Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture

Back Cover Copy — 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.

In order to move beyond the stereotypical images of black children obsessed with status symbols, Elizabeth Chin spent two years interviewing poor children living in New Haven, Connecticut, about where and how they spend their money. An alternate image of the children emerges, one that puts practicality ahead of status in their purchasing decisions. On a twenty-dollar shopping spree with Chin, one boy has to choose between a walkie-talkie set and an X-Men figure. In one of the most painful moments of her research, Chin watches as Davy struggles with his decision. He finally takes the walkie-talkie set, a toy that might be shared with his younger brother.

Through personal anecdotes and compelling stories ranging from topics such as Christmas and birthday gifts, shopping malls, Toys-R-Us, neighborhood convenience shops, school lunches, ethnically correct toys, and school supplies, Chin critically examines consumption as a medium through which social inequalities-most notably of race, class, and gender–are formed, experienced, imposed, and resisted. Along the way she acknowledges the profound constraints under which the poor and working class must struggle in their daily lives.

Check out my most recent Amazon review:

By Olivia Glenn on January 5, 2015

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

I only purchased this book because I needed it for my intro anthropology class, but after reading it, I’ve decided to integrate into my personal book collection instead of selling it to another student. It isn’t the most life changing book that I’ve ever read, but it does do a great deal of exploring the dynamics of agency and privilege within the lives of the children that it follows. Furthermore, it opens up a broader discussion of how these two concepts work in the lives of black people and lower income people as a whole in relation. Everyone should read this book, whether they’re an aspiring social justice worker or if they don’t believe inequality exists. Either way, it will offer you a broader perspective toward how you view the lives of others in the world and how you view your own.

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