The Consumption Practices of Black British Women in their Twenties (Part One)
Choose. Pay. Use. When looking at the concept of consumption typically the process of buying and selling are essentially the key elements. Though I can use a few words to consolidate consumption it must be noted that there are more in depth ideologies surrounding its process. Scholars such as Lury have noted the culture of individuals can impact their purchase and how they may use a product. Such ideas raised by Lury (1996) can lead to questions such as, "What are the external influences impacting a demographics purchases?" "How much does being from a multi cultural background, (e.g. diaspora) influences ones consumption habits?"
In this case study I will be looking at the consumption practises of Black British females, with particular reference to those that are part of the Black African diaspora. The Black diasporic presence within the United Kingdom is just one of the many ethnological groups that has given the nation her ‘multicultural’ sticker. However similar to a sticker the Black presence is often removed from particular frameworks or silenced. The motivation of this study is to give some clarity surrounding the topic of Black British females and their consumption habits. By the end of the study you will be able to pinpoint some of the factors that have influenced the consumption practises of the women, as well as ideas that may alter certain traditions.
Consumption involves the using up of a service or product after the selection aspect. The growth in technology has multiplied the methods of finalising a consumer’s selections, thus creating more types of consumers. The apparent simplicity of the consumption process projected in advertising is in its self an oxymoron. Consumption involves practises, which positions the buyer into their actual social group or aspirational demographic, it can be used as a method of distinction or behave as a technique to fill a void and an outwardly expression of the mental psyche. “Consumption is simply a process of objectification – that is a use of goods and services in which the object or activity becomes simultaneously a practice in the world and a form in which we construct our understanding of ourselves in the world” (Baranowski et al 2001). The latter suggests consumption solidifies an individual’s understanding on the public, or their position within society. Especially in reference to social class and accessibility to different capital. The goods and the services we use can be a reminder of what we are not. This potentially provokes a consumer to live ‘beyond their means’, become aware of the class structure and how it systematically influences those with the least of capital to yearn for what is not fully tangible.
Bell et al, (2005 ) highlights those who may be at the lower end of the class spectrum, can use cultural intermediaries such as lifestyle media outlets to alter their social position through means of consumption. YouTube has become an online media outlet that is saturated with lifestyle channels; ‘YouTubers’ are the modern day cultural intermediaries offering their subscribers the chance to enhance their capital through the promotions of different services to do so. Patricia Bright’s a Black British YouTuber of African descent is a key figure in the online cultural intermediaries sphere. Her video content ranges from motivational messages, beauty tips and business ideas, the underling theme of the platform is about bettering yourself.
The ways of suggested means of improvement are often through consuming products or services, which are shown on the channel. She has a number of ‘haul’ videos. These videos consists of showcasing items purchased by the YouTuber, some are gifted as a result of brand sponsorship or may reference services offered by brands. Cultural intermediaries influence the consumption practices of its demographic. Such agencies expand on the utopic nature of a product or service, through highlighting the apparent gratification it brings and seeming inadequacy a buyer would feel without such item. These tactics are an advertising ploy for consumers to consume more, and aspire to a falsehood of a 'better self'.
Bourdieu, (1984) dispels the agenda of the cultural intermediaries through, outlining the need for particular forms of capital to partake in the consumption culture. In the case of getting involved in the consumption aspect of YouTube, you will need to have a good level of economic capital. Even if graced with all the needed capital Bourdieu mentions aspiring to a socio-economic group outside the one you were birthed into is somewhat ‘unnatural’. This ideology can be seen in part across the Black British Youtube sphere. During video ‘hauls’ viewers observe the purchasing of items that at face value may not mirror the aesthetics of the black woman or be aimed at her even though it is a black cultural intermediaries promoting the product. Some big brands that typically do not target black women are approaching ‘Youtubers’ or vice versa to work along side them online - as a method to expand their demographics and capital. Black ‘Youtubers’, who have taken up such opportunity, may be used for financial gain however these women are breaking down racial barriers and testifying to other brands the need for more diversity in the promotional aspect of the consumption sphere.
The black female image is one that has, and is still being tarnished. The bombardments of sexualized images to the projection of roles, which promote servitude, are common in the portrayal of Black femininity. It can be said without hesitation the image of female blackness, is despised by the masses. If that was not the case then why is there still such a great effort on mainstream outlets to ridicule the black female image? The latter is believed to have an impact on the black female psyche, especially in regards to how Black British women may view themselves, thus impacting their consumption habits.
The ONS reported that amongst the ethnic groups in the UK, blacks were the least satisfied with their lives and least happy. Factors such as unemployment and academic underachievement (both, which are vital if wanting to partake in the consumption sphere) are believed to be the cause. Such reports are no surprise as to why some black females may want to distant themselves from such a circle or demographic that has connotations of being dissatisfied. Exclusivity through means of consumption allows black British women to dispose of labels such as servitude and employ habits of liberty and individuality. ‘I am not going to be what they [mainstream society] want me to be, I am going to be totally different’’ (Black Power In Britain’,1980)
Expensive products have an exclusivity about them; though they may be shown to the masses such goods are only meant for a selective minority. An individual can solidify their identity or create an ideal self though Hegel’s concept of antithesis. Through selecting products that exceeds or are uncommon from the ‘norm’, effectively an individual is creating a contrast to distinguish themselves as more established than their peers. Has the Black British experience in the UK provoked such desire of exclusivity within Black female circles?
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Disclaimer: This essay was written by myself, feel free to share and get inspired by what has been written but please do not declare it as your own.
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