maybe they rotate names of long time customers to give them a break for patronage and to attract those who pass by.

    2. Aren’t naming conventions also based on socioeconomic backgrounds? Are these the names of “wealthy” people?

    3. Couldn’t everything be construed as discrimination? Are toll roads and HOT lanes are discriminatory against people who don’t have expense accounts or own their own business (no deduction for taxes). Is the DC metro discriminatory because it costs more than riding he bus?

    4. This isn’t 1950 America. The only races aren’t black and white. Many Filipinos, Latinos and Jews have the name David, for example. There are plenty of people born in the US with varied ethnic backgrounds that have primarily English names. Have you ever met an Asian named David, Peter, Amanda . . .?

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
  12. Bunny says:

    How is this discriminative?
    They might have intentionally chosen names that are relatively common or might be names of their favorite actors, singers, historical figues, etc.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
  13. @mowords says:

    It could well be discrimination, especially if other names are not used in future weeks.
    The owner of the salon is likely to use names that he knows (unless he’s set up some elaborate randomiser from the phone book). This means some names are highly unlikely to come up if they associated with groups who are culturally different to the owner.

    As a marketing ploy it’s pretty good because people with the stated names will feel compelled to grab the discount while it’s going.

    Certainly not the worst piece of discrimination that non-whites will face though.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2
  14. Ben Music says:

    Sometimes I hate that our society has come to this.

    When I was I kid I rarely found my (somewhat common) name among the little plastic license plates kids could get for their bikes. Little did I know that I was being discriminated against!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3
  15. Zoe says:

    Not that I am supporting this practice, but a quick google search leads me to believe that this is a tanning salon. That kind of changes things a bit. Again, not saying what the business is doing is right, but the needs of certain clients might factor in.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  16. mikemenn says:

    Racism will go away when we stop talking about it and looking for it in every little thing.

    Discussing name issues in your book is one thing.

    This kind of “racism” you’re looking for in this sign is the same thing in my mind as “being offended” by some such thing or another…both are a sign of immaturity.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4
  17. Tracey says:

    Good Lord, why does everything have to be about race…..you can spin race on anything. If a coffee shop offers only Dark Roast….is that racial? I hate Americans…so ignorant! Grow up HUMANS!!!!

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6
  18. C says:

    Hard to call it racial discrimination — you won’t be seeing ethnically white names like Dragomir, Declan, Marian, Sergei, Carmine, or Sven up there either.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2
  19. Ingu K says:

    I think everybody’s concentrating more on the black or white aspect and are forgetting out the other people. I mean this could be one of the reasons why other cultures from the anglophone culture conform their names to feel like they are accepted. Why not Juan? Why not Francois? Why not Min? But just with this single photo, I’d say that it’s kinda harsh to call racism since the owner doesn’t seem to have written Xiao, Chan, Ruihan, Xinwei, Cui and Zhe instead of the names above.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  20. ReparateMe.com says:

    The most popular first name in the world is Mohammad.
    The most popular last name in the world is Chang.

    If they offer free drinks to anyone named “Mohammad Chang” they’d be out of business.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0
  21. Farah says:

    This is interesting. I would label it price discrimination, because who knows what their actual motivation is behind it. Obviously, this is a very small sample, so maybe I’m wrong, but if I was going to make conjecture about their pattern, I’d say they’re actually discriminating based on names unique to American culture. Like someone else said before, you don’t see Declan, Sven, Magnus, or whatever on here and those are all “white” names. Its sort of like when I would go on vacation as a kid and want one of those tacky keychains with my name on it, but no one makes one that says “Farah” on it. Ultimately I’m better off because I don’t have a collection of lame keychains. But at the time it did make me quite aware that I was not in the mainstream.

    I also wonder in what neighborhood is this salon located? If its in a predominantly Yuppie or WASP area, maybe this makes sense for them as DC remains highly segregated in most areas. OR maybe the opposite is true – maybe they’re located in an area in which most of the potential clientele wouldn’t be able to utilize this, so they can look like they’re providing a discount when they’re actually not losing much revenue from it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
  22. Anonymous says:

    If you took a draw from the distribution of names in the U.S., wouldn’t they most likely be relatively unassociated with African Americans?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  23. LD says:

    Of course, should they list only “black” names you can bet the NAACP would be all over them like white on rice (ahem) for racism

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
    • James says:

      I wonder, though. If the NAACP or whoever sued them because of a lack of “black” names, couldn’t they counter-sue on the grounds that choosing to give your kids “black” names is blatant racism?

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  24. Joules says:

    So… I live in Houston, not sure if that changes anything.

    All the Amandas I’ve ever met are black. Half the Davids are and, in fact, I haven’t met a white David in over five years. I don’t know any Peters or Andrews of any race and if Katie is used as a nickname, it’s about half and half in my book.

    Names are regional, get used to it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  25. Jeanie says:

    Isn’t this all in fun?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  26. Leah says:

    This is a tanning salon. Not a hair salon. I called.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  27. Fred Tiffany says:

    This discount offer technically does meet the economic definition of price discrimination: charging different prices for different units of the same product or service. But economists generally assume that price discrimination is motivated by a desire to maximize profit. I don’t see how the offer fits this larger objective unless people with the posted names are systematically unlikely to be willing to pay the regular price. So, I am not sure what the economic issue is here. I am new to this blog, but I had thought is was about economics. I have no idea whether people with these names are more likely to be black or white, but I think it is a fairly well understood economic idea that turning down customers because of race is not a profit maximizing strategy.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  28. Dee says:

    Very racist business indeed… There should be more relative diversification…It can’t be like that!

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  29. jay janney says:

    I visited the Cliffs of Mohor (sp) near Galway Ireland last week. They have a name fo the week discount on admission, based on Irish names….

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  30. Danny says:

    So, Hu Jintao could never get a free haircut then! sadness.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  31. Paul says:

    This is not a hair salon or barber shop. The name of the place with this street sign is Fit To Be Tan, an “airbrush tanning studio”, at 1626 U Street, NW, which is a tony address. If you look at their web site you can see the blue brick behind the sign, on the front of the store.

    So, this changes the question totally, since airbrush tanning is hardly something a black person would want or need considering the average black person is pretty ‘tan’ all year-round.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1