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Black Friday Landed on Us – Racism, Classism, and the American Nightmare

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Workers at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, JCPenney and pretty much every retail store throughout the country are being pushed to the limits to kick off the Christmas shopping season with the organized chaos called “Black Friday”. Workers are putting their bodies on the line, at risk of being targeted by violence over the cheapest deals of the year, all in the name of driving up corporate profits and increasing end-of-year revenues. These conditions are based on a history of violence, capitalism, and racism. The violence and racism of Black Friday is rooted deep, and speaks volumes of the nature of the capitalist system.

Black Friday is incredibly violent for workers on both sides of the cash register. Working people, particularly the working poor, are worked to the bone to run the retail system from production to the warehouse and stores. Working people line up to purchase goods marked down purposefully by retail corporations to bring people into stores. Retail giants purposefully limit the sale items knowing full well that consumers will buy other items at full price on top of any Black Friday “specials”. Corporations make money on the “specials”, but make the most on other items they offer at full price. This is all part of the con – they bait you with the deals and when they run out they offer you something else and full price and rely on guilt and desire to sell it.

Both of these situations are violent, sometimes extremely. Workers drive their bodies into the ground to drive up corporate profits that they’ll never see a piece of. They often work extremely long shifts, forced to come in on national holidays, and forced to sacrifice family time to help corporations increase profit margins. Workers face a culture of overproduction suddenly stricken with scarcity as the Black Friday “specials” disappear, driving them into violent struggles over cheap consumer goods. They fight to get something they have never been able to afford or hold up to social pressures of the consumerist culture produced by capitalism. Some working people are driven into a hysteria by these pressures and break into extreme physical violence over the newest video game systems or the cheapest flat-screen TVs. These responses are a product of society, though they could be a statistical outlier, they are produced by over-producing consumerist capitalism. And the violence on both ends is very real.

Capitalism is based on overproduction of goods and the exploitation of labor. This allows business to expand at will. Expansion into new markets is required to sustain capitalism. Without expansion, it will stagnate and die. Mass production creates the greatest amount of value in the form of sale-able goods with the least amount of money – the lowest wages and labor time. Working people pay twice for goods that are theirs by right. The Walton Family, the owners of Walmart, can’t produce and sell all of the products in the store by themselves. Products cannot be manufactured without the application of labor. Service companies can’t provide services without workers to work the jobs required to facilitate delivery of the service. Steel, silicon, lead, plastic, and other parts cannot be packaged and sold as computers without the applied labor required to turn those raw materials into circuit boards, screens, hard drives and so on. Phone calls, orders, paperwork, and other various services cannot be provided without labor applied by workers.

Labor creates the greatest amounts of value in society through the process of production, no matter if the product is a good or a service. Workers have the right to the full value of their labor. Capitalism adds value to a product through labor, stores that value in commercial products or services, sells those products or services, and uses the money to increase company profits and line the pockets of executives, while paying workers the lowest amount for their labor. This is a complex way of stealing value from workers, of stealing the fruits of our labor in a more covert way than literally doing so. We are denied the full value of the fruits of our labor. This is the violence inherent in the system, the violence that promoted/s slavery, the violence that is at the heart of Black Friday.

Violence takes many forms. We are socialized to fear physical violence and it is omnipresent throughout the media. Society is violent in many ways, most of which are covert and hardly discussed among most of the population. The violence of “Black Friday” is mostly covert or protected for the popular view. Its the violence put on the retail workers bodies with many of the jobs filled by people of color and the working poor. Its the violence inherent in a system of overproduction suddenly stricken by manufactured scarcity in the name of driving up profits. We live in a society where we are socialized to buy everything we want to our heart’s content. We are socialized to ignore the theft of our labor value. We are socialized to believe that Black Friday “deals” are really deals, in some sort of Wizard of Oz like promise of a new and different world where we can all afford the fanciest products under capitalism – if even for just a matter of hours on one day. The reality is that very few of us can afford to buy the luxuries often offered at deep discounts, even with massive markdowns without the use of credit. We go into debt to pay for goods that should be ours by right. We face the violence on both ends – production and consumption – and our labor goes to service the profit lines of the ruling class, rarely if ever to be seen again by another worker. We are victims of Black Friday, not beneficiaries.

The association of this level of violence, especially the overt physical violence that gets reported in the news, and the term “Black Friday” is racist. It reinforces the association of being “black” with violence. This association is real, especially for black youth. It is ingrained in their daily lives on television, hip-hop and rap, and often in their communities. They are socialized to aspire to these norms which often weakens their ability to combat the political oppression their community faces everyday. White people often dismiss this association as irrelevant. They say the “black” in “Black Friday” is a reference to fiscal terms. When a company makes more profit than debt it’s fiscal numbers are considered “in the black”. This is true. However, whenever you use the term black, especially in American society, it also means other things. White people are privileged and can choose to ignore the history and role race and racism play in society. They aren’t the victims of racism, they have a choice whether to see the violence or not. It becomes easy for them to dismiss the racism inherent in Black Friday and the violence inherent in capitalism. People of color do not have that choice.

