Death, pepper-spray, fights, robbery part of high price of holiday spendingBy Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Dec 1, 2011 - 10:52:41 AM
Money madness and plenty of mayhem
The day after Thanksgiving officially started the holiday spending season and a major push for profits by retailers and almost anyone who can devise a strategy to wrangle dollars from consumers.
Black Friday sales hit a record $52 billion this year, according to a National Retail Federation survey.
Stores lured shoppers in with advertisements on everything from winter clothes, to computers, cell phones, toys, waffle irons, jewelry and cars.
The promotions paid off Nov. 26 with in-store and online sales during Black Friday, which the organization counts as Thursday to Sunday, as shopping increased 6.7 percent from 2010.
The average person spent almost $400, a spokesperson for the retail association said.
But what was once a day for bargain hunting has also devolved into a day of fear, violence and reflects a damaged holiday psyche. The origin of the term “Black Friday” varies: It is often referred to as the day retailers turn a profit and accounting books go from red to black because of high sales. But it was also a name given to the day by Philadelphia Police Department in 1966 as officers hated the massive traffic jams, overcrowding and spike in shoplifting. They started calling it “Black Friday” to discourage shoppers.
Yet retailers still rake in big bucks in a day marked by long, cold pre-dawn lines and mobs of anxious shoppers.
Shoppers at a Target in West Virginia ignored an elderly man who collapsed and some stepped over his body Nov. 26 in pursuit of discounted products, according to news reports.
Six nurses shopping in the store assisted 61-year-old Walter Vance, who may have had a heart attack, and performed CPR, according to his wife Lynne, the local press reported. He later died in a hospital.
At a Wal-Mart in the San Francisco Bay Area, a gunman shot a man in a foiled robbery attempt but the victim survived. At a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles, a woman pepper-sprayed shoppers waiting in line for Xbox video game systems. In Sacramento, a man was stabbed after a fight broke out in a line in front of a Macy’s store.
A woman who works for a Florida-based Target had to be rescued after driving her car into a canal Friday morning. She was exhausted from working, according to media reports.
Meanwhile police body-slammed and left bloodied a grandfather apparently trying to protect his grandchild as frenzied shoppers tore apart a display for video games. “Jerald Allen Newman, 54, has come to symbolise the mayhem of the day after he was videoed with blood streaming down his face as he was arrested by police officers in Phoenix, Arizona. The police say he was shoplifting and sustained the injuries because he resisted arrest and became aggressive after being found with a video game down his pants.
“But Mr Newman’s tearful eight-year-old grandson, Nick, has spoken out to defend his grandfather to ABC News, saying: ‘I only got one game and people were trying to take it away from me and he put it under his shirt so no one would take it,’ ” reported the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
“Mr Newman’s family insist that he was trying to protect young Nick from a mob of marauding bargain hunters who were trampling him during an uncontrollable stampede at a video game display in Wal-Mart.
The ordeal terrified Nick, who sobbed as he talked about it nearly two days later. ‘Never go there on Black Friday, because if you go, you will get hurt,’ the boy said about his local Wal-Mart,” according to the Guardian.
There were other shootings, robbery attempts, stampedes, arrests, pepper-spraying, and fights in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Little Rock, Ark., Fayetteville, N.C., Kingston, N.C., Rome, N.Y., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., Des Moines, Iowa. In previous years Wal-Mart and Target employees were trampled to death as anxious shoppers tore into stores in New York.
Holiday mayhem on display
“This woman pepper sprayed people! What motivated her to do that? It’s the fear that if they don’t get that gift, people won’t love them,” said Lynn Lambkins, a psychotherapist and owner of Overcoming Obstacles, which provides psychotherapeutic services.
People experience high anxiety the day after shopping as many have forsaken household debts, car loans, and maxed-out their credit cards to shop, the mental health professional added.
Fear and greed is part of the holiday spending season, one shopper told The Final Call. Her daughter was third in line on the Monday before Black Friday but by that Thursday, two people in front of her conspicuously disappeared and 15 people of various races and ages reappeared.
One man who had been in front “apparently sold his spot to all of them but I can’t fault him because that’s probably the only money he made all year,” said the woman, whose family is bouncing back from food stamps and hard times as a result of the housing market’s crash.
The violence at various stores are signs of the exhaustion, stress and strain of a bad economy, the woman added.
“That robbery, the same way people have been thrifty, they’re going to defend themselves to the death against the vultures who are trying to rob them. The poor have a different mentality and won’t continue to be taken advantage of by the vultures among their peers, but, they will continue to be taken advantage of by big industry,” she said.
Alternatives to stressful spending
Advertising has been the driving force behind holiday spending, say analysts.
A lot of spending stems from guilt and some is to save face but a lot is to hide the fact that people are really still in a lot of financial trouble, they added.
“Fifty-two billion dollars and we’re in a recession! Where did that money come from?” Ms. Lambkins asked rhetorically.
She suggests making gifts, doing things such as cooking or cleaning, or putting money into savings accounts for children as alternatives to mass spending for gifts.
It also has to be asked, is there a better way to use hard-earned dollars as economic hard times set in, insecurity increases and jobs are scarce?
The solution is for Blacks to pool their money and buy land to secure a future for themselves and their children, said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan during recent radio interviews and several speeches.
This is a critical time and pooling resources is necessary as one aspect of Black survival as troubled times lash America, said Min. Farrakhan Nov. 28 in a brief segment on the nationally-syndicated Warren Ballentine Show carried by the Radio One Network. After pooling resources, the next step according to the Hon. Elijah Muhammad is to buy land which is the basis for a productive economy, said the Minister.
