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Consumer Culture and the Black Middle Class

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Consumer Culture and the Black Middle Class

  1. 1. Consumer Culture & the Black Middle Class David Crockett University of South Carolina
  2. 2. A Sign of Something People putting their clothes on Going on Wrong? backwards. Isn’t that a sign of something going on wrong? Are you not paying attention? People with their hat on backwards, pants down around the crack. Isn’t that a sign of something, or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? –Bill Cosby, 2004, NAACP Annual Convention Black Mental Health Alliance of Massachusetts (January, 2013)
  3. 3. Research Question What is the role of consumption in forming racial and class identity among the Black Middle-Class?
  4. 4. Consumer Acculturation Research on Racial & Ethnic Identity • Culture and ethnicity are lived through (market-mediated) objects – Wallendorf and Reilly 1983; Bouchet 1995; Firat 1995 • The Post-Assimilationist Turn: boundary crossing – Oswald 1999; Penaloza 1994; Kjeldgaard, Arnould and Askegaard 2005
  5. 5. Limits of Consumer Acculturation Theory … [B]y suggesting migrant identity construction as being largely voluntary, by theorizing acculturation agents as under- complex and robust, and by focusing on single-sided ethnographic accounts, these studies have not yet sufficiently investigated how and to what extent consumer acculturation occurs within reflexive and mutually influential networks of socio-cultural adaptation. – Luedicke (2011, p. 17)
  6. 6. Why Study the Black Middle-Class?
  7. 7. [Edward] King observed, "a middle- class is gradually springing into existence, bridging the once impassable gulf between the 'high up' and the 'low down', and some of the more intelligent and respectable Negroes are taking rank in this class." […]
  8. 8. To white elite[s] in the North and South alike, the notion of a fluid class structure without clear racial exclusivity was a chilling prophecy.  Mullins (1990)
  9. 9. • How does “democracy of goods” mythology acculturate BMC consumers? • How do BMC consumers navigate multiple forms of inequality?
  10. 10. Methodology • Sample (ongoing): 13 BMC households – “Friend of friend” and snowball approach – Minimal screen for middle-class status • College and white-collar job or business to capture “core” vs. “elite” distinction (Lacy 2007) – National sample, urban and rural • Current: Southeastern US (i.e., Carolinas and Florida) – In-depth interviews (residence) + focus group (with all-male social group)
  11. 11. What Do We Already Know About the Black Middle-Class? 1. Grown in size, affluence, distance Separate Worlds form BWC/poor •Wilson (1979) •Ogbu (1998, 2003) 2. Intra-racial class conflict is more ‘unstable equilibrium’ Unstable Equilibrium than ‘separate • Anderson (1999) worlds’ • Johnson (2001) 3. Complex relationship • Lacy (2007) to whites and other • Patillo (2010) minorities
  12. 12. What Do We Already Know About the Black Middle-Class? Current research privileges middle- class cultural capital Overstates BMC ability to dominate acculturation
  13. 13. Emergent Findings • Constructing Identity at the Nexus of Race and Class – Theme 1: Essentializiing Racial Sameness
  14. 14. Essentializing Racial Sameness Baxter: If you look at trend setting things in our country. You start talking about fashion and other trends—music—they come out of communities of color. As soon as the black kids are running around— everybody [black] got a [black] G.I. Joe—and having fun, then the white kids start, “I got to have one of those,” which helped boost their sales as well. Baxter’s articulates essentialized notions of blackness through his Black G.I. Joe collection
  15. 15. Essentializing Racial Sameness Baxter: They never made as many black ones as they did white ones, but it really took [off] when at first the white G.I. Joe’s weren’t selling. Black families who were looking for something for their kids to have, and this is the only positive representation we got? Yeah. My mother made sure I had one. Consumption should be an indexical representation of blackness
  16. 16. Emergent Findings • Constructing Identity at the Nexus of Race and Class – Theme 2: Essentializing Status Distinctions
  17. 17. Essentializing Status Distinctions: A Race- Inflected Class Critique Dee: …You know my parents worked hard all their lives. They never had anything. They raised their children. I would say we’re all successful. So, where did that [taste] come from? I see these other people doing it. I said, “I want that for my momma and daddy. I can do that. That’s why I work everyday.” You have to have a hunger for that which you have not had. You have to have a taste for reaching another plane. And, as Martin Luther King would say, “You gotta keep your eyes on the prize.” So it’s that kind of thing. Dee draws a moral boundary around high CC consumption
  18. 18. Essentializing Status Distinctions: A Race- Inflected Class Critique Male 4: My daughter [has] two sons. She buys the handheld Gameboys and what-do-you-call-it... I don’t buy them. My [grandson’s school] was having an afterschool science program for a week. He wanted to go, but she didn’t have the money for that. We said “well, sign him up for it and we’ll pay for it.” That I’ll pay for, and I don't mind doing it, but… it was another issue. I think she used the money issue as [an excuse for] not wanting to do it. When we said we’ll pay for it, now she’s coming up with a different excuse… Moral boundary chastises low- status blacks’ consumption priorities
  19. 19. Essentializing Status Distinctions: A Race- Inflected Class Critique Adam: Because my sister…lives in the deep country… I’m in a subdivision in the country… [m]y sister and I talk about the way we live and where we live, how it does remind us so much of the neighborhood and the country that I grew up in, and the same style houses. And no negative reflection on my (other) siblings, but … they like living in your more upscale neighborhoods. And I don’t know if they really go back and spend time in the community like my sister and I do. … It’s like, “[I] came from there, still have a fondness for it, and will always keep that connection, or ties with it.”
  20. 20. Emergent Insights • Exceptionalism Holds Race and Class in Dynamic Tension – It keeps “the middle” stable but fluid

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