Class, Privilege and Black Friday

I had no intentions of blogging today, figured I’d take the day off and relax with the family. But today’s post was inspired by one of my favorite folks on Twitter and it actually made me think. Today is Black Friday, a day that in recent years has become synonymous with great bargains and the possibility of getting trampled if you are trying to shop at a store that serves a rowdy clientele and has bargains too good to resist. In many ways Black Friday has become a great joke for the economically comfortable. Granted there are many solidly middle class folks that like to go out and shop on Black Friday but for working class folks, the deals touted on Black Friday may be the only way some families will be able to afford gifts.

Now I know many folks who will say but why do they feel the need to feed the shopping machine in the first place? Good question but that’s a different discussion for a different day. However as someone who spent the first 18 years of her life working class in a good year, let me tell you the holidays despite the interpersonal strife and conflict often times represented the only time of the year that some of my needs and wants got met. Working with low income families for many years now, I will say things haven’t changed much for the poor and or working class.

In solidly middle class and higher families, good food, enriching toys and clothing needs and desires are met throughout the year. Yet for people who struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, that is often not their reality. It was just over a year ago that this reality hit home with me when I was working with some of the kids that attend my after school program and we were working with paints. Not terribly expensive paints by any stretch of the imagination anyhoo one of the girl’s parents called and she was upset that she had to leave the project we were working on. So very thoughtlessly, I suggested maybe she could paint at home and she explained she had no paints at home. Recently two of my younger kids asked if they could take some crayons home to color with as they had no crayons at home with which to color with. As a parent who tries to keep a stocked craft cabinet for my own child, my heart broke then I remembered that I don’t recall ever having any paints at home myself when I was a child. I can’t even imagine that it dawned on my parents that they should provide me with paints. I suspect in their minds they figured my painting needs were met at school plus they probably didn’t have the resources to obtain paints and other art/craft supplies for me.

Just yesterday while killing time on Twitter, I’d say 25% of the folks I follow were railing against Thanksgiving as a bullshit holiday. I won’t deny it’s a bullshit holiday and most of us were taught a false holiday that whitewashed the brutality and sheer evil that is at the heart of Thanksgiving. Yet like Christmas celebrations how many people even think about the historical roots of the holiday? Nope, for many it’s just a pig-out day to spend with loved ones or people you are suppose to love. Yet for those who live with financial and food insecurity, its one of the few days that in many cases you can have more than enough food complete with treats.

One of the shittiest things about my job at times is that during the holiday season I am inundated with folks offering help for the needy, free meals, free toys, free clothes…you get the picture. Yet ask me where this help is in July? Yeah…can’t tell ya because I don’t see it. But in November and December offers of help flows like booze with the cast of Jersey Shore and you can be damn sure I see to it that people are able to get their needs met.

Yet there are folks who are not among the neediest so agencies like mine generally can’t help them, so what’s a working stiff to do when they want or need a new television set? Wait like hell for the deals and hope they can snap up that TV. I admit as someone whose main telly is on the brink I almost sent the Spousal Unit out to brave the crowds at Wally World since a 19” TV for $99 is quite a steal. We don’t shun television in this house and by most folk’s standards our TV’s are modest, I have an old 13” in my bedroom and a 22” in the living room, that’s it. No bells or whistles, and considering that televisions these days are quite costly I can sympathize with those who feel the need to get up early to snag a good deal. Shit, it’s getting harder and harder to make the shekels stretch…if giving up a night of sleep to get needs and wants taken care of works for some, who the hell am I to judge?

Admittedly I have in the past said not too nice things about Black Friday but for me it’s always been more about the mob mentality that seems to surface. On the other hand maybe it says something deeper about us as a society that we allow what used to be a benign day to become such a crazy thing. After all I don’t recall hearing about violence happening as a result of shopping on Black Friday back in the 1980’s or even 1990’s. I think as we live in such rapid paced times we are pushed to our breaking point. Living in a time when even before the Great Recession there was such opulence or so we thought yet for the real man or woman on the streets they saw their real wages stagnate, health insurance go up and basically started using their houses and credit cards to supplement with the Boss man didn’t pay so that their ends could meet. In such situations how can you not expect people to go a little crazy?

Perhaps all of us including myself need to look at root causes for why days like Black Friday bring out the worst in humanity. Sure it’s easy to say well folks don’t need this or that; all the while you are typing from the comfort of your home with your latest piece of iGadgetry.

At the end of the day, we all want good food, a warm house, clothing, love and maybe even a few extras however we define those extras, for some it’s iGadgets, Kitchen-Aid mixers and so on…yet who are we to judge someone else’s desires? Yet our ability to have these things will depend in large part on where we sit on the socio-economic ladder and even a decision of whether or not to brave crowds on Black Friday versus shopping on Cyber Monday from the comforts of our home and or office will depend on what we have access to.  Just some food from thought from a lifetime card carrying member of the working class.

3 thoughts on “Class, Privilege and Black Friday”

  1. Thanks for this post. I think those who want to sneer at all Black Friday participants as being outré Walmart proles… it’s like those who want to sneer at Buy Nothing proponents as all sitting in comfort sipping Stumptown and reading Mother Jones on their iPad. I don’t know why some people want to see the worst in other people.

    I liked your last paragraph especially. As a working class family living in an economically depressed town I am always sad when I see the classism that often creeps into even the best-intentioned anti-consumerist article and blog post.

  2. whew…I finally read something that makes sense. I am in awe often of how you can write about things I cannot articulate but feel deeply. Thank you.

Comments are closed.