Photo of Cassi Pittman Claytor with a bookshelf behind her

Beyond living the dream

Sociologist Cassi Pittman Claytor provides a nuanced portrayal of the Black middle class

Cassi Pittman Claytor, the Climo Junior Professor in Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Sociology, is an increasingly influential scholar of contemporary African American life. She conducted her first sociological research as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, when she interviewed Black families in West Philadelphia about their educational choices for their children. Later, at Harvard University, she wrote her master’s thesis on the concentration of subprime loans among middle-class Black homeowners. 

Since then, Pittman Claytor has written about experiences Black professionals as consumers have had in New York City—and how they were treated in retail environments—in her book, Black Privilege: Modern Middle-Class Blacks with Credentials and Cash to Spend (2020). In the spring of 2019, while she was putting the finishing touches on Black Privilege, popular R&B artist SZA tweeted that she had been racially profiled while shopping at a Sephora store in California. An employee of the beauty retailer suspected the singer of stealing and called security on her.

Pittman Claytor wrote an op-ed about the incident for The Guardian, noting that “retail racism is nearly endemic to shopping” and that “inclusivity training is un likely to solve persistent discrimination in our society.” 

In response to her op-ed, company employees reached out to Pittman Claytor and she agreed to work with them to conduct a yearlong research project on racial bias in retail. She’s since been an outspoken advocate for reform in the retail industry. 

Read the full story in Art/Sci.