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Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture

Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Purchasing Power
    Book Description:

    What does it mean to be young, poor, and black in our consumer culture? Are black children “brand-crazed consumer addicts” willing to kill each other over a pair of the latest Nike Air Jordans or Barbie backpack? In this first in-depth account of the consumer lives of poor and working-class black children, Elizabeth Chin enters the world of children living in hardship in order to understand the ways they learn to manage living poor in a wealthy society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9117-3
    Subjects: Marketing & Advertising

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1. Consumption in Context
    (pp. 1-26)

    New Haven, Connecticut, is known for its sweltering summers, and on this July afternoon in 1992 the swelter was prodigious. Hot, gluey air was slowly being stirred by an unenthusiastic breeze in Newhallville, a neighborhood populated by working-class and poor African Americans. The day wore on, and the air stilled. The sky became clogged with soggy, gray clouds. In the living room of ten-year-old Natalia’s home, I was talking with her and her cousin Asia (also ten years old) when a suddenly invigorated wind began to twist the leaves off trees and the sky erupted downward, dumping down rain in...

  6. 2. The Shadow of Whiteness
    (pp. 27-62)

    When I began to write about Newhallville, there was no ready way to do this because the available words—like the terminner city—are not descriptive in the sense that they bring a reality to life. Rather, they take aim at targets: in the words of one Newhallville resident, the terminner cityis “just another way of saying niggers.”¹ Although Newhallville is a mostly minority area and often referred to as “the ghetto” by both residents and outsiders, it is also economically diverse. The coded meaning of such terms asinner cityandghettoprecludes recognition or analysis...

  7. 3. ʺWhat Are You Looking At, You White People?ʺ
    (pp. 63-90)

    In Newhallville children demonstrated early on their capacity for changing the character and limitations of the research as I had envisioned it. Not surprisingly, their questions and concerns were very different from the ones I had come up with in my New York apartment before coming to New Haven, and they proved to be the guiding questions of the work that has emerged. The most crucial question was asked by Tionna one afternoon as she, Natalia, and I stood on a corner just at the neighborhood’s border with one of the city’s wealthiest areas. Uncomfortable, perhaps, with occupying this border...

  8. 4. Hemmed In and Shut Out
    (pp. 91-116)

    Natalia and Tionna have entered Claire’s, an inexpensive accessory and jewelry store on the second floor of the downtown mall. It is early December and the girls are wearing their winter coats unzipped and sagging backward halfway down their arms, the better to ventilate their overheating bodies. They wander throughout the store for more than twenty minutes, touching everything it seems. They pull earrings off display racks to look at them; they paw through bins of sale items—flattened hairbows, bent earhoops, scratched bracelets—holding them up for inspection and at times trying them on. They come upon a section...

  9. 5. Anthropologist Takes Inner-City Children on Shopping Sprees
    (pp. 117-142)

    When I asked Davy if he would like to go on a shopping trip with me, he tilted his head to the side, smiling, and looked at me without speaking for several moments. He seemed to want to speak, but couldn’t. We sat, me hunkered up in a fifth-grade-sized chair, my knees knocking up against the underside of a fifth-grade-sized table in the reading corner of Davy’s classroom. “Yeah,” he said, his almost-changing voice creaky and thin, his tone rising to make his answer sound more like a question. He looked away and then peeked back at me, as if...

  10. 6. Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry
    (pp. 143-174)

    In the late 1980s the toy industry’s leading manufacturers—Mattel, Hasbro, and Tyco—began to introduce “ethnically correct” dolls and toys. These toys differed from their precursors in that they were designed with skin tones, hair types, and facial features that were meant to accurately represent a specific ethnic group. Mattel, for instance, introduced its Shani line, three African American dolls, each with a slightly different skin tone and with newly sculpted faces. These faces were purportedly more realistic in their representations of black features than those of other dolls. The Shani dolls provided unequivocal contrast to Mattel’s first black...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-180)

    For Asia, shopping is infused with racism; for Tarelle, going to the corner store is at once an adventure in independence and a trial where the temptations and dangers of the drug economy must be negotiated; for Natalia, Barbie dolls are representatives of a world both foreign and hostile. In recognizing that these children’s consumer lives are shaped by the same forces of social inequality evident in their neighborhood, educations, and even their life chances, my aim has been to highlight consumer culture as a terrain in which questions of social justice loom large. The deprivations experienced by children like...

  12. Afterword: The Return to the Scene of the Crime
    (pp. 181-206)

    When I was an undergraduate at New York University, my best friend and I decided to take an anthropology class together, a course on human evolution. In the large lecture hall, we felt invisible, and though we found the class interesting and engaging we liked to enliven the class hour for ourselves by creating imaginary scenarios through which our professor would travel. Invariably, we would imagine him clothed in a pith helmet and khaki shorts, tromping through the African savannah or the jungle. This image was especially ridiculous because our reserved professor was usually dressed in a turtleneck shirt, tweed...

  13. Appendixes
    (pp. 207-226)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-234)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-246)
  16. Index
    (pp. 247-258)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)