Black Friday: Let’s let others who truly need the doorbusters be first in line – for a change.

All of you who have a pulse know that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the single most crazy shopping day in the United States.

It is simply called “Black Friday” and the lines to get into most places are ridiculous.  I got in line once 9 years ago to get a digital camera for our churchplant in hopes of saving Quest a few dollars and I will NEVER do that again – no matter how much I love my church.  To give you a glimpse of how crazy things can be, search YouTube to witness some crazy riots – all in search for the best deal.

So, I’ve been a fan of the Buy Nothing Day movement for several years but have had some recent reservations. 

What is Buy Nothing Day?

Buy Nothing Day is an informal day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists. In 2007, Buy Nothing Day falls on November 23rd in North America and November 24th internationally.[1] It was founded by Vancouver artist Ted Dave and subsequently promoted by the Canadian Adbusters magazine.

The first Buy Nothing Day was organized in Vancouver in September of 1992 “as a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption.”In 1997, it was moved to the Friday after American Thanksgiving, which is one of the top 10 busiest shopping days in the United States. Outside of North America, Buy Nothing Day is celebrated on the following Saturday. Despite controversies, Adbusters managed to advertise Buy Nothing Day on CNN, but many other major television networks declined to air their ads. Soon, campaigns started appearing in United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands, and Norway. Participation now includes more than 65 nations…[from wikipedia]

So in years past, I’ve attempted to do my part – not just on Buy Nothing Day but to simply consume less.  Although I have to be honest here.  I did swing by Goodwill yesterday to look for some used sports equipment for the kids but walked away with a pair of pants for myself for $2.49.  So…I’m a hypocrite.

I have numerous folks – friends, churchgoers, and fellow bloggers – that are supporters of Buy Nothing Day.  I get it, support it, and stand with them – sort of.

For our conscience?

Why my reservations?  I’m still moved by a conversation I had with a friend couple months ago that challenged my support for Buy Nothing Day.  This friend who is African-American said some interesting stuff [paraphrasing]:

Buy Nothing Day is basically a thing of and for White folks and comfy Middle Class folks like you, Eugene, who have had the privilege of consumption their whole life.  And now, they can afford to start things like Buy Nothing Day. 

True, it speaks to the issue of over-consumption but how much of it is to appease their guilty consciences.  I’m also very skeptical and cynical of Christians  who’ve jumped on this bandwagon – the “enlightened evangelicals” who also come from a place of privilege.  Stuff like this sickens me because it has such little idea about the plight of minorities and low income folks that are trying to survive.

The thing that got to me was the story he shared about some of his family and friends who simply NEED to make many of their major purchases on that day.  Specifically, he shared about his uncle and aunt from the Midwest.  They get in line every year in the frigid cold here hours before the retail store opens at 5 or 6 am because it’s the only way they’re able to get their kids the necessary computer and tech gear to keep up with other students in their schools.


I’m not dismissing the cause behind Buy Nothing Day.  We need to address this because us Westerners and particularly, Americans – including me – are just gluttonous. I’m thinking of “The Story of Stuff” here…

But let’s be real here.

Black Friday shopping mean different things for different folks. For many of us, it’s a game, a sport and an event we mark but for others, it’s a matter of necessity.  This is why I have reservations about Buy Nothing Day.

Perhaps, the majority of us should sincerely adopt Buy Nothing Day and…

let those who truly need the “doorbusters” be the first in line – for a change.

* originally posted in November 2007

50 Replies to “Black Friday: Let’s let others who truly need the doorbusters be first in line – for a change.”

  1. Yup, yup, yup. BND isn’t really going to change anything in and of itself just like eco-“friendly” products and hybrid cars won’t save the world if we continue consuming at our current rate. If only the majority of people could understand this!

  2. I really appreciate the honesty of this post because it directly tackles the “bandwagon” mentality you mentioned. I think similarly about the love-hate relationship many have with Wal-Mart. So many friends (usually white, privileged and from a middle to upper-middle class income bracket – like me) have discovered the poor practices of Wal-mart – how they treat employees, the way they impact local markets, etc. But so many others rely on Wal-mart for the low prices.There’s a real tension here because it doesn’t excuse some of Wal-mart’s behavior… I guess I just appreciate your last line – “But let’s be real here…Black Friday shopping mean different things for different folks. For many of us, it’s a game and an event we mark but for others, it’s a matter of necessity.”

  3. Same reservations here – a great ‘holiday’ for gluttonous, middle-class Americans who have been ‘over-consuming’ all year long in order to facilitate a clear conscience. For those who face real-world financial hardships, for those who REALLY appreciate $10 off the price of an item… for those people, BND is ridiculous.