If 30 million people put away $1 a month, it would bring half a billion dollars a year, not to mention athletes, entertainers, multi-millionaires and billionaires investing in Black entities, he said.
Looking at 50 percent high school drop-out rates, over 42,600 factory closings over the last decade and a jobs bill that would create two million jobs but 15 million people don’t have jobs, these factors demand that Blacks act now to save themselves, the Minister added.
The purchase of land would be the beginning to solving joblessness among Black people and growing healthy food to counteract problems of bad diets and disease, Min. Farrakhan said.
The Minister stressed economic unity and action was not just an option, but an absolute necessity for Black survival. “We are at death’s door, brother and sister, but we have a chance to get it right. Nearly a trillion dollars comes through our hands every year and we throw it away on other communities,” he said on the Warren Ballentine Show.
The power of Black dollars
Black consumers are cautiously increasing their spending and in 2009, their buying power was approximately $507 billion for key products and services, according to a report by the consumer tracking agency Target Market News.
Its 16th annual edition of “The Buying Power of Black America” indicated there was a 16.6 percent increase in Black buying power from 2008. Blacks spent for instance, an estimated $29.3 billion on clothing and related services, $29.1 billion on vehicles, $6.1 billion on electronics, and $65.2 billion on food, the research indicates, and purchases are slowly growing.
“It’s kind of contradictory,” what corporations and advertisers are doing to people, said Dr. William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University.
“On one hand, they’re saying save your money, there’s a recession, job insecurity and economic insecurity. But at the same time, there’s a push to go out and spend your money and to buy because the thing is the American economy, American capitalism, runs off of consumerism. People must buy for this thing to operate,” Dr. Boone said.
Holiday spending encourages people to buy, but not what they need or can only afford—and that some stores opened as early as 10 p.m. Thursday night or 2 a.m. Friday morning is an indication of what they are trying to do, he continued.
There is double duplicity on the part of banking institutions that have money and are not prepared to loan it to create jobs, he noted. It is interesting that consumers were just up in arms over $5 ATM fees but are drawing those same fees in record numbers for Black Friday spending, Dr. Boone said.
He sees “a kind of greed is operating here. If you have a billion or couple of hundred thousand saved, that’s one thing but you have this kind of conflict where people are taking out payday loans at exorbitant interest rates and that’s real tragic.”
The huge push by advertisers and high spending among Blacks over other ethnicities during holidays is routine, according to Dr. David Horne, an African Studies professor at California State University Northridge.
Although what’s bought may not be worth much, it makes buyers feel better, and temporarily lifts them out of gloomy outlooks, he said.
Many people who sat in tents in Black Friday lines may have mocked Occupy Wall Street protesters camping out across the nation but most Americans really don’t care about that movement or the cause, he said.
“They don’t want to read any literature. They don’t want to hear any talk about the attacks. ‘We can talk about that after January 1st’ is what you’re getting and this is classical and operant conditioning. People have been trained to act this way,” Dr. Horne said.
“Min. Farrakhan is right on it that Blacks are in serious trouble because they’re not self-reliant anymore and much of that is (Blacks) are too addicted to modern consumerism, ... Logically people know they should not spend, stay away from payday loans, but the emotional attachment is too deep and not having money to buy is like not having food for a lot of people,” Dr. Horne added.
Holiday spending is like warm weather with a chill underneath, he continued. “The sun is shining but you’re still cold. Don’t confuse it with being cheerful. We’re not cheerful but we just feel better when there’s something to spend,” he said.
Lessons in buying Black
Another tragedy in holiday spending is 99 percent of items purchased will not be in the Black community, Dr. Horne said. He and many Black economists say there should be a mass push for people to at least buy Black, an effort they feel is lacking on a large scale.
Dr. Boone suggests Black vendors unite and reach out to communities to maximize their profits collectively rather than individual efforts.
After three years of trying to buy only Black goods and services for her family, Margarita Anderson is still disheartened by the state of Black businesses.
Mrs. Anderson and her husband, John, pledged to buy Black for one year during their Empowerment Experiment that actually lasted for three years. Their stand inspired millions and with all she’s learned, experienced, presented and preached, she is certain that if 20 percent of Blacks did just 10 percent of what her family did, conditions would change for the population.
“Our experiment represented what needs to be done. Our history shows that we can do it as a community. The study proved the potential impact. But that does not mean we are any closer to coming together to make it true,” Mrs. Anderson told The Final Call in an e-mail interview.
Despite what the Empowerment Experiment has proven, Black consumers will follow their historic shopping patterns this season, and because of that, Black businesses and neighborhoods will continue to suffer, she said.
“There’s nothing diabolical or sinister about it. It’s just our complacency that limits us,” she said.
The Andersons’ started the experiment after feeling powerless and frustrated by the lack of balance between Black talents, resources and buying power and investments represented in neighborhoods.
“I hated feeling like the system and some unknown, uncontrollable forces were dictating the future of my kids and my community. I felt like I could not do anything about that,” she said. The Empowerment Experiment, however, showed she could have an impact and Black economic ailments could be reversed.
As for the mania known as Black Friday, she labeled it a crippling condition Blacks have adopted to prove themselves. She also sees the mentality as part of the reason for the Black community’s cultural decline.
“It was this attitude that led us to abandon our quality enterprises and entrepreneurs when integration forced White-owned businesses to sell to and serve us. We thought this would prove our equality and express our strength, when it was our building and supporting our own businesses, products and industries that proved and expressed all that in the first place,” Mrs. Anderson said.