The first time I became aware of the term, “Black Friday,” I thought it was a new national holiday honoring people of color. Over the years it has, instead, become America’s premium shopping holiday. To prepare us for it, merchants send countless catalogues and emails promising huge discounts on stuff. Everyone, including me, loves a bargain, so it’s hard not to pay attention. If you’ve had your eye on a big-ticket item, like a major appliance, it feels great to save that twenty-five percent Black Friday discount.
It didn’t exactly start off as a holiday, although the phrase appeared in print in 1981 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and referred to the blank ink in merchant sales on that day. But the first use of the term was when the stock market collapsed in 1869, thanks to Jay Gould and James Fisk, financiers and businessmen, trying to corner the gold market. “Black,” on that occasion meant depressing. In the 1950’s, Black Friday was used to describe the day after Thanksgiving when workers developed ‘mysterious’ illnesses and all called in sick to their jobs. Still later on in the 1960’s, cops in Philadelphia adopted the term since there were so many shoppers coming into the city the day after Thanksgiving that they had to work twelve-hour shifts, putting them in black moods. Finally, Philadelphia merchants appropriated Black Friday and turned it into a day of discounts and sales. Other cities soon followed their example.
The thing is, I am a New Yorker and am suspicious of hustles and come-ons. I suspect that stores raise their prices prior to “the shopping season” and those great bargain prices ends up being the same you would have to pay had the merchant not raised prices prior to the sale. We Americans live in a land of plenty. We’ve become greedy, rather than satisfied. That high we experience when we get something new quickly wears off, causing us to seek another high by buying something else. Retailers understand this. Add agencies use psychology to create false needs which encourage our acquisition addiction. Kids are especially vulnerable to advertising campaigns. Witness the holiday shortage each year when stores run out of the latest “hot ticket” item.
I’m just as greedy and temptable as anyone else, so I resent being played by advertisers. We already have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What’s next: Automobile Tuesday, Real Estate Wednesday and Cruise Friday? I’m thinking we should adopt my first interpretation of Black Friday. Instead of buying more things, we could designate Black Friday as a day to learn the histories of people of color. All Americans might learn something while saving time, space and, of course, lots of money.