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March 2013

Black Shaming of Black Consumerism

If Black people are going to critique consumerism in a capitalist society, go ahead. I love that critique. We’re all consumers here, and not just of tangible purchasable goods (that are made overseas by slave labor…I should know, I, just as millions of people in America, own many goods made in China; Western privilege), but of actual people (i.e. celebrities), invisible concepts (i.e. kyriarchy, for one *sigh*) and ideologies (i.e. the ridiculousness of American exceptionalism, prosperity gospel and other victim-blaming ideologies).

However, if such critiques are limited to Black people and shaped by internalized White supremacist thought and classism, I am not interested.

This morning, through a retweet (because I refuse to follow men like this) I saw a Black man once again shaming Black people who stand in line to purchase Jordan sneakers. I own 1 pair of Jordans that I bought in 2004. I didn’t stand in line for them, but I like the sneakers. Anyway, he then compared their purchases to White Americans’ purchases, of course placing the latter ones above the former, and mentioned his corporate job as a badge of honor. Below are my tweets in response to this nonsense, which is not limited to this one person (I’ve seen it occur many times) nor just to Black men (Black women have done it too; in the past, I wrote about a Black woman who shamed Black people for not being able to afford a restaurant that she ate at, and how the tweet sparked a material consumption vs. experience consumption conversation).

I am tired of the "let me throw other Black people under the bus so that Whites will like me" type of criticism of Blacks by Blacks that I see on Twitter. Further, I am tired of the idea that anything a White person does or chooses is automatically superior. Whites and Blacks in America have a lot of behavioral overlap and pathologizing Black choices while worshiping White ones, especially when the choices are exactly the same is irritating to see. This is the essence of White privilege when Whites do it and internalized White supremacist thought when Blacks do it.

I am not here for the classism. Rarely are the purchasing choices of degreed Black people who are socioeconomically in the middle class policed and shamed as much as poor Black people’s choices. In general, poor people’s choices are heavily misrepresented and heavily policed.

When White males sit outside waiting for an iPhone made in China while Black males sit outside waiting for Jordans made in China, both expensive, and both unneeded, the question is one of consumption in a capitalist society, style, ascribed intracultural value, personal choice and Western privilege. However, the latter purchase is not pathological solely because someone Black is engaged in it.

I watched the news a lot during the recent holiday season and I saw how consumerism was glorified in the media. News outlets spent weeks at malls creating segments solely about consumption. It was treated as a beautiful thing and an American pastime. Most of the segments that I saw on 5 different networks were focused on Whites. Yet, when a new pair of Jordans are released and Black people stand in line for that, consumption then becomes a disease and pathology? Gee, why would this occur? People are trampled, injured and killed when White consumers are involved in these lines during times of heavy consumption, just as injuries occur in lines where Black consumers wait to buy Jordans.

Black people who engage in this shaming and pathology labeling are mimicking what they’ve learned from the racist portrayal of Black behavior and consumption. They internalize White supremacy and are engaging in classism, and it shapes their views on Black people. This is not about the growth of Black people. This type of shaming is not the promotion of self-evaluation for Black people. It’s hierarchy reaffirmation, plain and simple.