Apr 18 2010

Purchasing Power

Published by at 9:17 pm under Reflection Blog,Uncategorized

A capitalist society fails to acknowledge the lower classes of society being harmfully impacted by the American consumerism culture that seeks to stereotype and exclude them from the day-to-day activities of society. This exclusion can begin from the day a child is born and lower class African American youths are judged so harshly that it affects the very essence of their childhood and the long-term push over in to their adulthood. Eliza Chin has studied and made some shocking conclusion about lower class African American children that breaks all stereotypes in her book, Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumerism Culture.
Chin studied of African American kids begins a history to contextualize why African Americans themselves are lower class and have stereotypes imposed on them. “Slavery and segregation, have engaged with the consumer sphere from the outset, both in terms of limiting their ability to consume and in constructing enslaved people as objects of the consumer desires of others (3). It was an interesting thought that had never occurred to me before that slaves were consumer products and therefore on being freemen basically had to learn to be buyers. Chin looked at the overall progression of African Americans in to American consumers and then began to dive in to the stories of individual African American children who were now growing up on the ideals they had to learn from the outside world. “Poverty, racism, and social inequality in the United States today are in large part questions about consumption (who buys what, who posses what, and how do they get it)”(46). African American lower class children want respect not given to them by the white community so they place their self worth on objects. These children associate the fact that if have items and can physically display an image of consumer culture they will be respected.
This is an awful idea in itself of linking items with self-respect, but what is more disturbing is why these children feel the need to have this relationship with products. We watched a film clip from the movie Precious in class and it showed the girl imagining herself as famous and accessorized with expensive products. We in class related this to the need she feels of gaining respect and she is trying to mimic the ideals of the white culture that judges based on products. Chin’s book is so heart breaking at times with the examples of children she gives. One of the sweetest moments in her book is when she takes some African American lower class kids out with twenty dollars to spend and observes how they make purchases and what they purchase. I think she like her readers was surprised by their interactions with products. They were not like the children in born to buy who were ridden down with access to everything, they had little and acknowledged that when purchasing. This little kids bought shoes, school supplies, one purchased a walkie talkie for him and his brother to share, one even bought his mother a pair of shoes. Chin describes their shopping habits as they would actually figure up what they were buying and make decisions based on sales. “Children on the whole did not seem driven by their impulses. Kids often managed to buy an astonishing amount for twenty dollars, and overall they were careful, thoughtful, and critical of their buying”(131). These are not the images whites receive from their stereotype versions of inner city youth who rob and steal. Chin also makes commentary on the toys brought to these children and how important a role hair plays in the understanding of race. These little girls would commonly braid their white dolls hair attempting to make them more like themselves. This brings up the fact if children are handed these white dolls it seems likely they would think that this is what they are supposed to become.

At the end of this book I was rather aggravated by the consumer culture surrounding me. Class discussion was also troubling because many of my classmates kept bring up how it’s bad that white have this “white guilt” over these issues and that if things were fixed they wouldn’t have to feel guilty. This was hardly the point Chin was making she is wanting to change the white mindset on their treatment of African Americans, not to make themselves feel better but for society to be better. I think this is a huge problem with the white mindset in America that slavery and segregation are technically over so people today should not be blamed or affected by it. I strongly disagree; it’s far from over because once slavery and segregation ended blacks had to start from square one in a market where whites were already masters (no pun intended). You can’t expect a person to just jump in and succeed, that’s why there are inner cities filled with African Americans and poor reservations filled with Native Americans, because white men think by “setting them free” they have cleansed themselves from all responsibility. Chin I believe wants to make people aware of the way things really are and break down stereotypes, in hopes of having everyone be able to live without being excluded/ judged and be able to live with out the need to consume to make them worthy of living in America.

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