Coined in the 1960s to mark the start to the Christmas shopping season, ‘Black Friday,’ or the Friday after Thanksgiving, is one of the major shopping days of the year in the United States. It is the period when most businesses move from ‘red’ to ‘black’ profit-wise.
While it’s not an official holiday, coming as it does after Thanksgiving Thursday, many workers (except those working in retail stores) get it off. While Black Friday might be a happy day for owners of stores that finally start to show a profit, it has to be Bleak Friday for many of their employees who often give up Thanksgiving with their families for the sales that sometimes start on Thursday. Retail giants like Walmart and J.C. Penny, for example, begin their Black Friday sales the afternoon or evening before, meaning that their workers have to give up a significant portion of their holiday. While I’m sure they get holiday pay (at least, I would hope they do), it hardly seems to compensate for the missed time with family.
Now, I have to begin by confessing that I have never done a Black Friday sale. When I do Christmas shopping, it’s either done in September and October, or the week before Christmas. I don’t really celebrate, but I do buy gifts for my children (when they were small) and now for my grandchildren.
Being aware of how Black Friday impacts many retail workers, I’m glad I’ve never been tempted. Added to this, there’s the fact that we have this period celebrating conspicuous consumption at a time when nearly 7 million households in the U.S. don’t have enough food to eat, and nearly 4 million are unable to provide sufficient, nutritious food for their children. We have more than 40 million people living in poverty, and some 20 million live in extreme poverty (making less than $10,000 per year for a family of four).
While many politicians seem to delight in blaming the poor themselves for their poverty, the U.S. political and economic systems are primarily to blame. In our free enterprise economy, companies are not creating enough jobs for everyone, and the top echelons of business tend to allocate the lion’s share of profit to themselves. Our political system, which one would think would focus on the needs of the people, tends to have other concerns. Military and security expenditures, for instance, make up half of U.S. federal discretionary expenditures; corporations and the rich have greater lobbying power, and as a consequence tax breaks and subsidies tend to benefit them more; and, the Democratic Party; once the party of the working man, focuses on the middle class, often to the detriment of the poor.
As a consequence of this, we have a culture of inequality, with people segregated by income and sometimes race or ethnicity. With jobs scarce and wages low, the lack of income leads many low income people to dysfunctional behavior, creating a vicious cycle – in other words, poverty often leads to more poverty.
I have to start this post by making it abundantly clear – I HATE SHOPPING! And, by that, I don’t mean just Black Friday, although it has a special place on my list of things I detest, but shopping any time. When I need to buy something, if I can’t find it on the Internet, I make a list, research the stores that have what I need at the price I’m willing to pay, go to the store, enter, buy, and get the hell out as fast as I can.
Having said that, this year, my wife finally discovered Black Friday, and wanted to know what all the hype was about. All day on Thanksgiving, she threatened to wake me up at oh-dark-thirty Friday and drag me to the nearest shopping mall to join the mob. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well Thursday night, and the lobster, turkey, and all the other goodies I wolfed down had nothing to do with it.
I got up yesterday at my usual time, 6:30, and made my breakfast. As usual, I tippy-toed around the house, hoping I wouldn’t wake my better half up; she likes to sleep in and hates eating breakfast except on weekends. At 10:30, her usual wake-up time, I breathed a sigh of relief when she got up, did her shower and makeup, and plunked herself down in front of the TV with a cup of coffee to catch her favorite Korean soap opera. At noon, she pried herself away long enough to make two bowls of noodles for our lunch, and went back to the afternoon news shows. Never a word about Black Friday shopping; could I be that lucky, I wondered.
I didn’t really relax until six in the evening. All day, she’d not said a word about going shopping, and it was now time for her favorite evening shows to start. No way she misses them unless the house is on fire, and even then I wonder.
But, we went to bed last night, and not once did she say anything about shopping. So, I was able to get a bit of writing done – starting the editing phase of my NaNoWriMo entry, which is a lot of work and requires the ability to focus. Of course, now I have to worry about whether or not she’ll decide to see what’s left on the shelves the day after Black Friday – a day I’ve taken to calling Gray Saturday for the somber mood of everyone who went through the torture yesterday, and the appearance of the stores with shelves nearly bare from the scourge of locust-like shoppers yesterday.
I’m a bit happier, though, after looking at the sky. It’s a grey day here in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland. The wind blew hard last night, dumping tons of leaves on our recently raked lawn, so instead of shopping, I’ll get my afternoon exercise moving leaves from the grass to the tree line behind our house. That I don’t mind; it’s a good way to stretch the muscles after sitting here at the computer for several hours, and it’ll set me up for a late night writing session. I might start my new Chronicle of Pip of Pandara book tonight. Or, maybe I’ll do some more sketches for planned projects. What I won’t be doing, folks, is shopping.