Black Friday, Black Folk and Black Guilt

by Tajh Sutton

I participated in Black Friday for the first time in my life yesterday. I am not done Christmas/ Kwanzaa shopping, but I feel good about what I got my children.

I felt weird about it because as an avid supporter of black life, liberty, health, happiness and safety, I spent the entire time feeling like some kind of race traitor for not participating in the Black Friday boycott many of my people across the country have been utilizing to take a stand against the intersection of state terror, consumerism, capitalism and injustice for several years now. Despite my misgivings, I wanted to be practical. Working two jobs as a day care provider and an after school program tutor/step coach/assistant teacher doesn't leave me much time for the family. On the weekends, I’d rather spend my time with them than making multiple shopping trips. And since I haven't gotten to the bank to open a new account after recently losing my wallet and debit card, shopping online wasn't an option. I figured I'd find some deals the old fashioned way.
I got so many things for my kids that several news outlets attempted to interview me in the Toys R Us in Times Square. I turned them all down because I was ashamed to be Black and proud and participating in Black Friday.

When the third reporter asked if I wanted to talk, I said no thanks. But he chatted me up anyway. There was no camera rolling so I thought I was cool. I still gave him a fake name. I kept considering the political climate and the attack on my people and how capitalism and consumerism breed racist violence in various forms across the world as I looked for Minecraft and Lalaloopsy paraphernalia. And despite all my work with students, families, youth and communities, I judged myself and fearfully awaited the judgement of others. I didn't want anyone to know I had participated in the Consumerism Olympics, and I figured the reporter would use the quotes in a general story and no one would ever know.

But lo and behold I was being photographed while we spoke, and when I looked up from adjusting my bags he was recording what I was saying in a pad. I’m not mad at him. He was doing his job. He even helped me to a car afterward. As I buckled my seatbelt in that yellow cab full of things that would bring my children immense joy, I immediately felt a sense of dread at people seeing me, the militant black girl, in the news shopping at the White Man's stores and putting money in his pocket.

After momentarily losing my mind on the ride home and planning a carefully worded disclaimer in case I end up in the news, I realized something. My Black Friday shopping does not negate my blackness, militancy, activism or dedication to my people. 

I'd like to ask why we as a community make each other feel like shit all the time about everything we don't agree on to the point that I felt the need to hide shopping for my babies from some online acquaintances.

This does not just happen with Black Friday. In another judgement, I had a woman comment on a post I made about enjoying my family despite the sham of a holiday that is Thanksgiving and she said, "People who really feel that way don't acknowledge the holiday at all."

For the sake of publication, I'm not going to tell you what I thought about saying to this young woman. Instead I want to make a suggestion. 

We have too much to lose as a people to constantly make each other feel inadequate based on complex issues that we choose to look at independently such as hair texture, complexion, shopping habits, family traditions, online rhetoric, family structure, sexual orientation, religion and a multitude of other things.

Now that doesn't mean that cooperative economics isn't important. If we had pooled all that money spent on Pattie's Pies in one weekend and opened up a school in each borough for our most at risk youth it would have been money much better spent. Most of us would agree that economic power is the only power our racist hetero-patriarchy understands.

But the fact remains we were all raised differently and we all deserve to be met where we are, not shamed for not being where someone else is on their journey or celebrating and defending their blackness in the same ways.

There is no perfect way to be an activist. But there are enough of us who are down for the cause to make change happen. Too many of us think our consciousness makes us better than the rest of our folks and when someone's approach to being "woke" does not match ours, we judge them. But we cannot tell other Black folks how to be better Black folks without playing the always dangerous and never fruitful game of respectability politics. We will never live in a society where every single person is down for a particular cause but there are enough people making moves for black lives that we can effect meaningful, sustainable change. We simply have to focus on what we all stand to gain from unifying across differences in approach to combatting the system and remember that we are all worth saving, loving and protecting whether rocking a weave or shopping the Black Friday sales.

So don’t judge me if you see me in the Daily News today with a big ass brown My Size Barbie.

Photo: Shutterstock

Tajh Sutton is a community organizer, childhood education major and published model from Brooklyn New York. She also teaches step and dance and serves as a teaching assistant to middle school students in east Harlem. In her spare time she is building a pro black feminist space for loc wearers and lovers with loc love lives here and making moves on the grassroots front with her budding non profit- young people of color incorporated, which aims to foster critical thinking, creativity and empowerment in youth POC. Catch up with her on Twitter & Instagram at @Afrocenchick & her business ventures at Young People of Color and LocLoveLivesHere.

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