Commerce in Color
Race, Consumer Culture, and American Literature, 1893-1933
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Class : Culture
By the time the stock market crashed and the Great Depression provoked a widespread reappraisal of U.S.-style capitalism, Americans were already well on the way to defining themselves as a nation of consumers. We tend to think of consumerism as a recent or even “postmodern” phenomenon,...
1. No Place of Race: Consumer Culture's Critical Tradition
For students of African American history and of race in the United States, the years between Plessy v. Ferguson and the Great Depression were pivotal in the renewal of racial thinking—the retrenchment of racism, the disenfranchisement of African Americans, and the consolidation of a whiteness that would include the massive “second wave” of...
2. "Stage Business" as Citizenship: Ida B. Wells at the World's Columbian Exposition
Visitors to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition saw “Negroes” but few, if any, African Americans. An ethnological display exhibited the Fon people of Dahomey (now the West African nation of Benin), but African American endeavors had been scrupulously suppressed. By and large, the only African Americans in the...
3. Thrown into Relief: Distinction Making in The American Scene
Henry James noted in The American Scene in 1904 that in New York there are “occasions, days and weeks together, when the electric cars offer you nothing else to think of” besides immigrants. “The carful, again and again, is a foreign carful,” he continued, “a row of faces, up and down, testifying, without exception, to alienism...
4. Race-changes as Exchanges: The Autobiography of an Ex-coloured Man
Reflecting on his travels by Pullman coach at the end of The American Scene, Henry James imagines a race-change. He speculates that his perceptions would be altered dramatically were he “red” instead of “white,” a Native American rather than a “native” American. He scolds the railroad itself:...
5. A Black Culture Industry: Public Relations and the "New Negro" at Boni and Liveright
The same year that Boni and Liveright published Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), which many took as a signal of the maturation of a new generation of black writers, a book entitled Publicity appeared, outlining the subtle new tactics of promotion that were bolstering the new industry...
6. Confessions of the Flesh: The Mass Public in Epidermal Trouble in Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts and George Schuyler's Black No More
By 1930, the quantity of goods manufactured in the United States had grown at nearly three times the rate at which the population had increased since the turn of the century, according to a federally commissioned study by Middletown author Robert Lynd (“People” 857). This discrepancy had been a fundamental crisis...
Conclusion: Leaving Muncie
In 1923, ROBERT S. LYND hit a methodological snag while in the ‹nal planning stages for the research that would become Middletown—a text that, along with Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, helped found a “native” critical tradition on consumer culture....