Black Consumerism: Recession or Excession?

A few weeks ago, I returned to my native Louisiana.  Exchanging the NYC public transportation for my stepfather’s Chevy was a nice change of pace.   While driving on the interstate, I heard a disturbing Toyota commercial.  A teacher was asking her elementary school students what they wanted to be when they grow up. One student said an astronaut.  Another said an actress.  The last student called upon answered, “I just want to own a Lexus.”  I was floored.  Really? Do you remember being in your fourth grade homeroom dreaming about driving a luxury car? That’s not what my parents taught me, but that is supposedly on the mind of American millenials.

For centuries, consumerist culture has led many to believe that the accumulation of certain goods is the definition of wealth.  Somehow, the American dream has been lost in this concept. The dream job, house, and family have been traded in for material wealth and possessions.  Today, cars, brand named clothing, and other luxury goods now determine one’s status in society.  The deterioration of familial and spiritual connections within communities has promoted a society where personal achievement is valued over communal and social advancement.

African-American consumerism has also led to dire consequences.  Due to the recession, the median net worth of African-Americans was $2,170 in 2009.  Even worse, the median net worth of single black women was $5! The economic prosperity African-Americans experienced from the 1960s has significantly deteriorated.  Despite these numbers, it is estimated that by 2015 African-Americans will have the spending power of 1.1. Trillion dollars!  Where will those funds go to with the influence of advertising, peer pressure, and hip-hop moguls?  Considering the recession, what does this say about the future of the black middle class? Does the black middle class even exist?

In ‘Consumerism is eating the future’, Andy Coglan states that consumer spending has carried on unstopped in its tracks as consumers begin to define themselves by their consumption, and in so doing continue to create a culture of consumerism slavery.” This mass consumerism has increased debt and the continuous divide between the upper and the working class.

Whether stimulated by advertising or the imitation of iconic figures, consumerism has created a false sense of wealth and the mass consumption that was curbed by the recession by no means has significantly decreased.   In fact, mass consumerism is believed to be one of the root causes of the recession, as “compulsive and excessive spending and mass consumption of resources would not be sustainable” for a nation.   Many of us were taught to spend money only on what we needed, but to treat yourself now and then.  How then today is the line drawn between want and need?






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