Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity

Marilyn Halter, Author, Susan Ralston, Editor Schocken Books Inc $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4156-3
Black Barbies, a Northwest Orient advertisement urging Irish-Americans to fly to Dublin to ""find their roots"" and a Tetley Tea campaign suggesting that American Jews ""think Yiddish"" but ""drink British"" are only recent examples of advertisers' attempts over the last century to target consumers by appealing to their sense of ethnic and racial identity. In this highly engaging study, Halter (an associate professor of history at Boston University) traces the complicated history of ethnicity and consumption in the U.S. While the ""melting pot"" paradigm has been accepted with very little critique, Halter argues that such wholesale assimilation has never really occurred. She posits instead that individuals and groups have always tried to become Americans without losing the specificity of their ethnicity--a reality that is reflected in the marketing of consumer goods. While she focuses on how Alex Haley's Roots (1973) and the 1974 congressional Ethnic Heritage Act (which funded ""initiatives that promote... distinctive cultures and histories"") spurred the embrace of ethnic identity, Halter also documents that embrace in such fascinating occurrences as an 1895 article, ""The Negro in Advertising,"" which ran in the advertising journal Printer's Ink, and a 1913 Proctor and Gamble campaign for kosher Crisco shortening that began: ""The Hebrew Race Has Been Waiting 4,000 Years."" Halter deftly conveys the sweep of her findings without ever glossing over her intriguing examples. Her refreshingly radical examination of U.S. history is an important addition to both cultural and ethnic studies. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-8052-1093-4
Open Ebook - 140 pages - 978-0-307-42770-0
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