Identities, repertoires, cultural consumption

This book analyses how racism and anti-racism influence Black British middle-class cultural consumption. In doing so, this book challenges the dominant understanding of British middle-class identity and culture as being ‘beyond race’.

Paying attention to the relationship between cultural capital and cultural repertoires, this book puts forward the idea that there are three black middle-class identity modes: strategic assimilation, class-minded, and ethnoracial autonomous. People towards each of these identity modes use specific cultural repertoires to organise their cultural consumption. Those towards strategic assimilation draw on repertoires of code-switching and cultural equity, consuming traditional middle-class culture to maintain an equality with the White middle class in levels of cultural capital. Ethnoracial autonomous individuals draw on repertoires of browning and Afro-centrism, removing themselves from traditional middle-class cultural pursuits they decode as ‘Eurocentric’, while showing a preference for cultural forms that uplift Black diasporic histories and cultures. Lastly, those towards the class-minded identity mode draw on repertoires of post-racialism and de-racialisation. Such individuals polarise between ‘Black’ and middle-class cultural forms, display an unequivocal preference for the latter, and lambast other Black people who avoid middle-class culture as being culturally myopic or culturally uncultivated.

This book will appeal to sociology students, researchers, and academics working on race and class, critical race theory, and cultural sociology, among other social science disciplines.

Crafting a study on Britain’s Black middle class

This chapter outlines the book’s aims to analyse how racism and anti-racism influence Black middle-class cultural consumption. It begins by summarising the colour-blind literature on the middle class, which I argue limits our overall understanding of how middle-class identity and culture are racialised. I then review the literature on the White and Black middle classes, before positioning the book in relation to these streams of research. The triangle of Black middle-class identity is then sketched out, where I argue there are three Black middle class identity modes – strategic assimilation, ethnoracial autonomous, and class-minded – each showing a different relationship between racism, anti-racism, and cultural consumption.

in Black middle class Britannia

In this chapter, I argue there are three modes of Black middle-class identity, with individuals towards each identity mode adopting specific cultural repertoires. First is the identity mode labelled strategic assimilation. Here, individuals adopt repertoires of code-switching and cultural equity; they switch identities when around the White middle class, and strive to consume dominant cultural capital to achieve a cultural equity with White middle-class people. Second, there are those towards the ethnoracial autonomous identity mode. They reject the strategy of code switching through their repertoire of browning, and through their repertoire of Afro-centrism they prioritise consuming cultural forms which give positive representations of Black diasporic histories, knowledges, and identities. Lastly are those towards the class-minded identity mode. They adopt repertoires of post-racialism – arguing that we are ‘beyond racism’ – and de-racialisation, seeing themselves as ‘middle class’ rather than Black.

in Black middle class Britannia
Double consciousness, Black Britishness, and cultural consumption

This chapter considers how Black middle-class people use cultural consumption to contest the polarisation of Blackness and Britishness. It sketches out a brief history of this polarisation, looking at how the present replicates the past. I then analyse Black middle-class cultural consumption through the lens of double consciousness. First, I look at how those towards strategic assimilation often construe Black Britishness as two identities needing to be reconciled. Such participants therefore consume cultural forms bringing together what they see as traditional British cultural forms with traditional Black diasporic cultural forms. Those towards the ethnoracial autonomous identity mode display Black British double consciousness through the notion of a gifted ‘second sight’, therefore using cultural forms as a means to specifically critique British post-racialism.

in Black middle class Britannia
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Consuming traditional middle-class culture

In this chapter, I look at spaces of traditional middle-class cultural consumption. I argue that my participants construe these spaces as both physically and symbolically White. Physically, these spaces are dominated by White audiences and are sustained by microaggressions towards those defined as racialised outsiders. Symbolically, these spaces tend to exclude Black cultural producers and Black knowledges, identities, and histories in the cultural forms themselves. The White symbolic space is reproduced through creating a Black recognition gap. I then analyse how one’s position in the triangle of identity influences how they interact with White spaces. Those towards the ethnoracial autonomous identity mode remove themselves from these White spaces because they do not want to undergo the emotional labour required to move within such spaces. Those towards strategic assimilation still consume within these spaces to attain equal levels of cultural capital to the White middle class. Those towards the class-minded identity mode argue that these spaces are White not because of racism, but because of Black cultural myopia.

in Black middle class Britannia

This chapter looks at Black middle-class consumption of ‘Black cultural capital’ – forms of dominant cultural capital mediated in a way that promotes ethnoracial affinity and resistance. I argue that participants often decode certain cultural forms as ‘Black cultural capital’ when they fulfil a politics of representation, both challenging the Whiteness of the art world and controlling images of Blackness more generally. Such participants often construe themselves as having the most symbolic mastery over these cultural forms by virtue of being racialised as Black. However, those towards strategic assimilation attempt to use Black cultural capital to foster inter-racial solidarity, while those towards the ethnoracial autonomous identity mode prefer to keep Black cultural spaces ethnoracially closed.

in Black middle class Britannia

This chapter brings the book to a conclusion. I review the contributions this book makes to studies of the Black middle class, critical race theory, cultural sociology, and race and class more broadly. I also examine how my research can open up new studies in cultural sociology, critical race studies, and international perspectives on the Black middle class. The book also reflects on the theme of the book series: racism, resistance, and social change, where I argue that a growth in a Black middle class does not mean there is growing racial equality in Britain.

in Black middle class Britannia