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Title: Cultural capital and cultural repertoires among the black middle-class : race, class, and culture in the racialised social system
Author: Meghji, Ali
ISNI:       0000 0004 7654 0003
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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In this thesis, I ask 'Do racism and anti-racism affect black middle-class cultural lives?' I answer this question through interviews with thirty-two black Brits in professional occupations, and ethnographic work across middle-class spaces in London. I argue there are three black middle-class identity modes - strategic assimilation, ethnoracial autonomous, and class-minded - that each show a different relationship between racism, anti-racism, and cultural lives. Each of these identity modes are characterised by specific cultural repertoires. Individuals towards strategic assimilation draw on cultural repertoires of code-switching and cultural equity. Through the repertoire of code-switching, individuals towards strategic assimilation 'switch' identities when around the white middle-class. This identity-switching is based on the premise that one must become palatable to the white middle-class in order to attain legitimate middle-class cultural membership. Racism thus affects such individuals' cultural identities as they show racialised (white) barriers to middle-class cultural membership. Nevertheless, such individuals draw on the anti-racist repertoire of cultural equity, meaning they strive to be equal to the white middle-class in terms of cultural capital. Such individuals therefore often 'decode' traditional middle-class culture as white, but consume such culture to maintain an equal standing to the white middle-class in terms of cultural capital. Those towards the ethnoracial autonomous identity mode draw on cultural repertoires of 'browning' and Afro-centrism. Through their anti-racist repertoire of browning, they stress that people ought to be proud of being black. They therefore resist 'code-switching' and challenge the view that one must assimilate with white norms to prove their middle-class status. Such individuals also use the anti-racist repertoire of Afro-centrism to argue that they have a moral duty to positively uphold black diasporic histories, identities, and culture. They therefore prioritise consuming cultural forms which give positive, authentic representations of the black diaspora, consequently challenging the devaluation of blackness in British society. Lastly, those towards the class-minded identity mode draw on cultural repertoires of post-racialism and de-racialisation. Such individuals believe British society is 'beyond' racism, and they define as 'middle-class' rather than 'black', often reproducing negative stereotypes of other black people. Such individuals use their consumption of middle-class cultural forms to symbolically separate themselves from other black people. Racism affects their cultural lives, therefore, as they often reproduce negative ideologies of other black people as being culturally myopic, uncultivated, or 'playing the race card'. My thesis develops the 'two streams' of research on Britain's black middle-class. Firstly, studies of black British middle-class identity have been unidimensional, focusing predominantly on strategic assimilation. My research shows that strategic assimilation is only one identity mode. Secondly, the literature on black middle-class cultural consumption is also unidimensional, making it appear as though all black middle-class people seek to consume 'middle-class' cultural forms that have a 'black' focus (for example, literature exploring black identity). My research shows that certain black middle-class people (those towards the class-minded identity mode) have no affinity towards 'black' cultural forms, while others (those towards strategic assimilation) make sure to consume 'traditional' middle-class culture to maintain an equal standing with the white middle-class.
Supervisor: Moreno Figueroa, Monica Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: black middle-class ; cultural capital ; critical race theory