Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season, lures hoards of Americans to major retailers in the wee hours of the morning for deals on everything from clothing to electronics.
A single glance at the composition of the crowds rabidly seeking half-price flat-screen televisions, and one thing is clear: The enthusiasm for the busiest shopping day of the year—named as it is because it's when businesses typically begin to turn a profit, or find themselves "in the black"—knows no race or color.
But this year, the "holiday" (it's not an official one) comes in the wake of "shopping while black" incidents like racial-profiling allegations against Barneys New York and Macy's. The stories are all too familiar to plenty of African Americans who have been treated like criminals while just trying to buy something.
Seems like this is as good a time as ever to redirect despair over the persistent bigotry behind racial profiling into something more proactive than halfhearted boycotts against retailers (who likely don't care any more than Jay Z does about whether we patronize them). Why not spend at least some of that holiday budget at black-owned businesses?
Let's talk about the wheres, whens and whys of this alternative take on "shopping while black," the Friday after Thanksgiving and all year long.
OK, but how do I find black businesses?
Search for everything from clothes to art to electronics at the Black Owned Business Network's online directory. And of course we're going to mention The Root's own Black Business Pages, where we're building the largest directory of black professional and black-owned companies in the United States.
I'm reading this while in line at Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. Is there an easier way?
Definitely. If you have your phone, you have access to the Around the Way app, which lets you locate the black-owned businesses near you, wherever you may be. "Other ethnic groups have been supporting their own businesses literally for thousands of years," Eric Hamilton, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Around the Way, has said. "Around the Way is our attempt at doing what other racial and ethnic groups have been doing for a long time."
Why are we doing this again?
Because of the idea that when black-owned businesses thrive, the effects are felt in areas way beyond retail. Here's one explanation: "From the Black business boom right after Reconstruction, to 1920s Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Okla., to the vast businesses entities of the Nation of Islam in the 1960s and 70s, economic growth in Black communities resulted in progress in politics, employment, education and family. At the root of those economies, were Black people supporting Black business. It was often viewed as a catalyst to begin solving the problems plaguing the community."
Oh, yeah, isn't there a Kwanzaa principle about that?
Yep. The theme of the holiday's fourth day, "Ujamma," translates to "cooperative economics," which has been taken to mean "to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together."
That sounds great, but I'm not going to sacrifice quality or service for the greater good. Sorry.
And no one will make you. But you might consider this take from the Blackness before you make your "don't shop" list: "At one point in all our lives we have all bought bad products or services from a top named Non-Black establishment, yet we continue to patronize those companies. If a black owned business did the same thing we would swear never to return and hold true to that statement. Why are we so hard on our own businesses while we let those Non-Black businesses get a pass every time?"
Is this something I can actually do in my hometown?
Ebony has a list of the best cities for black businesses. You can probably make an educated guess about the areas that made the cut (New York, Chicago, Charlotte, D.C., etc.). We can't promise you'll be able to find a brick-and-mortar retailer if you're in, say, Wyoming, but that's what the Internet is for.
The only thing worse than getting racially profiled is getting tricked. How do I know if a business is really black-owned?
Don't judge a book (or a George Foreman grill, or most black hair-care products or anything else) by its cover, celebrity endorsement or marketing to African Americans. Use the apps and sites available to do a little research.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s senior staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.