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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Black Friday

When a day of the week is designated as "black," it usually is to commemorate some huge failure that occurred on that day, such as a stock market crash.  I wonder if the people who termed the Friday after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" did so for what American culture has become.  Something to drape in black.

For some employees, Black Friday begins at the stroke of midnight on Thanksgiving night.  Some Target employees have signed petitions to the company headquarters over the matter.  Last year, Target opened its stores at 5 a.m. for Black Friday.  This year, the employees must report to work for a midnight opening, which means employees must use most of Thanksgiving for sleep if they wish to be properly rested to be ready for work at midnight.  Macy's, by the  way, is among the stores who are going for the midnight opening.  Never to be outdone, Wal-Mart is beginning its Black Friday sales at 10 p.m. Thursday.  

These early openings have a huge effect on the population in general.  Those who participate in America's version of the running of the  bulls, a stampede to be the first in the doors of the stores to stay ahead of that rampaging mob running amuck to acquire a bunch of shit they have been told are bargains, now don't have to get up  early or wait out in the cold for the crack of dawn to hoist a holiday petard or two.  Instead, they can just stay up late and they can wait for the grand openings in the evening hours.  They may have to give up Thanksgiving dinner and football to wait in line, but they could make Thanksgiving a tailgate event with turkeys being transformed into globs of saturated fat in deep fryers in the parking lots.  Fun.

The new hours are better for the news media, too.  Now the reporters don't have to get out of bed early to stand around with their video cameras to catch footage of the idiots trampling themselves to death as they burst through the store doors.  They can just stay up late and have their exciting footage ready to go for the Friday morning shows.  Now, that will be good television.

Some perpetual grumpers have noted that Black Friday is starting so early that it's displacing Thanksgiving.  They say we are getting so worked up for Black Friday that we are neglecting to observe the purpose of Thanksgiving to give thanks.  For those of us in Indian Country, Black Friday is actually a more fitting expression of the values for which we are supposed to observe some reverence.   Indians have always had festivals of thanksgiving to acknowledge the beneficence and bounty of the natural world in which they lived.  When the honkeys gathered at Plymouth to celebrate a harvest that wasn't a total failure, the Wapanoags came with some game that they had gathered to augment the festivities.  Their generosity was repaid a few years later with a massacre of their people at Mystic River.  And the great tradition of genocide and oppression was launched, which is  why our national holiday of Thanksgiving, which was devised be elementary teachers, not historians, is resented by the Indian people.  

 Many times over my years teaching in colleges, I was the faculty adviser for the student newspapers.  I've always had a respect for student journalism, because the young observers and reporters had not yet lost the ability to see the contrived myths about America and its culture for what they are--exercises in self-delusion.  A columnist at the University of Nebraska student newspaper issues a take on Thanksgiving that puts it in a more accurate and realistic perspective without giving up the fact that there are, indeed, things for which we can be thankful.  For young minds like his, I am thankful.

Bourbon Red:  a turkey of my youth.
Admittedly, I prefer to think of the Thanksgivings of my youth on what were truly family farms operated by some of my mothers seven brothers, their spouses, and their children.  They were true times of celebration and thankfulness, and even Uncle LeRoy's interminable prayers of thanksgiving seemed appropriate and significant.  My mother and her brothers have long since passed, and so have the family farms, having been absorbed into larger corporate enterprises.  The turkeys weren't Butterballs, but were Bourbon Reds or Narragansetts raised on neighboring farms.  They descended from those original wild birds that were said to be part of the original Thanksgiving, and their flavor was not that of those birds bred to make big breast meat as quickly as possible in cages and then over-processed to make them somewhat edible.  I am thankful for that generation with its authentic values and the fruits of its honest labor and the legacy which is still available for those who wish to understand it.

Like my Indian compatriots and the young columnist at the University of Nebraska, I'll take Thanksgiving for what it can mean over Black Friday.  And I am thankful for people who understand why.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States