  4. Well I think BND is really about not buying excessive, unnecessary things. Conspicuous consumption. I think it’s a great idea and reminder to all of us excessive consumers. PE, buying recycled pants is not hypocritical, it’s right in line with BND. And poor people buying things they need at reduced prices is not what BND is trying to fight against. Although most of what’s on sale on Black Friday are not necessities, but the latest and hottest electronics and toys.

    I’m trying to buy less “stuff”, and not worry about consumption of goods and services that local people and businesses provide. That’s money that people need and it’s not filtered through corporate America in the form of minimum wage.

  5. Eugene,

    Thanks for this incredibly thought provoking post. I agree that we’re just skimming some of the main issues through things like BND but it needs to start somewhere which is why I support BND. However, your points about the socio-economic/racial aspects are making me really think here…

  6. Eugene,

    So you’re saying it was wrong to scissor kick that dude at Best Buy over that cheap laptop? 😉

    Seriously, though, thanks for raising some really important issues. As others have commented, movements like BND are good because they raise awareness of issues like greed and overconsumption that might not otherwise be considered. However, issues of economics, poverty, wealth, class and justice are complex and are not easily resolved. It would be horrible if the legacy of something like BND were to create more smugness or self-righteousness.

    I love your idea about letting those who actually need the doorbuster deals be first in line — what a subversive way to engage consumerism as Christ-followers!

    1. I love your idea about letting those who actually need the doorbuster deals be first in line — what a subversive way to engage consumerism as Christ-followers! — Sounds nice but how would you know who they were?

  7. There’s some interesting points being presented here, but let’s be clear about one thing: in no way, shape or form is Wal-Mart being altruistic to the lower class by dropping prices on Black Friday. No, it’s simply a supply-demand relationship centered on WMT’s ability to pander to the middle-class consumer that will purchase more from the store.

    Just humor me for a second here: we all realize that excessive consumerism, well, sucks. Morally, I have an obligation to consume less. But it’s not just the end user of those products that control what goods a company sells and at what price; it’s also the shareholders of those companies that expect to see a positive return on their investment. Companies are pressured to grow, and all that a Buy Nothing Day will do is pressure companies to increase their margins on products that the remaining consumers do buy the other 364 days of the year.

  8. i’ve already posted my own reservations about BND, but i do think it’s a bit of a stretch to make it into a class issue if we’re saying that a lot of folks in lower socioeconomic brackets “need” a lot of the items typically used as loss-leaders/doorbusters for major commercial retailers. the whole mentality of “keeping up” is what BND is attempting to critique- so while i can agree with the sentiment that much of the movement is a luxury of privileged white folks, there is something powerful about resisting the larger consumer impulse to accessorize endlessly, regardless of what class you are.

  9. I would like to see a survey of Christians who support Buy Nothing Day sharing the reasons they participate. There’s an altruism and a nobility to resisting the urge to accumulate unnecessary posessions if it’s done out of a love for people or planet but there’s a great pride in doing it only because it seems moral.

  10. m@ – no one is mistaking walmart as an altruistic enterprise in this conversation. it’s a complex conversation for sure. capitalism has it’s merits but the danger that i see is that it really has no boundaries. when is enough enough? both for the consumer and the industry?

    david – i sort of agree. it’s not my intent to clump folks of a lower socioeconomic class but there are those that “NEED.”

    “so while i can agree with the sentiment that much of the movement is a luxury of privileged white folks, there is something powerful about resisting the larger consumer impulse to accessorize endlessly, regardless of what class you are.”

    reminds me of the conversation you and i had about drake and prosperity theology.

  11. It’s a fascinating, yet paradoxical, question — when IS enough, enough?

    I look, at example, some of the writings of C.K. Prahalad, Stuart Hart, Ted London, etc. that have a vested interest in lifting the “extreme poor” out of impoverished conditions. They all concur, along with myriad researchers, that the most effective way to eradicate poverty is, well, to help them become players in the capitalist game. It seems that those living on less than $1 a day and the American consumer are not so different after all: we feel empowered by the ability to purchase some kind of goods/services.

    I’ve been wrestling quite heavily with this question, particularly because I have Prof. London for one of my classes this term — at which point do capitalism and Christianity shake hands with one another to save a soul?

  12. Honestly, I really don’t know what the big deal is about Buy Nothing Day. It has absolutely no impact unless this movement has a noticeable impact on the other 364 days. To my knowledge, it has no impact. I agree – it’s a bunch of privileged folks trying to appease their conscience.

  13. How about we all decide not to buy and receive any Christmas gifts this year? Growing up my family was very practical/frugal – we realized you waste money during the holidays buying gifts b/c 1) You might buy something someone may not want/need; 2) You can buy everything for less at a later time. So after a while we just stopped giving gifts and everyone was o.k. with it. Now in order to make this work everyone needs to agree b/c some people will feel slighted otherwise. Add up all the $5-15 gifts you buy each year for items no one really needs and you’ve got quite a sum. Christmas – what a waste of a whole lot of money!

  14. Interesting and perplexing post. I don’t see the racist and classist overtones. Sales of all kinds abound during the holiday season.

    However, not buying on black friday only to buy at a later date at a higher price is seems a bit ridiculous and counterproductive because it only goes to corporate coffers (so you’re feeding globalization/corporate power either way).

    At the end of the day it should be about frugality and cultivating an inward spirit thats less consumerist. Not about an individual day. (even if that might be helpful for some).

  15. compassionpolitics: there is no racist or classist overtones in buy nothing day. i’m simply speaking to the fact that BND as a movement or organization is a product of what one can do when you’re privileged.

  16. Anyway, why are the needs of the poor always addressed by the masses during the Thanksgiving & Christmas holidays? It’s like we confine all our compassion to one season during the year. It’s similar to these billboards that say, “Let’s get together Sunday. God” – like being with God is confined to one hour on Sunday.

    Why not adopt a LIFESTYLE of compassion that goes through the entire year… or even the rest of your life? Meeting needs and helping others is a 24-7-365 kind of calling. So is following Christ. It’s an everyday thing.

    This 24-7-365 journey-type perspective kind of makes the entire BND thing a moot point – in my humble opinion.

  17. Scott, the only counter I’d have is to claim that consumerism is NOT a blockade to cultivating a relationship with God. It certainly can become such a thing, but so can everything else — food, church, relationships, etc. The key here is to figure out how compassion and consumerism can mingle with one another.

    [Look at me, the quintessential MBA student. 🙂 ]

  18. Great thought, m@. I’ll add one more… even the discussion about compassion versus (or and) consumerism can get us off track to the number one thing: our life flowing out of a deep, vibrant relationship with Christ.

  19. nicely done. I am a huge fan of consuming less and de-emphasizing the commercial aspect of this wonderful holiday. I happily spent the day after Thanksgiving with my family rather than in the cold, waiting to buy something for them.

    I must say, your blog is quite wonderful.

  20. Eugene,

    As one who has hovered around the poverty level most of his adult life and has spent the last decade just trying to dig himself out of debt (pinching every penny to do it), I have to agree with your African-American friend.

    I bought a few $.99 gallons of paint that day and my daughter got a $50 mouse for $10.

    A few years ago, our computer crashed a couple of days before Thanksgiving. We have a small online business and we homeschool, so we really need a computer. I found a rock-bottom deal and I was able to save about $300. That was huge for us.

    Personally, I am thankful for Black Friday. Peace.

  21. Yep,

    if everyone does that. it will go a long way and

    make a big difference too.

    How about consume something digital, that doesn’t add pollution to the earth.

    But it does consume electricity still.

    oh my, I do my bit by watching less online videos…

  22. Buy less.
    Be content with what you have and enjoy what you have.
    Be generous and give away more than you already have.
    Worry about your motivation and self righteousness at a later time.
    Just be generous.

  23. I question the phrase “it’s the only way they’re able to get their kids the necessary tech gear to keep up.” Seems to me that part of the problem today is the feeling that we have to keep with our friends, neighbors, etc. Why?

  24. I live in one of the lowest income areas of Minneapolis. I’m 35, married with 2 kids. My kids don’t have a Wii or PS3 or XBOX 360. None of us own an MP3 player of any sort. What things that are available on Black Friday are “necessities” for keeping up technologically? How does that differ from keeping up with the Joneses? It still comes down to the western compulsion to jam-pack the space beneath our Christmas trees with presents.

  25. Black Friday fuels a compulsive consumerism that would have parents believe their children need to “keep up” with folk who purchase on the other days of the year. Who needs a plasma television or a game console? I am not rich, white, or elitist, and I support BND. It is a step in the right direction.

  26. Eugene, I suggest that the solution is that we become more introspective about our participation in Buy Nothing Day, if that’s what we choose to do. The problem with targeting “isms,” such as consumerism, is that we externalize the problem, ignoring how each of us individually is responsible. After all, consumerism would not exist if each of us individually did not have issues of greed we have to deal with. My suggestion would be along the lines of Ron Sider’s suggestion. We need to identify with the poor, not the rich and famous. We need to examine how the temptation of consumption affects us on 365 days of the year, not just one. We need to examine our own consumption habits, and see how much of our spending can be diverted from fulfilling our own desire for things to giving to those who live in real need. The problem with Buy Nothing Day is that it is, at best, a half measure, and that is what I think your African-American friend is saying.

  27. Interesting article I must say. I can have compassion for those who struggle and therefore must try to get the best bargain. However, has anyone factor that anyone with money, no matter what class the government puts you in, you are still contributing to over comsumption. Even the working poor in this country is much richer then the poor in third world countries. Has anyone factor how our demands affect the rest of the world?? Child labor to name one. Must admit I’m a bit confused with this article.

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