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Common Ground for Consumers

Kogod School of Business professor Sonya Grier highlights the importance of understanding race and psychology as they relate to business and marketing.

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Kogod School of Business marketing professor Sonya Grier.


Kogod School of Business marketing professor Sonya Grier knows that the business world doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Honored with American University’s 2022 Faculty Award for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Grier has committed extensive time and effort to fully understanding issues of racial equity and interracial relations in the marketplace. She recently published a paper, “From Anxious Spaces to Harmonious Relations? Interracial Marketplace Interactions Through the Lens of Consumer Psychology,” which expands on her previous research by reviewing existing literature on race in the marketplace and related topics.

“Interracial interactions are ubiquitous and central to consumer experiences, yet there’s no consistent literature on the topic,” Professor Grier explained. “The basic foundational understanding of what we know about how consumers approach or avoid interactions with people of different races was in disparate studies and fields.”

Professor Grier’s focus on the role of race in marketing interactions stems from a broader exploration of consumer psychology—where her research began. Grier worked in both academia and policy development throughout her career, studying targeted marketing in fields ranging from food to video games. Though her research initially took an experimental approach, Grier quickly realized that these topics should be explored through a different lens.

“It was clear that an interdisciplinary perspective was needed. Experiments were not going to tell me everything that I needed to know,” Grier recalled. “I was able to better understand the supports and constraints that guide what and how people consume and the outcomes of that consumption.”

This broader approach allowed Professor Grier to consider how marketing issues interact with sociological, psychological, and cultural influences. She cofounded the Race in the Marketplace Network (RIM) to provide a support system for researchers exploring diversity and equity in marketing.

“Some of these people are the only ones focused on these topics in their school or university,” Grier said. “If they are a scholar of color, they may also be the only scholar of color in their university. So, the RIM network acts as a place for people investigating these issues.”

Though approaching marketplace issues from an interdisciplinary perspective is vital, it also requires a broader research net. To fully explore interracial marketplace interactions for her paper, “From Anxious Spaces to Harmonious Relations,” Professor Grier studied literature across several domains to find common themes and gaps in knowledge.

Conducting interdisciplinary business research requires analyzing and integrating links between disciplines into a coherent whole. It engages and integrates the concepts and methods of different disciplines to develop solutions for marketing and business problems.

Sonya Grier

Sonya Grier

Kogod Marketing Professor

While conducting this research, Professor Grier noted that while the existing literature is diverse, it is also limited to a narrow set of groups and settings. The final publication highlights the importance of race in shaping consumer behaviors and interactions and expresses the need to continue expanding the role of race in marketplace research. “We ask what factors contribute to the racialization of a space, and what makes power dynamics salient in interracial marketplace interactions?” Grier explained. “How can technology be utilized to promote harmonious interactions? These are just some of the pressing questions we raise.”

Over the course of the publication, Grier and her coauthors include recommendations on incorporating intersectionality into marketing research and meaningfully examining identity. They also highlight the importance of creating an environment where racial groups can interact positively in the marketplace—a place that traditionally elicits anxiety around these interactions.

We wanted to provide insights regarding the factors that can help create fun, joyful consumer experiences. This goes beyond typical business concerns such as repurchase behavior and customer recommendations and creates connections between consumers that promote dignity, mutual trust, and respect.

Sonya Grier

Sonya Grier

Kogod Marketing Professor

Professor Grier recommends that all Kogod students be informed on diversity, equity, and inclusion in business, as they’ll experience these issues both inside and outside of the classroom. “The world is not divided into accounting, marketing, and management functions,” she said. “Business problems are messy, and if students don’t practice discussing and analyzing these issues in the classroom, they will be less likely to do so in a workplace situation that requires it.” Grier teaches the Kogod course Race in the Marketplace, which equips students to recognize and work on race-related marketing issues. RIM also provides resources on diversity in business, including the open-access book Race in the Marketplace: Crossing Critical Boundaries.

Professor Grier hopes to continue researching interracial interactions in different fields, including healthcare and education. She also wants to highlight joyful interactions across disciplines to understand the factors that lead to them. “By examining the positive deviance related to the traditional anxiety of interracial interactions, I believe we can learn how to create better interactions and more societal harmony,” she said. By delving into interracial interactions in her research and enabling Kogod students to do the same, Professor Grier is expanding knowledge of how these interactions develop and determining how to foster positive interactions in the marketplace and beyond.