Last week, I ended up spending a day hiding in an unused office at work. I justified it to the one person who asked by saying I wanted to stay away from everyone’s cooties, because I had a couple of visitors coming I didn’t want to be sick for. The reality, though, is that after hearing the racism and classism on display Thursday afternoon, I couldn’t stand to be around my co-workers for one more minute.
An example of what I listened to:
“People who don’t like Thanksgiving should go back to China!”
“People who don’t like Thanksgiving should be punched in the face!”
“Anyone who shops on Black Friday is an idiot who should be sterilized.”
“Shopping on Black Friday ruins America.”
Charming, eh? Especially when you consider I have a Native American aunt and cousins, my nieces are adopted from China, and my husband (and most of my in-laws) are Australian. When called on this, a co-worker simply stated that he was proud to offend everyone.
While it’s easy enough to dismiss this as yet another example of the questionable environment I work in, it doesn’t take much to find opposition to stores being open on Thanksgiving or people opting to shop on Black Friday. And, as usual, I have relatively complicated thoughts about this. Is K-Mart going too far, saying that people will be fired if they don’t work Thanksgiving? Yes, that one’s easy. But is it equally too far to insist everyone should have the day off, everything should be closed? Well, clearly no one actually believes that, because the only targets for this sort of action are retail stores—when is the last time you heard someone calling on restaurants to close on Thanksgiving or Black Friday?
When’s the last time you heard someone arguing that these mandatory days off work should be fully paid days off?
As I noted last year,
[i]t’s easy to be cynical about holiday sales creep sitting here from a position of privilege that allows me to choose to spend extra money for convenience, and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. Yes, I think the consumer culture is a travesty and it encourages waste and all of the typical things you hear spouted off about holidays sales and creep, but if those sales mean that some of the people waiting outside in long lines in the bitter cold have a chance to grab at something to help make life easier, or maybe even better? Then I should probably just sit down, shut up, and enjoy the privilege that having a middle class, white collar job gives me, without holding others to a standard of living that, until a few years (and an education) ago, I didn’t have access to myself.
It’s all well and good to insist people should have Thanksgiving off work—but shouldn’t that insistence come along with it being a paid day off? Because if not, you’ve suddenly shifted from advocating people have time off that you have, to advocating people be forced to lose money because you’re opposed to being reminded that there are people out there who have to make the choice between spending time with family, or just having a day off, and working to make ends meet.
Many moons ago, I was a waitress with a high school equivalency degree. I worked Thanksgiving and Christmas. I shopped Black Friday if I wasn’t working. I scrounged pennies to buy a new stereo at a Black Friday sale. I idly wished I could have days off to spend with my roommates, friends, boyfriend—the idea of having the airfare to go visit my family, to take that much time off, was such a fantasy it was left for daydreams, not wishes. Even when I was a newlywed, slowly working my way up in the software industry, with a software engineer husband, pennies were literally counted to make sure we had money for groceries (when was the last time you had to calculate that to the penny?).
I’m a newlywed again, and this time I have a sizable education and a comfortable white collar job. My husband is a postdoc at a prestigious Ivy League university, and we can do things like shrug off an expensive cab ride home because we don’t feel like waiting for the train, or idly discuss buying multiple pairs of winter boots so we don’t have to wear wet shoes. For us, convenience is often worth the extra money we’ll spend, which is why you won’t see us out shopping Thursday or Friday. But we can do that math; we can agree that we’d rather be comfortable than cold, and that we don’t need anything so badly a line is worthwhile. We don’t have to worry about punching in a clock, being paid by the hour, or the penalties that come from having jobs that don’t give us paid time off.
We are, in a word, privileged.
It’s worth not forgetting that, especially when pontificating about holiday work schedules.
I realize a lot of people are loathe to click through and read the past, so here is my 2013 post on privilege and holiday shopping.
Thoughts on Privilege and Holiday Sales (Thanksgiving Retail, Black Friday, etc)
Posted on November 26, 2013
There’s been a lot of talk this year about stores open on Thanksgiving, and I was ready to—and honestly, had—join in the general crankiness towards retailers doing so. I’ve never been a huge fan of Black Friday boycotts, because I do understand the idea and appeal of a sale, but grumbling at the encroaching opening times and intense sales? Yeah, I readily admit it.
In fact, I was already in grumbling mood this evening, because I made the mistake of swinging by the store to pick up some staples for the long weekend, and to consider some sort of protein for Thursday. The store was already building to crazy levels of people panicking over the oddest things, and I made a choice, on the spot, to save myself some headache and get everything I could possibly need right then, rather than saving some of the standard Trader Joe’s items for tomorrow. (I can only imagine what it’s going to be like in there.) Yes, I was going to pay more for bananas, but it was a tax I was willing to pay to avoid people at holiday panic.
That was my frame of mind as I hopped off the bus, groceries in hand, and started making my way through the transit center. I got stuck behind two young women and what was five or six very young children between them; they both had strollers and there were other children milling around, one on hip, and so forth. There were repeated references of “come to your mother” and such that made it clear that these young women were mothers to at least some of the children.
If it helps your mental image, they were also black.
I was, in my cranky mood, mostly irritated at being stuck behind strollers in a space not wide enough to pass. But being there, it was hard not to hear them talking, and they were talking about the upcoming sales. (Yes, I rolled my eyes. I’m not proud.) One was telling the other about a sale on TVs and how she was tempted, but there was some other sale going on and her friend was going to the TV one, but it was one per household. The other said she was going to get in line at a store I missed the name of, because they had $179 computers.
That stopped the conversation, and the walking, cold. “Computers?” “Yeah, laptops.”
I managed not to run into them, they saw me and apologized for stopping, and let me walk by them. As I was passing, I heard the one who’d been talking about the TV say, “A laptop for $179? I could do my homework at home. I wouldn’t have to stay at school late. I wouldn’t have to pay for daycare… or I could get another job!”
As I walked off, I continued hearing her talk about how much having a $179 laptop—one her friend admitted wasn’t a great machine, but workable—would change her life, whether she opted to get another job or save the money that daycare cost her, how it might impact her grades. As I rounded the corner and their conversation faded from hearing, it sounded like she was talking to someone else, sharing the news, and asking how much internet at home would cost.
I walked off to jump on the high speed train home, because I hit the right time and the 50 cent fare increase is an annoyance, not impossible. There are buses that take the same route; I ride them sometimes, when I miss the high speed train. The faces I see on the train rarely overlap with the faces I see on the bus, even though the stops are similar, and the train is significantly faster.
I made the choice, today, to spend an additional $10 on groceries rather than deal with crowds and inconvenience. But I had a choice.
I remember being in my early 20s, literally counting every cent being spent on groceries, because my ex-husband and I barely had any money. I remember my father sneaking groceries into my car, and I remember being grateful for holiday sales.
Even then, we owned computers and had internet access.
It’s easy to be cynical about holiday sales creep sitting here from a position of privilege that allows me to choose to spend extra money for convenience, and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. Yes, I think the consumer culture is a travesty and it encourages waste and all of the typical things you hear spouted off about holidays sales and creep, but if those sales mean that some of the people waiting outside in long lines in the bitter cold have a chance to grab at something to help make life easier, or maybe even better? Then I should probably just sit down, shut up, and enjoy the privilege that having a middle class, white collar job gives me, without holding others to a standard of living that, until a few years (and an education) ago, I didn’t have access to myself.