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Black Friday vs Buy Nothing Day is about class, not sustainability

By Tahmina Begum

Nov 27, 2018

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave, had a week-long hangover or you’re simply a woodland creature, you’ll know that this past weekend was Black Friday weekend. What’s traditionally an American bank holiday the day after Thanksgiving has gained global attention and become part of the vernacular, even if you’re not celebrating the customs in the United States. It’s the weekend where prices are slashed and large conglomerates such as Amazon are basically titillating with joy. Several newsletters, social media announcements and discount banners are displayed when perusing online shopping while brick and mortar stores advertise Black Friday weekend deals across their windows as a way to boost sales.

However, this autumn, #BlackFriday wasn’t the only hashtag trending nor was the attitude all around completely celebratory. #buynothingday was founded in 1992 by Canadian artist Ted Dave but grew popular this year alongside other hashtags preaching #shoplesslivemore, accompanied by images of the Earth decaying as a viral type of guilt tactic. The intention behind #buynothingday was to make more people ignore the sales driven holiday as a way of being friendlier to the planet. This rise in social environmental awareness is not surprising as in comparison to 2016 and 2018, 4 percent less of shoppers braved the crowds on Black Friday Weekend in the U.S. (an average of 100 million people shop on Friday alone) and the numbers suggest the fancy for Black Friday weekend continued to decline in 2018.

Across the Twitterverse, sustainable living and advice were shared frequently with those part of the zero waste lifestyle, encouraging the public to stay at home and away from reduced luxuries they don’t need. But as Black Friday is exactly four weeks before Christmas, shoppers for Black Friday Weekend have usually been those whose wallets are stretched; a chance for parents to attain the gift that was originally slightly out of budget until slashed in the sales. Though saving the planet by not giving into every capitalistic venture is well-intentioned, this hashtag is arguably for the middle class and above, as policing shoppers by shouting “you don’t need anything else”, may be coming from the mouths of those who already have everything. Bought at full price, no less.

Although being grateful for what you already have costs nothing and is the key theme within the #buynothingday hashtag, this trend lacks depth as it presumes everyone has the luxury of time to simply browse when it’s not sale season. It also means shoppers boycott everything including independent boutiques, sellers and shops that do not benefit in general from Black Friday sale margins. Quotes parading online such as “stop shopping, start living” feel empty for those whose businesses take a dive during this shopping season and unlike Amazon, cannot fatefully wait for a large profit.

On the other hand, if #buynothingday is to be expanded into an attitude and a mood that resets the tone for what Christmas and the other seasonal holidays should be about, this may be a step away from materialism. It could be seen through handmade gifts and cards and most precious of all, giving your time—whether that’s volunteering at a charity or seeing an old friend.

But what we should avoid in addition to shopping unnecessarily is a snobbery that comes from shopping during Black Friday. By dividing people due to their shopping habits, one being sustainable and ‘good’ and the other benefitting from the sales and therefore ‘bad’, a larger class warfare can come to play. It can also have the derailing effect of the everyman feeling as though they have to be completely green and sustainable for their steps towards being eco-friendly count when really, if we all did our bit, the world would be a better place.