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Black American Dreams: An Examination of Black’s Aspirational Consumption

Sat, August 12, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512C

Abstract

From examining respondents’ aspirational consumption this paper reveals the ways that middle-class blacks are embedded in a society where materialism, individualism, and competitive consumption are the norm. Consequently, it is not surprising when middle-class blacks subscribe to ideas about the material requisites of success, social mobility and prosperity encoded in the American Dream. Yet middle-class blacks in this study simultaneously maintain deep-rooted ideas about racial uplift and collective responsibility. It is these race-based ideological inclinations, evident in their aspirational consumption, that differentiate them as consumers. Respondents often indicated that giving to their church and helping friends and family members were prioritized over purchasing luxuries for themselves. In addition to demonstrating that collective obligation and racial uplift were salient among the black middle-class, this paper indicates that middle-class blacks also depart from individualistic narratives of success. In accounting for their accomplishments and achievements, they see their success as the consequence of other’s good will and investment in their advancement, as well as a result of their being “blessed.” While a substantial body of research has demonstrated how race unites the political interests of blacks across the board and serves as an impetus for political behavior, this paper argues that their consumption too are shape by ideological commitments to fellow in-group members. Lastly, this paper presents a depiction of blacks’ collective racial financial imagination that critiques the pervasive idea that blacks are on the whole conspicuous consumers and excessively materialistic.

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