The ads abound, lopsided media stories played on infinite loops about shopping and buying (not about the murders of 15 year-old James Means in West Virginia or William Sims outside of Richmond, California – who were both killed in recent weeks at the hands of White supremacists). Friday, November 25th was “Black Friday,” a time when we are programmed to ratchet up the spending because we must have another television, or pair of shoes, or jeans, or Hatchimal. We must buy for our families, we are told, and embedded in the messaging is the notion that love is best measured in dollars and cents. For the first time in two years, Black Friday sales are up. It seems the consumerist messaging is working. Folks actually are heading out to malls, shoving and pushing their way to cash registers, and more are clicking for online “deals.” With online sales set to hit record highs, topping $3 billion and figures still out for “Cyber-Monday,” the question becomes to what degree Black people want to buy-in. The argument made here is that we must resist. There remains four weeks, left to make different choices, ones that demonstrate our collective power. From November 25th-January 1st, Black Lives Matter is calling for a #BlackXmas – an economic divestment from White corporations and an investment in building Black community through support for Black community organizations and businesses.
This call is fundamentally tied to Black Lives Matter’s mission to end state-sanctioned violence against Black people. We know that state-sanctioned violence is rooted in White-supremacist capitalism. Since its inception in 2013, Black Lives Matter has recognized the killing of Black people at the hands of the police as not simply a question of a few rogue officers, but a part of a system that is built on the backs of Black people. Chattel slavery sought to reduce our Ancestors to workhorses, mules, and dehumanized beings whose labor could be exploited and whose own bodies belonged not to themselves, but to White “masters.” Following emancipation many were forced into de facto slavery as sharecroppers and kept in a state of perpetual debt and abuse. Attempts to rise up, unite, and resist were met with the harshest of retaliation: lynchings (which counter to popular misconception, were most often in direct response to Black economic competition to White businesses), incarceration (with numerous former plantations converted into prisons, most famously Angola Prison in Louisiana), and the wholesale destruction of Black businesses (as exampled by the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921).
These historic atrocities are not simply remnants of the past, but have evolved into our current conditions, where Black people are incarcerated at more than 400% of our population share, where our unemployment numbers are double that of everyone else, where it would take 228 years for the average Black family wealth to equal the average White family wealth. (Joshua Holland. The Nation. August 16, 2016). These statistics are startling and deeply troubling; and we cannot simply accept them. What they point to is that we live under a system of White-supremacist capitalism that exploits Black people as workers and consumers and relies on the police state to secure and maintain its dominance. Quite literally, American policing evolved from slave patrols. Former paddy-rollers, used to catch enslaved Africans who decided to take their own freedom and return them to White “owners” evolved into United States police forces. (Kristian Williams. Our Enemies in Blue. 2015)
On November 9th (11-9), White Americans voted Donald Trump into the White House, with 58% voting for him, including the White supremacists who have rebranded their movement the “alt-right.” One need only watch the recent Roland Martin (TV-One) interview with Richard Spencer to understand that this political moment is not only about Trump and his appointees, but about the new/old brand of White supremacists that Trump has whipped into a racist, xenophobic frenzy. Spencer’s brand of White supremacy exalts “European genius” and proposes that the United States should be left to White people…new “go-back-to-Africa” rhetoric.
Since 11-9, hundreds of thousands of Angelenos and millions around the nation have poured out into the streets in protest. Chants of “not my president” filled the air. The truth is, however, that while protest is important, it must also bring impact. White-supremacist capitalism is driven by profit and there is no more profitable time than the Christmas season. Nearly $700 billion is spent on holiday shopping, accounting for roughly 20% of annual sales according to the National Retail Foundation. Americans are socialized to spend (often more than they can afford), becoming voracious consumers, as a part of a holiday season that feeds White-supremacist capitalism. In the end, our mothers will get little wear out of the $100 sweater, our children really don’t need another toy, and we are stuck with a bunch of things that clutter our homes and eventually become landfills, but the corporations have their profits.
This season, more than all others, Black Lives Matter is asking people to wake up, to be conscious of our own economic power, and to protest – not just in the streets – but in the malls. Black Lives Matter is dreaming of and building for a #BlackXMas, where we divest from White corporations and invest in building Black community. Rather than lining the pockets of Trump and other White-supremacist capitalists, donate to Black-led organizations that are building new, liberatory structures in our communities. Contribute in the names of your loved ones as their gifts. The following are Black-led community-based organizations in Los Angeles:
- African American Cultural Center (Black cultural work and forums)
- Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles (working to end state-sanctioned violence) crowdrise.com/blmla
- Black Women for Wellness (Black women’s health)
- Black Worker Center (good jobs for Black people)
- Brotherhood Crusade (multi-faceted service and capacity-building)
- Crenshaw Subway Coalition (transportation justice in Black communities)
- Fernando Pullum Center (free performing arts classes for children)
- Jenesse Center (domestic violence intervention for women and children)
- Los Angeles Community Action Network – LACAN (homeless organizing) cangress.org
- Media Done Responsibly (media education and push for positive media images)
- A New Way of Life (reentry program for formerly incarcerated women)
- Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (Black political power)
If you must buy, #BuyBlack. Consider buying a book for your children from Black independent bookstores like Eso Won or cultural items from Zambezi Bazaar – both in Leimert Park. Online, both Slay Culture http://slayculture.com/200-black-women-owned-brands-to-love-support/ and the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/45-black-owned-etsy-stores-everyone-should-support_us_565caf02e4b072e9d1c2c47e have published lists of Black-owned small businesses.
We recognize that we are not the first to do work around cooperative economics; Ujamaa is one of the principles of Kwanzaa, the 7-day long African American holiday, derived from African harvest festivals, that for 50 years has encouraged us to invest in our own traditions. #BlackXmas seeks to build on that vision. We also stand in solidarity with the Nation of Islam, with the tagline “up with Jesus, down with Santa.” A variety of anti-Trump organizers are issuing calls to #CancelChristmas as an act of resistance. Black Lives Matter organizers will be out at malls and in neighborhoods this season, encouraging our people to harness our collective economic power and build new traditions. We are reminded that “Black Friday,” “Cyber-Monday” and the rash of consumerism that is put upon us is not our tradition; it is programming and only White-supremacist capitalism benefits.