People of African descent across the United States refused to participate in mass consumerism last weekend, choosing instead to spend Black Friday with family and on the front lines of protests against major corporations they say fuel a system bent on ending black lives. .
Their efforts weren’t in vain.
For the second consecutive Black Friday weekend, sales fell by double-digit percentages with stores accruing $1.6 billion less in sales than the year prior – though experts pointed to a surge in online shopping for the slump instead of activists’ cry for change. While some question black people’s ability to sustain the mass boycott during and beyond the holiday shopping season, those who have long heeded to the call to keep their dollars in the community say it’s about time.
“If we’re going to spend dollars of Black Friday, we should spend it with black-owned businesses,” Alyssa Jerome, a social worker who lives in Landover, Maryland said, telling AllEyesOnDC that her study of slavery’s long-term psychological effects on people of African descent compelled her to change her shopping habits more than two years ago.
These days, Jerome shops at Black Owned 19XX and gleans the black business directory on AfricanUnification.com. During previous holidays, she doled out gifts from black businesses to family members, encouraging them to follow her in patronizing black vendors. Though Jerome has received some pushback, she says making the conscious decision to buy black has instilled a sense of pride in the work of up-and-coming black-owned ventures she encounters.
“We should start caring for each other more and shop among each other as soon as we get those paychecks,” said Jerome, 25. “The major companies don’t care too much about our communities. Once we start supporting our own, they should return the support to the community. That’s what truly constitutes as a black-owned business.”
A bevy of public figures, young and old have struck a similar note in their rhetoric as black people reel from the state-sanctioned deaths of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Mike Brown, Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Sandra Bland of Illinois, and countless others for which no one has been held accountable. With the character assassination of each victim and subsequent non-indictment, protestors have grown wearier, acknowledging it will take more than hashtags, hand-made signs, and chants to affect institutional change.
Such a mindset urged Rahiel Tesfamariam, social activist and founder/editor of the Urban Cusp, to launch the #NotOneDime movement last year, shortly after a jury didn’t convict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. In the months leading up the “Justice or Else” march on the National Mall in October, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan too explained the need for an economic boycott, telling TVOne’s Roland Martin that black people have to “redistribute the pain” before the state hears their concerns.
Determined brothers and sisters in the D.C. metropolitan area did just that on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, gathering at the Columbia Heights shopping area and Walmart on Georgia Avenue, both in Northwest. Their actions bore some similarity to that of people in Chicago who converged on the city’s highly esteemed Magnificent Mile, days after a dashcam video showed a police officer shooting 16-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times at point-blank range.
While the few shoppers who chose to brave the lines at these stores suffered the scorn of protestors, those who ventured into local, black-owned businesses, like Nubian Hueman, an ethnic-centered boutique in the Anacostia Arts Center, had a different, more pleasant experience.
“They said they wanted to make sure they passed through. They were there to make a difference,” Anika Hobbs, owner of Nubian Hueman, told AllEyesOnDC.
Since its 2013 inception, Nubian Hueman has gone beyond selling custom clothes and wares, making its mark in the Anacostia community by partnering with Calvary Women’s Services, Orr Elementary School, and other organizations. Residents far and near returned the favor on Friday and Saturday. Hobbs said she saw more than 30 customers on those days — including Courtney Snowden, D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development — an increase of 75 percent from a regular weekend.
“For me, that’s a great thing,” Hobbs added. “We’re learning about the importance of supporting each other and the weight of where we spend our money. I hope this goes beyond the holiday season. Ninety-seven percent of our buyers are black so we’re maintained by the black community. This is not just good move for black business but black lives. That’s how we flourish as a people.”
Seeing black support of black business come to reality, however, would require much sacrifice, some people contend. A significant number of up-and-coming black entrepreneurs go into clothing; toiletries, fragrances, and restaurant management, leaving other industries remain without substantial representation. For the average consumer of African descent, the lack of affordable alternatives makes the idea of a mass boycott less appealing.
“We’re the entitlement generation so that’s the biggest challenge,” Yuri Norrell, regional manager of a black-owned mental health agency in Virginia, told AllEyesOnDC. Norrell, who said he boycotted major corporations in his holiday shopping more than two years ago, said he too found it difficult to convince family and friends to forego amenities from Wal-Mart and other retailers.
“Getting a mass group of people behind this movement will take a cognitive exercise in seeing the larger picture,” Norrell, 33, added. “The Montgomery Bus Boycott took a year. It would probably take five years of boycotting for [the state] to be ready to make a change. By the time they’re ready to do that, we shouldn’t even want to go back. We would have our ducks in a row and tell them ‘naw we’re good,’” said the Richmond, Virginia resident.