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Race in Commodity Exchange and Consumption: Separate but Equal

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The movement of blacks from the status of a slave to that of a consumer had tremendous social and geographic consequences. Slaves were not possessors of money and did not engage in the commodity circuit. Emancipation elevated blacks to wage laborers and consumers. The commodity circuit produced social relations that were problematic for race relations in the postbellum South. The geographical and social solution to this problem was neither integration nor exclusion of blacks from the commodity circuit, but segregation. While the model of consumption may be white, the way of capitalism is not to deny anyone access to the commodity circuit. Exclusion would have provided too rigid a boundary for the commodity circuit. The Plessy decision satisfied the structural imperative of capital to expand consumption while also retaining race as a social marker. It provided for the right amount of inclusion and exclusion in the commodity circuit, reducing just enough of the racial obstacle to expand the sphere of consumption to include the former slaves.
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Keywords: commodity exchange; consumption; postbellum South; race; segregation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Alabama

Publication date: 2005-09-01

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