African Americans and Consumption


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs003

African American consumerism deals with the meanings, beliefs, and values that African Americans associate with individual or group consumption. African Americans have a deep, complicated, and at times tumultuous relationship with consumerism that engages topics which include culture, citizenship, and identity. This relationship fuses together the desire of African Americans for access to material goods/services and a desire for acknowledgment and treatment as first-class citizens within the United States. Within the historical context of slavery, consumerism has functioned in various ways: (1) as an oppressive mechanism, with African Americans serving as commodities; (2) as a tool of resistance that would, in some cases, lead to systemic change; and/or (3) as a vehicle with which to mask systems of oppression by minimizing indicators of material deprivation.

Lizabeth Cohen (2003) argues that during the Cold War era through the 1970s, the public and private sector were interconnected through the creation of the “citizen consumer” (as a result of a booming economy, suburbanization, etc.) and that this connection helped perpetuate democratic ideals and had the unintentional effect of providing a consumer space of resistance for marginalized groups, specifically African Americans. The Welfare Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which was spearheaded ...

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