It was nearly four in the morning when the first exclusive story broke on channel 7. I was sitting at work, only able to shake my head at the atrocious actions of individuals willing to catch a sale. It was Black Friday. The only day of the year that people camp outside of stores, sleep in their cars, work in teams to cover an entire stripping mall, and of course, the inevitable, participate in some of the most horrific acts of violence over items as minuscule as a Tickle Me Elmo. While continuing to watch the story of chaos and lack of humanity on the daily news unravel, my curiosity lead me to thoughts of economic oppression. Who is affected by it? What standards are people willing to abandon for the sake of a lower priced product? Does economic turmoil cause people to act violently? And if so, Why? Is the violence implemented on Black Friday an example of the many responses to economic turmoil? At the height of my questioning the brawls on the news, another story broke, “North Carolina woman pepper sprays a crowd of twenty people.” It was then that I kindly decided against buying the leather boots that were advertised to be marked down, fifty percent, at Payless.
The fourth Friday of November has become to be known traditionally as Black Friday. The term “black” as used to describe this day, strategically represents the “black ink” on paper several marketing companies interpret as profits (Fletcher, 2009). Majority of these mainstream marketing companies use Black Friday as a day to bring their monies, profited or not, out of the “red” and into the “black.” Although this particular day has an economic purpose for companies producing irresistible products, accounting for an estimated forty billion dollars in sales in 2009, Black Friday has become sort of an unofficial holiday (Fletcher, 2009). One by which people use to officially mark the upcoming gift-trading holiday. In addition, violence has persisted and it has become more interpersonally aggressive since the retail holiday became a hit to consumers.
As reported in the TimeBusiness magazine (2009), in 2008, a New York, Walmart worker had been trampled to death at the first opening of its doors for its doorbusting, Black Friday sales (Fletcher, 2009). Since then, in the current year of 2011, there have been reported shootings, fist fights, robberies and assaults by way of pepper spray over single items (Hanna et. al., 2011). In San Leandro, California, just after 1 am, one man had been shot after an attempted robbery in the parking lot of Walmart. The night ended with the accused assailant in the custody of police, and the other male with a gunshot wound to bring in the holiday. A similar case recorded in Rome, New York, stated that two individuals had been treated for injuries after being injured in a brawl within the electronics department of a store. Another story reports, in the late evening of Thanksgiving, that a California woman diluted the air around twenty of her fellow shoppers with pepper spray in attempt to salvage an X box console. Ten people were treated for exposure to the spray at the scene. ( Hanna et. al., 2011).
Despite the outlandish violence that continues to occur year after year, doorbusting sales continue to flourish and people continue to indulge in the muck of assaults, threats and the intimidation of others while scavenging for goods simultaneously. Could this possibly be the result of human experience with economic distress? Greg Barak (2003) names structural violence as the culprit in modern day society. Structural violence incorporates expressions of the conditions in society characterizing the structures of social order, and the institutional arrangements of power that reproduce mass violations of citizenship on a daily basis (Barak, 2003). Expressions include interpersonal violence, overt or covert violence, occurring between individuals in their personal lives. Greg Barak also refers to this as violations of personhood. Violence that occurs on the interpersonal level can be characterized by assaults, homicides, forms of abuse, sexual assault, threats or intimidation (Barak, 2003).
Although several variables could constitute the use of interpersonal violence in society, such as poverty or emotional distress, economic disparity can play a significant role in the cause of violence on the interpersonal level between persons of endless backgrounds. According to Greg Barak’s 2003 reading, Violence and Nonviolence: Pathways to Understanding, individuals residing in areas experiencing extreme economic inequality become dependent on the limited resources made available to him or her. In turn, violence on many levels can occur. People then resort to interpersonal hostility out of plain emotional distress. In essence, the struggles experienced by the marginalized humans in the scavenging economy becomes a vicious cycle.
So what will come of these violent occurrences? Events such as Black Friday have become beyond a one day celebration. Within the year 2011, sales have begun as early as Thanksgiving night and extend past the following Monday, which is now referred to as “Cyber Monday.” Without a doubt, Black Friday is an example of economic turmoil. Marketers will not discontinue or sacrifice the opportunity to put their personal profits on the road to millions. However, examining the causes of the overt and deliberate violence between fellow consumers on interpersonal levels could possibly alter the results that are displayed each yearly shopping holiday.
By Tihira Nichelle Ruffin