Will the specter of 'shopping while black' haunt Black Friday?

This holiday season, will African-Americans keep the black out of Black Friday?

And why is it called Black Friday in the first place?  More on that later…

Of course, Black Friday is the term for the day after Thanksgiving, which shoppers throughout the United States have come to know as the first day of the winter holiday shopping season.  But for blacks, who are still reeling from recent cases of “shopping while black,” there may be a lingering anxiety and reluctance to go out and spend their dollars.

It happened at the Barneys flagship store in New York City when Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old engineering student, was detained by New York’s finest after he bought a $350 Ferragamo belt and was accused of credit card fraud.  Supposedly, young black men don’t have money and steal whatever they want.  Critics of Barneys have signed a petition asking Jay Z to break his deal with the retailer, which includes a new fashion line launched this season.  How ironic that the entertainer-businessman’s fan base is being disrespected and criminalized by the retailer who would benefit from Jay Z’s celebrity status.  Meanwhile, Rev. Al Sharpton has called for a boycott of the business.

And at Macy’s, Treme star Ron Brown was cuffed for buying his mother a $1,000 watch, once again based on accusations of credit card fraud.  What are those HBO actors doing, thinking they can just go and buy things without suffering the consequences, anyway?

Leave it to the folks at the Daily Show to put a humorous spin on a serious problem of racial profiling. Correspondent Jessica Williams suggested that black shoppers bring a white friend along, hire a white person to shop for you, and make friends with the security guard, among other things.  After all, “it’s hard to take advantage of all the black friday steals when you’re being accused of stealing.”  So true.

Key and Peale, we need to hear your take on this.

It was once the case, back in the days of Jim Crow segregation, that the black community protested against businesses that discriminated against blacks.  For example, the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott was a protest against racially segregated seating on that city’s public transportation system.  Further, in New York Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. led a boycott of Harlem stores along 125th Street that would not hire blacks as cashiers or clerks, yet would accept black customers’ money.

Today, African-American buying power is considerable—over $1 trillion, and forecast to rise to $1.3 trillion in 2017.  This would make black America the world’s 16th largest economy.

Some within the black community are urging the black community to leverage their power, in light of complaints of the continued violence they face, the stop-and-frisk practices by law enforcement, the war on drugs and prison profiteering, voter suppression, stand your ground laws, and the shooting of Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin and others unarmed African-Americans.

For example, Ron Daniels suggests blacks support black businesses on Black Friday in order to bolster the economy of their community.  For Daniels, it is a matter of self-interest and resisting the allure of the corporate retail shopping season, as “Black people continue to be neglected, disrespected, disregarded and abused because we have become too tame, tolerant and even accepting of our oppression.”  This comes as others such as the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority are recommending a Black Monday to support African-American businesses.

Another compelling reason for altering the buying habits in the black community, according to Colorlines, is pure economic exploitation.  For many retail giants this year, Black Friday has turned into Black Thursday, with breadwinners working on Thanksgiving day in part-time, low wage jobs.  Due to this “Black Friday Creep,” millions of minimum wage earners will have to report to work and miss holiday dinner with their families.  Raising the minimum wage is a racial justice issue, as people of color are 32 percent of the workforce, but are 42 percent of these low wage earners.

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve can account for as much as 40 percent of a retailer’s annual sales.  And Black Friday is called that because it is the time when retail stores begin to get out of the red and start earning a profit.  In other words, this is the time of the year for them to get into the black.  This year, the stakes are high and consumer confidence is low, as the Tea Party-led circus known as the government shutdown cost the U.S. economy $25 billion.  2 million federal workers, disproportionately workers of color, were denied pay before the holiday season and they’re playing catchup right now.

And to add to the mess, food stamps were just slashed right before the holidays.  On November 1, the federal program known as SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, cut its minimum payment for a family of four from $668 a month to $632.  47 million Americans, or 1 in 7 people, depend on the program to eat.  85 percent of those benefiting from food stamps are children, and most are people of color. The cuts to SNAP will translate to 2 billion fewer meals for poor people next year.

So in other words, money is also tight for many in the black community.  And they might think twice about whether and where to spend their hard-earned cash, particularly if they face arrest for the crime of shopping while black in the process.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove