Guest Blogger: Barb Benesch-Granberg
(November 28 was Thanksgiving in the USA – a holiday with controversies of its own. Held on the fourth Thursday in November and primarily celebrated by feasting with family (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving has been hailed as the “Busiest Travel Day of the Year” in the U.S., though that’s not technically true now, if it ever was). Many employers not only give employees Thursday off, but Friday off as well. As a result, the Friday after Thanksgiving has long been called Black Friday, and for a long time marked the kick-off of the Christmas holiday shopping season. For many years, retailers have marked Black Friday by opening stores very early Friday morning, and offering special bargains for shoppers strong enough to fight off the post-feast lethargy.
In recent decades, retailers have begun bringing out Christmas items and encouraging Christmas shopping earlier and earlier, a phenomenon derided by many as “Christmas creep.” Similarly, Black Friday has begun to creep as well, with many stores now opening Thursday evening, which means that employees of those stores are having to rearrange their holiday or miss it entirely. This has prompted protests in the form of petitions and Facebook groups calling for boycotts on shopping on these days.)
It’s late, of course, but I finally put my finger on why I have felt so uneasy about a lot of the anger I’ve seen about Black Friday creeping into Thanksgiving Thursday, and I think it’s that there’s a lot of classism being revealed there.
Not that I’m a big lover of Wal-mart and K-mart and all these other places that pay poverty-level wages and refuse to offer their employees health insurace. But the fact of the matter is, people have been getting their Thanksgivings mucked up by their retail and service-industry jobs for years and years.
I remember one Thanksgiving, my husband had to work until 6 a.m. that morning, and so it was up to me to drive our family to his parents’ house four hours away for Thanksgiving dinner. Finding an open Starbucks where the kids could use a restroom and I could get a gigantic coffee was like an oasis in the desert, and I expect I was embarrassingly effusive in my gratitude to the cheerful folks behind the counter.
I also remember hearing from a friend who worked at Kohl’s for the holidays talking about having her Thanksgiving dictated by being required to go in at like 10p Thanksgiving night to set up for the store’s Black Friday opening at 6 a.m. Her option was to miss Thanksgiving, make her family have Thanksgiving dinner at lunch time, and then sleep, or sleep all day while someone else cooked dinner, and make her whole family eat dinner at like 8p.
There are tons and tons of people who work Thanksgiving at restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, Starbucks, not to mention all the people who work in travel, whose chances at making Thanksgiving dinner are entirely dependent on weather and things like flight delays, bad traffic, etc.
And it’s not like any of those jobs are especially well-paid either. Better than Wal-mart, sure. But with a few exceptions, still not in the realm of nice middle-class sorts of incomes by any stretch.
So what’s the difference? The only difference I can see is in the clientele. People who are shopping at Wal-mart, the people for whom Black Friday may be their only chance at pulling off one of those big-ticket items under the Christmas tree, they generally aren’t the same people who are flying to see family for Thanksgiving. They aren’t the people who blithely stop at Starbucks to fuel their drive to or from the big family dinner. They aren’t the people who can afford to dine out on Thanksgiving.
The message then, as I see it, is that it’s okay for people to work on Thanksgiving, but only if their jobs involve catering to people who are relatively well off. Because those jobs, then, are somehow “important,” and count as part of maintaining our cultural infrastructure or some such. But the People of Wal-mart? Oh no, their needs are not important enough to warrant ruining someone else’s holiday.
And y’know, I’m not saying this because I love Black Friday, or love Christmas Creep, or think that capitalism becoming the dominant religion of the United States is a fab thing. I think all that is garbage and deserves all the scrutiny we can throw at it. But if you’re someone who was signing petitions against Wal-mart or Target for opening Thanksgiving night, but then stayed in a hotel Wednesday or Thursday night, or stopped at a gas station at some point Thursday, or made a last-minute run to the grocery store Thursday morning or really spent any money or used any services on Thursday at all, then I need to know what exactly the difference is. What makes this year so much different than previous years? Because I’m just not seeing it.