Thursday, November 26, 2015

What "Black Friday" REALLY Means

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about the origin of term "Black Friday" in reference to the shopping day after Thanksgiving.

Information about the Black Friday shopping boycott is also given in this post.

The content of this post is presented for etymological and sociological purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

The term "Black Friday" has its origins in the negative connotations of the color "black".
"Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery.

Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown (black holes). It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, 'black death')... In heraldry, black is the symbol of grief..."
end of quote--
Other negative connotations associated with the color "black" are dirt, being in a black mood, black cats, witches and villains.

In European countries and also in the United States, it was traditional to warn children that if they were bad, they would receive a clump of black coal on Christmas day but if they were good, they would receive a lump of white sugar. While the devil is usually portrayed in the United States as being the color red, in the Middle East and in Europe, the devil is portrayed as being black or dark skinned. Also, demons are traditionally depicted as being "black" while angels are depicted as wearing white (and being White). Click for a discussion thread that I started in 2009 entitled "Folklore: The Devil The Color Black."

I believe that some of the reasons for the racism that is directed toward Black people is that negative connotations for the color black have been carried over to negative views about people who have dark skin.

From The Real Story Behind Black Friday —By Kevin Drum Fri Nov. 25, 2011 6:00 AM EST
"The official explanation from the retail industry for the term "Black Friday" is that it's the day when retail profits for the year go from red to black. Are you skeptical about this? You should be. After all, the term Black ___day has, in other contexts, always signified something terrible, like a stock market crash or the start of the Blitz. Is it reasonable to think that retailers deliberately chose this phrase to indicate something good?

Not really. So let's trace its origins back in time...

After I wrote a post about all this last year, I got an email from a reader who had worked in a Philadelphia department store back in the day:
The dire warnings came from the sweet older women that took me under their wings in the arts and crafts department at John Wanamaker's department store in center city Philadelphia shortly after I was hired as temporary holiday help in October, 1971. They warned me to be prepared for the hoards of obnoxious brats and their demanding parents that would alight from the banks of elevators onto the eighth floor toy department, all racing to ride see the latest toys on their way to visit Santa. The feeling of impending doom sticks with me to this day. The experienced old ladies that had worked there for years called it "Black Friday." I'm quite sure it had nothing to do with store ledgers going from red to black.

"For years." But how many years? Ben Zimmer collects some evidence that the term was already in common use by 1961 (common enough that Philly merchants were trying to change the term to "Big Friday"), and passes along an interview with Joseph Barrett talking about his role in popularizing the expression when he worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin:
In 1959, the old Evening Bulletin assigned me to police administration, working out of City Hall. Nathan Kleger was the police reporter who covered Center City for the Bulletin. In the early 1960s, Kleger and I put together a front-page story for Thanksgiving and we appropriated the police term "Black Friday" to describe the terrible traffic conditions. Center City merchants complained loudly to Police Commissioner Albert N. Brown that drawing attention to traffic deterred customers from coming downtown. I was worried that maybe Kleger and I had made a mistake in using such a term, so I went to Chief Inspector Albert Trimmer to get him to verify it.

So all the evidence points in one direction. The term originated in Philadelphia in the 50s or earlier and wasn't in common use in the rest of the country until decades later. And it did indeed refer to something unpleasant: the gigantic Army-Navy-post-Thanksgiving day crowds and traffic jams, which both retail workers and police officers dreaded. The retail industry originally loathed the term, and the whole "red to black" fairy tale was tacked on sometime in the 80s by an overcaffeinated flack trying to put lipstick on a pig that had gotten a little too embarrassing for America's shopkeepers."

From ‘Black Friday' Originally Meant Something Much, Much Darker by Maxwell Strachan
Posted: 11/27/2013 8:15 am EST Updated: 11/25/2014 8:59 am EST
"It’s totally understandable if you think the term “Black Friday” is a direct linguistic descendent of “in the black,” accounting jargon for turning a profit. After all, the day after Thanksgiving is now one of the biggest shopping days of the year, an annual delight to retailers hoping to give their bottom lines a nice little boost in the year’s final weeks.

But the truth is that Black Friday owes its name to the Philadelphia Police Department, which did not have profitability in mind. One thing to remember is that, long before the rest of us started calling it Black Friday, retailers hoped to start the holiday shopping season with a bang by offering “can’t miss” deals right after Thanksgiving. (Note: These days, “holiday shopping season” can begin way before Turkey Day.) People being people, they have long stormed stores, caused traffic jams and been generally terrible to one another in an effort not to miss these deals.

In the middle years of the twentieth century, the scene was often particularly bad in Philadelphia, where the annual Army-Navy football game was regularly played on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Lots of cars, lots of traffic, lots of chaos. Sound familiar?"...

[Reader's comment]
Mary Finn • Queens College, City University of New York Nov 27, 2014 12:36pm
"You know it makes sense that Black Friday means something bad. Black Thursday certainly does. In Irish Slang, "Black" means unfortunate, bad or sorrowful. A Black Day is a bad one indeed."

"Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since the early 2000s, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US, and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales.... It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005...

The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.[6][7] Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss ("in the red") from January through November, and "Black Friday" indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or "in the black".[6][8] Contrary to what many believed, Black Friday did not originate from the sales of slaves on the day after Thanksgiving.[9]

The large population centers on Lake Ontario in Canada have always attracted cross-border shopping into the US states, and as Black Friday became more popular in the US, Canadians often flocked to the US because of their lower prices and a stronger Canadian dollar. After 2001, many were traveling for the deals across the border. Starting in 2008 and 2009, due to the parity of the Canadian dollar compared with the American dollar, several major Canadian retailers ran Black Friday deals of their own to discourage shoppers from leaving Canada.[27][28]
The year 2012 saw the biggest Black Friday to date in Canada, as Canadian retailers embraced it in an attempt to keep shoppers from travelling across the border....

United Kingdom
Black Friday also occurs in the United Kingdom. One of the UK's first black Friday events took place in 2003 in Staples Corner London, hosted by UK retailer Currys...In 2014, more UK-based retailers adopted the 'Black Friday' marketing scheme than ever. Included are,, John Lewis and Argos. They offer massively discounted prices to entice Christmas shoppers. During Black Friday sales in 2014, police forces were called to stores across the United Kingdom to deal with crowd control issues, assaults, threatening customers and traffic issues."...

Blackout For Human Rights Calls For Second Annual Black Friday Boycott by Zack Sharf | Indiewire
November 20, 2015 at 1:39PM
“Artists, activists and faith leaders are calling on Americans to not shop on Black Friday, November 27.

For the second year in a row, Blackout For Human Rights is launching a call to action to encourage all American citizens to boycott shopping on Black Friday, November 27. Blackout is a network of artists, actives and faith leaders who combat human rights violations against U.S. citizens.

In an official statement from the group, they are hoping "Americans refrain from shopping on Black Friday and to instead stand with the citizens of Minneapolis, Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, D.C., Staten Island, Oakland and all those who have suffered atrocious race-based and class-based acts of hate."”
The term “blackout” is a play on word "whiteout" (meaning "to erase" something. In the context of that organization, "blackout" relates back to the Black Friday [shopping] day, and also refers to Black people (and others) refusing to go out shopping on that day.

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