It’s late November. Most of us are thinking up or finalizing our Thanksgiving plans. We are finding old recipes, perhaps tweaking new ones, cutting grocery coupons, all while making lists and checking them twice. On Tuesday or Wednesday we will leave our offices and classrooms to travel or maybe to get a head start on cleaning our homes for the holiday. Even those among us with a high quotient of social consciousness, while feeling slightly guilty about the fact that we still celebrate the anniversary of Native American genocide, will still prepare to give thanks. It’s an all-American holiday that does not have to be tied to a religious affiliation and it is likely the majority of Americans will find they have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
When we are done eating too much, and maybe playing games, drinking, or starting our holiday decorating, hundreds of thousands of us will go shopping. Even those of us who don’t shop a lot, those of us on limited budgets, will go out on Black Friday – quickly becoming Black Thursday Night (or all-day Thursday) – because there are deals, savings, freebees, door-busters and more. While we surf the web or sales flyers for coupons, we notice who has the cheapest price on Billy’s new bike and Sarah’s Ugg boots. We will move seamlessly from being thankful to spending in hopes that we will soon be both giving and receiving.
This is a firmly rooted American tradition. Retail employers seek new hires based on their availability on Black Friday. If you are like me and your family takes Thanksgiving seriously, and they live out of state, this may inhibit your ability to get a job between October and December. If you already have a job in retail, you then have to decide months in advance: will you suck it up and work your job over the holiday or will you cut your family holiday short for standing around at your job? I spent my entire college career missing family events so I could go work at the mall. It’s a trade-off, and one does what one must. This year, I will be happily low on funds, in a living room in Dallas surrounded by cousins and kids and food.
Let us think logically about the origins of Black Friday – or as I and Winston from “New Girl” like to call it, just Friday (because we’re black. Get it?). What other events are known as “black,” i.e. bad, fateful, not to be celebrated? There was Black Tuesday 1929, when the stock market crashed so hard it caused a depression epically worse than what any of us can really remember. There was The Black Plague where everyone caught a horrific and contagious disease and died. There’s the black market where goods are sold usually illegally and sometimes include human lives or sexual favors, not to mention narcotics. And then there’s Black Friday, a day Philadelphia police dreaded so much – owing to the mayhem caused by consumerism, making it difficult for them to keep the peace – that they coined the term back in the 1960s.
Last year some protestors decided to stand in New York City sidewalks and yell at Wall Street financiers about how unfair and corrupt their business was. They caused quite a ruckus, and people went on to stand in streets across the nation, yelling about unequal distribution of wealth. I had been atypically ignoring them, waiting to see if they would accomplish anything real, when I ran across the Occupy Black Friday campaign. It was small, but some creative person had made “Buy Nothing Day” ads. I thought, protesting can be ignored, but if mall employees go to work on Black Friday and have no customers to serve everyone will notice. Corporate America has shown us time and time again that they value profit over people, so maybe we ought to value our time over our consumerism. Buy nothing on Black Friday, not even gas, not even milk.
[Editor’s note: It was a noble effort here in Oklahoma, although not likely to convince someone who’d been standing in line for hours to turn back nor the employee with bills to pay to stay home. Still the message begs the question: How do we learn to value people before profits in a nation where materialism is how you show people you love that you really care? I think some the answer is in how we shop, where we shop, and what we choose to buy.]
This year, I’m taking a different approach. Sarah Mazzone over at madeinusachallenge.com thinks we ought to only buy things made in ‘Merica in order to cut back on foreign worker exploitation and to build our economy. She delineates her several other reasons in the “About The Blog” section of her website. Mazzone is challenging us to buy all of our gifts locally, from “mom and pop” shops because it boosts our local economies. I can get behind this. I personally know three moms who craft and create really great gifts either to supplement their families’ income, or on the side of their other jobs. There are even more people who own small businesses who thrive or struggle based on the time of year and the nature of their business. Yet without these places, our communities become homogenized box-store landscapes and we short-change ourselves in diversity as well as identity.
Admittedly, I have not heard of a local company that produces laptops, smart phones, or high-tech gaming systems. I guess if you need that stuff, go get it. But if you are like me and a lot of people I know, you don’t really need much. It is the gift-giving that is the icing on the cake. So let it also be the icing on the cake of a small business owner. Instead of buying clothes, blankets, accessories, and diaper bags from major retailers, buy them from people like Cutesy Custom Kids or Callie’s Alley. Need a brick and mortar store? Try Blue Seven or Shop Good. Buy your personalized ornaments and other holiday decorations from people like Handmade by Aly or Collected Thread. Have an audiophile in the family? Get them their favorite records, CDs, and more at Guestroom Records, or Size Records. Buy someone a photo shoot from any of the hundreds of local photographers. Send your friends to dinner at a local restaurant and pay your neighbors’ teenager to babysit (provided she’s responsible, of course). Buy clothing, paintings, and jewelry from local artists. Instead of standing in long lines and fighting your way into jammed back stores, take a leisurely stroll through the beautiful streets of the Plaza District or the Paseo Arts District. Hit up galleries like Istvan or DNA and explore all the awesome trinkets from OKC Thunder necklaces, shirts and more to Christmas decor. Forgo the florescent lit isles of Wal-Mart and take a trip to the Myriad Botanical Gardens. While you’re there, take your family ice-skating at the Devon Ice Rink and shop the Pop-Up shops. Buy gift baskets of Oklahoma-made food items from Native Roots Market or Forward Foods. Get a spice gift sets and specialty items at Savory Spice Shop. For your coffee lovers there’s fair trade, sustainably grown, locally roasted coffee from Elemental Coffee. There is so much impact to be made here, at home, in our neighborhoods. There’s a call out there, advocated by Mazzone, for a Small Business Saturday shopping frenzy. Search Facebook, it’s easy. Ask around, word of mouth is the best recommendation.
And I’ll be honest: these alternatives may be more expensive than your typical Black Friday sales. But consider it a double gift to your recipient and the small business owner who keeps your community unique and your neighbors employed. ‘Tis the season to thank, to give, to receive, to worship, and to be socially conscious and responsible. I think Henry David Thoreau was brilliant when he wrote, “A man is rich proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” And let us not forget the catchphrase, “Keep it local, OK?”