PATHS TO RESPECTABILITY: CONSUMER CULTURE AND THE BLACK MIDDLE CLASS David Crockett, University of South Carolina
Despite areas of meaningful and sustained progress toward racial equality in the past several decades in the USA, racial inequality stagnant or is worsening on most indicators. Thus, the primary goal of this research is to deepen our theoretical understanding of resistance to inequality in the consumption domain. To that end, building on stigma management and consumer resistance research, I theoretically unpack a historically-significant anti-racist strategy known as the “politics of respectability.” It is widely used by middle-class Blacks in the USA to manage everyday racism with a goal of making everyday life more tolerable. I map the connections between anti-racist ideology, strategy, and consumption to show that people enact respectability as either of two related but distinct versions that I label normative and agnostic. Each version of respectability uses high-status consumption to manage everyday racism, but mobilizes tactics to that end differently. Normative respectability emphasizes avoiding what is stigmatized (e.g., identities, objects and behavior). Agnostic respectability, which emerged in the post-Civil Rights Era, uses consumption to de-stigmatize identities, objects and behaviors associated with blackness. Actors’ perceptions of how successfully each version actually manages everyday racism are contingent on how ideology, strategy, and behavior are connected in specific places that vary systematically by socio-historical features.
Speaker Bio David Crockett's primary research interest is in sociological aspects of consumer behavior, particularly the consequences of social inequality. His research investigates the creation, manifestation, and resolution of class, gender and racial inequality in the marketplace, and addresses consumer, managerial, and public policy initiatives designed to alleviate inequality. Emerging areas of interest in his research include health-related policy and social enterprise.