The contradictions of consumption: An archaeology of African America and consumer culture, 1850-1930
This dissertation examines the relationship between racial ideology, material consumption, and African America's struggle to secure civil and consumer privileges between 1850 and 1930. It evaluates how African American material discourses and consumption patterns subverted racial caricatures and pressed for African American civil rights and material opportunities. After the mid nineteenth century, caricatures of Black social behavior and material consumption were constructed in a wide range of popular discourses ranging from minstrelsy performances to travel accounts. These discourses and their powerful racist assumptions attempted to make all public space and civil privilege racially exclusive. White Americans and many aspiring European immigrants rapidly accepted that all difference should be interpreted through the lens of racial ideology, constructing a tacitly White racial backdrop against which all American class, cultural, and material difference was evaluated.
Racial ideology rapidly was extended to a consumer marketplace which was itself transformed by an increased volume of commodities, new sales outlets and marketing techniques, and alluring promises to ease or erase social and material subordination. As in broader American society, racial ideology became the fundamental cornerstone of the nascent consumer culture, defining appropriate consumption patterns, casting a racial basis for material symbolism, and restricting African American privileges in public consumer space. Archaeological material culture from three sites in Annapolis, Maryland demonstrates how the civil and material aspirations of a series of African American households is reflected in the goods they consumed, their material exchange tactics, and the avoidance of certain commodities and marketers. Material culture and African American consumer discourses demonstrate that African Americans aspired to consumer culture's symbolic and material possibilities, were invested in many genteel values, and recognized consumer culture as a critical scene of racial struggle. Distinctive African American consumption tactics negotiated racist regulation, preserved African American cultural integrity, and undermined Black racial caricatures. African American consumers sought and often secured significant social and material opportunities, illuminated the precariousness of White identity, and subtly transformed African America's position in American society.
0328: Black history
0323: American studies