A surprising and fascinating look at how Black culture has been leveraged by corporate America.
Open the brochure for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and you'll see logos for corporations like American Express. Visit the website for the Apollo Theater, and you'll notice acknowledgments to corporations like Coca Cola and Citibank. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, owe their very existence to large corporate donations from companies like General Motors. And while we can easily make sense of the need for such funding to keep cultural spaces afloat, less obvious are the reasons that corporations give to them. In Black Culture, Inc., Patricia A. Banks interrogates the notion that such giving is completely altruistic, and argues for a deeper understanding of the hidden transactions being conducted that render corporate America dependent on Black culture.
Drawing on a range of sources, such as public relations and advertising texts on corporate cultural patronage and observations at sponsored cultural events, Banks argues that Black cultural patronage profits firms by signaling that they value diversity, equity, and inclusion. By functioning in this manner, support of Black cultural initiatives affords these companies something called "diversity capital," an increasingly valuable commodity in today's business landscape. While this does not necessarily detract from the social good that cultural patronage does, it reveals its secret cost: ethnic community support may serve to obscure an otherwise poor track record with social justice.
Banks deftly weaves innovative theory with detailed observations and a discerning critical gaze at the various agendas infiltrating memorials, museums, and music festivals meant to celebrate Black culture. At a time when accusations of discriminatory practices are met with immediate legal and social condemnation, the insights offered here are urgent and necessary.
About the author
Patricia A. Banks (Harvard University Ph.D. & A.M./Spelman College B.A.) is Professor of Sociology and a faculty member in the Program in Africana Studies and the Program in Entrepreneurship, Organizations, and Society at Mount Holyoke College. She is author of Represent: Art and Identity Among the Black Upper-Middle Class (2010).
"Patricia Banks has turned her critical eye on corporate support for Black cultural institutions as a PR move to trumpet their commitment to social justice. Banks is an astute observer of the world of philanthropy and a superb writer. A compelling read, this book will be an instant classic."
—Frank Dobbin, author of Inventing Equal Opportunity
"This groundbreaking volume by the premier scholar examining race, art, and cultural economy could not be timelier for understanding the workings of contemporary capitalism and diversity branding. With its scholarly rigor, grounded fieldwork and analysis, this book is a necessary and beautiful must-read for anyone who cares about justice."
—Arlene Dávila, author of Latinos, Inc.
"Black Culture, Inc. is a brilliant contribution to the burgeoning literature on how race shapes organizations. Surveying a wide range of corporate giving to Black cultural institutions—from the National Museum of African American History and Culture to Afropunk—Banks provides a balanced account of its benefits and the potential costs that giving extracts from Black communities."
—Victor Ray, The University of Iowa
"Many of us rarely think about the connections between race, organizations, and culture, but Patricia Banks's innovative concept of 'diversity capital' shows why we should. Her illuminating book reveals that while today's companies demonstrate their commitment to racial equity with donations to black cultural initiatives, this corporate largesse is more complicated than we might realize."
—Adia Harvey Wingfield, author of Flatlining
"In this strongly argued and beautifully written book, Banks provides a conceptual framework for understanding the racial politics of organizational behavior. Her concept of 'diversity capital' is rooted in classical sociological theory but pushes that scholarship forward to make it more relevant today. This analysis will be foundational for future work on race and organizations."
—Shyon Baumann, co-author of Foodies
"Essential reading for anyone curious about why major American corporations seem so intent on 'giving back' to Black cultural institutions. This significant book turns corporate sponsorships into objects of scrutiny, showing how they project an often disingenuous corporate image of caring not only about Black culture but also about Black people."
—Ellen Berrey, author of The Enigma of Diversity
"Patricia A. Banks makes a vital contribution to sociological theory, illuminating how Black cultural patronage is harnessed by corporations as a tool of financial and cultural power, often with pernicious implications for the same communities who are exploited for their diversity appeal. An important, penetrating analysis."
—Linsey McGoey, author of No Such Thing as a Free Gift
"As businesses and organizations strive to prove their commitments to equity and inclusion, Black Culture, Inc. provides a nuanced corrective to corporate narratives. Alongside the rich and detailed empirical analysis, the conceptualization of 'diversity capital' is a crucial intervention with relevance across the social sciences."
—Dave O'Brien, author of Culture is Bad For You
"Black Culture, Inc. is an important book. In connecting corporate sponsorship of Black cultural institutions with urgent issues of racial justice, Banks demonstrates the wide, and often disturbing, ramifications of corporate efforts to increase their 'diversity capital.' Packed with scholarly insights, relevant case studies, and vivid anecdotes, this engaging book should be read by scholars, practitioners, students, and anyone interested in Black cultural institutions and how American corporations use cultural philanthropy."
—Victoria D. Alexander, author of Sociology of the Arts
"Theoretically rich and empirically jaw-dropping, Black Culture, Inc. is a timely look at the connection between corporate America and ethnoracial identity. Patricia Banks, one of the nation's keenest observers of race and culture, offers a rich, sophisticated, and accessible analysis of how corporations attempt to cultivate unauthentic Black identity. Banks gives readers an insider's look at the arenas – museums, concerts, and cultural festivals – where corporations tie themselves to Black culture and Black people. Black Culture, Inc. is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the contours, complexity, and ironies of race in the United States today."
—Tomás R. Jiménez, Stanford University