I hate shopping. I really, really hate it. I’d rather do almost anything than go shopping. I haven’t stepped foot in a mall in years — malls make me claustrophobic and cranky. Needless to say, I avoid Black Friday like the plague.
But that’s because I can. I can, and do, have the economic privilege that allows me to avoid the crowds and shop online. I have a computer. I have internet. I have a credit card and a bank account. I have a full-time job with a decent salary. And if I pay an extra few bucks for a Christmas present, it’s not going to break me. That’s more than many people in our country can say.
Black Friday has become some kind of spectator sport for the smug and privileged to mock others. News and social media are filled with clips of people pushing their way into stores, looking for deals. When fights break out, which they often do, the clips will be on a loop, over and over, as people mock the shoppers who are desperate to get a deal. People even post their disappointment if there are “no good fights” that break out on Black Friday.
Who are these shoppers who are so desperate they rush the doors of the major stores at 4 a.m. Black Friday trying to get a “door buster” deal? For the most part, they are people who have lower incomes. These shoppers are single moms, people of color, people living on unemployment or minimum wage.
These are people for whom a big sale means the difference between getting their kids something crappy for Christmas, or getting them something nicer like all their friends have. These are people for whom saving $100 on a new electronic device is a big deal. These are people who have been waiting for Black Friday to replace a broken microwave or vacuum, because that’s the only way they can afford to do so.
The stories and posts about Black Friday shopping have a strong undertone of classism and racism. “Look at all those crazies fighting in Walmart!” people say smugly as they show a crowd of obviously low-income people, many of whom are brown or black, trying to get a sale item. The shoppers are shown and described in ways that dehumanize them and are offensive on many levels. Shoppers are described as “acting like animals”, “mobs”, “frenzied”, and “dangerous”.
I would argue that what’s dangerous is a system that pits desperate people against one another to get a limited number of sale items. For people who already experience scarcity on a daily basis, Black Friday sales increase stress for a segment of our population who already have a great deal of toxic stress. And feeding into the racism and classism that surrounds coverage of Black Friday doesn’t help.
Are we really criticizing the low-income moms who want to give their families a nice Christmas by taking advantage of what are generally the lowest prices of the year? Isn’t it hard enough being a poor, or being a person of color, without being mocked for getting up early to get a good deal? Is it so wrong that people want to make their money stretch as far as it can?
I was five years old when I figured out there was no Santa Clause. I was in kindergarten and I went to visit my best friend Kim. Kim’s family lived in a different neighborhood than we did, a “nice” neighborhood. As Kim proudly showed me the mountain of fancy toys that Santa brought her I had a revelation: people in my neighborhood seemed to have a different Santa. Kim’s Santa didn’t bring gifts from the Goodwill, Kim’s Santa brought name brand items that came in fancy boxes like I saw on TV.
It didn’t make sense to me at first: why would Santa bring the poor kids in my neighborhood a couple of used toys and clothes with no tags, but bring the kids in the “nice” neighborhood a mountain of new fancy stuff? That went against everything I thought I knew about Santa. Shouldn’t Santa bring the poor kids the same stuff? And then it hit me: clearly this Santa stuff was all just a hoax. It was my first big lesson in economics and I’ll be honest, it was a little bit devastating.
That’s why as much as I hate shopping, I’ll never make fun of Black Friday shoppers. If you’re trying to get a good deal on items that are normally marked up 200% or more by the stores, more power to you. If you love hunting for bargains, that’s cool with me. And if you’re trying to show your kid that Santa loves them as much as the kids in the nice neighborhoods, you are an awesome parent in my book. Good luck shopping.