I want to be a conscious consumer. I want to consider the social and environmental footprint of the products I buy. I try. I’ve purchased clothing and shoes for my husband and myself from fair trade apparel companies like Everlane, Prana, and Oliberte. I recycle our old clothes for scrap fabric in sewing projects, and for many years, I managed my own online resale business via Kidizen, eBay, and Poshmark.
I want to support companies whose industry standards enforce living wages, safe working conditions, and fair labor policies, as well as environmentally friendly production practices all throughout the supply chain. I do, consciously, spend dollars on brands that value all facets of sustainability, but I cannot do it all of the time. It isn’t feasible. I will venture to suggest that most Americans are in the same rocky boat that I’m in.
This is because conscious consumption is a privilege, and privilege is a complex social phenomenon.
I am a product of privilege. I benefit from the privilege that accompanies my skin tone (white). Yes, white privilege is a thing. Yet, even within white privilege and minority underprivilege there exists a sliding scale of socio-economic privilege (or underprivilege). With that said, I grew up in a white, working class family. My parents were (and still are) married, and I have only one sibling. My parents suffered no addiction, so while life wasn’t easy for us, I benefitted from the privilege of having two parents working to provide for my daily essentials. We always had food, running water, and electricity–air in the summer, heat in the winter. Having my needs met, I was better able to focus on academics; therefore, of my family of four, I was the first (and only) college graduate.
Compared to my white neighbors–literally across the railroad tracks–I was sorely underprivileged. Compared to my black neighbors a few streets over, I was blessed beyond measure. I now live in a middle to upper middle class suburban community–complete with HOA, pools, and playgrounds. My subsection of the neighborhood is ethnically diverse. We abide in the most affluent school district of our county, and my kids attend the highest rated elementary school of said district. I stay at home, while my husband works tirelessly to provide for our family. He provides for our needs; he provides for our desires. I devote daytime hours to my writing craft because I do not have to work to help support the family. As a result, I am home to meet my children at the bus stop, to prepare their afternoon snacks, to ensure adequate outside time, and to assist them in their studies. I am always around for them. I establish routines and systems to undergird their academic performance and nurture emotional and psychological regulation.
I am privileged.
Nevertheless, it is not always feasible for me to purchase products from sustainable brands and distributors. It makes sense for me to spend the extra money on these brands for my husband and myself because we are grown, and the items we buy, we will wear for years. Not so for my children. They are growing like weeds, they play hard, and in our current climate (that’s earth–because we live on the planet earth), we have to be prepared for all weather extremes. It is not affordable for me–a white lady/stay at home mom with loads of privilege–to furnish the wardrobes of my kids with sustainable goods. For this reason, I regularly purchase kids clothing from brands produced at the expense of other children–whether by child labor or by the disadvantageous working conditions of their parents–through the unjust labor practices of sweatshop industrialization.
I hate it.
I can afford to be a drop in the bucket of conscious consumption by sometimes shopping consciously. Not every American has that privilege. Not every American can choose whether or not to shop consciously.
Stan Lee said, “With great power comes great reponsibility.” Money is power, so it should follow that the onus of responsibility rests on the puppet masters with their deep pockets, as they shape public policy and control production lines. The climate is changing. People are suffering, but not every American can afford to vote with their dollars for sustainable brands. Big business–industry tycoons–need to be held accountable. The average American is sadled with enough trouble; those with power must accept responsibility.