While Black shoppers play a pivotal role in the success of Black Friday and its impact on the local and national economy, a movement is afoot to redirect Black consumer dollars away from traditional retailers and toward Black businesses.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year and kicks off the holiday season. This season is crucial for the economy because around 30 percent of annual retail sales occur between Black Friday and Christmas. For some retailers, this season accounts for 40 to 50 percent of all sales for the entire year.
“The reason it’s called Black Friday; that’s the day most businesses become profitable,” shared Dr. Emlyn Norman, a TSU Economics professor. “From January till then, most businesses are operating in the red, losing money.”
Black Friday, however, has been a one-sided affair for Blacks who have been fully present as consumers, but nearly invisible as profiting business owners. In fact, nonwhites are almost twice as likely to shop on Black Friday as whites (27 percent v. 15 percent).
The Buy Black Friday Marketplace at the Shrine Cultural and Events Center was created to change this dynamic.
“Black people have been taught to be 100 percent consumer, giving our money to those who don’t hire us, support us or stand up for us,” Cynthia “Nailah” Nelson, director of the Shrine Cultural and Events Center. “We have to learn not to cooperate with our own oppression. We hope to begin to reverse this trend by gradually learning the importance of supporting our own first.”
The first Marketplace was held in 2014 but garnered little support. Still, Nelson decided to make it an annual affair. Last year’s success, however, led Nelson to expand it even further.
“In 2015, the Marketplace was so successful that we couldn’t let it be just a protest activity. We saw an opportunity to do something bigger; to do it monthly,” Nelson added.
Now, every first Saturday of the month Black shopper are connecting with Black entrepreneurs selling everything from clothing, jewelry, and food, to artwork, financial services and self-produced feature films.
Devon Bradley, a regular Marketplace customer, views the happening as more than an economic statement.
“There’s an energy of consciousness and empowerment that pervades the whole thing,” said Bradley. “Building Black economic power is just a bonus.”
Last October 2015, during the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, in response to the rising number of unarmed Blacks killed by police, Minister Louis Farrakhan challenged Blacks to boycott the holiday shopping season beginning with Black Friday.
“We choose not to spend dollars on Black Friday, Black Saturday, Black Sunday, Black Monday,” said Farrakhan to Roland Martin during a recent NewsOne interview. “We are not going to spend our money for the rest of that year with those companies that we have traditionally spent our money on.”
Farrakhan and other national figures echoed Nelson’s call to redirect their dollars towards Black businesses.
“The Black community has been challenged with some difficult issues in the past few years leaving people seeking an effective response, yet protest, demonstrations and rioting have proven to be non-productive,” said Nelson. “I sought to establish a positive, productive response that would have lasting tangible effects to improve conditions with our community. While anger and frustration were at a high point after the acquittal of the officer that killed Michael Brown, people were looking to express themselves in some meaningful way. We offered Black people the opportunity to protest with their dollars while helping build Black businesses at the same time.”
Interestingly, Blacks spend less money in Black-owned businesses than other racial and ethnic groups spend in businesses owned by members of their groups, including Hispanics and Asians. A report by Nielsen and Essence estimates that Black buying power will reach $1.3 trillion in the next few years, yet only a tiny fraction of that money is spent at Black-owned businesses.
Turning that troubling statistic around could also spur job creation in the Black community. A study by Northwestern University found that between half a million and a million jobs could be created if higher-income Black households spent only $1 of every $10 at Black-owned stores and other enterprises.
“Efforts (such as the Marketplace) may increase the viability of Black businesses in the Black community, generating more employment and income for the community as businesses utilize the community’s resources,” said TSU Economics professor Dr. Ethiopia Keleta.
For African-American communities, Black support for Black-owned businesses is critical to their survival, said Michael Grant, president of the National Bankers Association, a non-profit trade organization that advocates for minority and women-owned financial institutions.
“You’ve got your civil rights, your laws are protecting you. You have the same rights as anyone else,” Grant continued. “So what’s next? It’s time to take responsibility for our own survival in terms of economics. We can’t expect the majority to take care of our needs. Who’s responsible for the economic condition of Black people in America? It’s us.”