The racism of Black Friday speaks to and rehashes a history of racism and violence. It raises the violent history of slavery and Jim Crow that built this nation into what it is today. Without slavery, without cheap or free labor, capitalism would have struggled to thrive in the United States. The free labor acquired through the slave trade let farmers produce cotton at incredibly low prices, sell it in larger quantities to foreign and domestic markets, and amass a wealth of capital to finance the development of new industries and new industrial technologies. This wasn’t just in the south. Northern industrial magnates also thrive from slavery, at the very acquiring raw materials gathered by slave labor, allowing them to sell their end product for less than their competition.Walmart and much of retail is the modern version of the plantation and relies, sometimes quite literally, on slave labor and wage-slavery. All retail sources from sweatshops. Sweatshops, poor working conditions, oppression, and exploitation are the norm, not just the dark secrets of a few “bad apples”.

Slavery is part of American history. It’s legacy is segregation and Jim Crow, covert racism, and massive poverty among communities of color. Every time we associate violence with the state of being “black” we re-victimize the descendants of slaves. We call re-victimize people who were targets of one of the greatest violence in the history of humanity. We negate the struggles of black and brown people for liberation and freedom from racism by equating them with the physical violence we are all socialized to fear. This process is a denial of identity, a destruction of self beyond socialized norms, and racism is at it’s core.

Black Friday lands on working people like an avalanche onto a village of sticks. This is especially true for communities of color and the working poor who work day and night to deliver the spurious promises of discount deals to stores near you, and yet cannot afford the deals themselves. The history of capitalism and racism are tied intricately together. Black, brown, poor, and various other marginalized populations bear the brunt of the worst parts of capitalism. often so other workers can be bought off into believing the “American Dream” by acquiring the newest wide-screen television. This “dream” is a fallacy, and most low-wage workers know it. Spurious lies of a world where your commitment you make to your labor increases your standard of living. This promise of meritocracy is a joke, a sick joke, and ignores long traditions of racism, sexism, and heterosexism/homophobia. Black Friday is the pinnacle of that history manifested in consumerist materialism, violence, and massive exploitation.

“It’s the ‘American Dream’ because you have to be asleep to believe it” ~ George Carlin

This year shows a few glimmers of hope. Walmart workers always play a huge part in the future of the working class and this year they took to the streets in greater numbers than ever before. Walmart distribution centers and retails stores walked off the job on several locations over the past year, and are doing so again on Black Friday. Workers seek to raise concerns about conditions on the job, many if not all of which connect back to the roots of the problems of capitalism. Warehouse workers, hired by a subcontractor of Walmart, raised issue with horrible safety standards, working conditions, irregular schedules and pay. Retail workers raise many of these same concerns, with more influence on scheduling, wages, and lack of much needed benefits. Actions are planned throughout several states in what looks to be one of the biggest moments in the history of workers at Walmart, and one of the most important developments in working class labor organizing in the past few years. Walmart workers are the largest single unit of workers in the entire country, Walmart being the nation’s largest employer. If they can organize to fight back against capitalism and the crisis, so can we all. Walmart workers need our solidarity.

Black Friday is the mountaintop of capitalist marketing and manufacturing of reality. It is a reminder of the history of oppression, racism, genocide, slavery, violence, exploitation, sexism, and countless other oppressions that continue to sustain capitalism. It is a symptom, a looking glass onto a society that only reflects should we choose to see. The violence we are presented in the media is often only skin-deep. The association of that violence with being “black” is racist in and of itself, but Black Friday speaks to a whole lot more. Black Friday is a celebration of capitalism, it is inherently racist, and designed to enchant us with the “American Dream”. Black Friday is a celebration of racism, oppression, and exploitation through the con-game of capitalism. Many of us are living in a truly American Nightmare surrounded by debt and oppression struggling to survive, and the ruling class wants us to buy into their scheme through offers of cheap discount TVs, as if we are to ignore centuries of racism, sexism, and class oppression, as if we are to forget that working people are the ones being punished for a crisis they didn’t create. Snake oil promises and lies sold as the “American Dream”.  Black Friday is not a day to celebrate, but a day to mourn the dead, the lost, and the plight of the struggling – and fight like hell for the living. It is a front line in the class war, and we, the working class, have yet to win.

For More Reading, check out these links:

Please feel free to comment and add to this brief list of resources on racism and class oppression.


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