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Capitalism, Racism, and Black Friday: Deconstructing America’s History of Exploitation

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By Manpreet Kaur Kalra

Thanksgiving is steeped in America’s history of genocide and theft from Indigenous people. The weekend of frenzied consumerism that follows further contributes to issues of racism and classism in this country.

This year has been one of confronting and opening conversations around dismantling the injustices of the systems we each operate in. It is our responsibility to challenge the systems we have come to accept as the status quo. Reclaim Black Friday is a campaign dedicated to amplifying the work and voices of Indigenous and Black leaders and a call to action for redistributing wealth to those who have suffered the most because of historic and continual exploitation in America.

Organized by Reclaim Collaborative, a values-aligned network that connects brands and content creators to dismantle systems of oppression across the fashion and lifestyle ecosystem, Reclaim Black Friday is calling on brands to redistribute a percentage of their sales to Black and Indigenous land-based organizations, instead of running sales during Black Friday weekend. The campaign focuses on land-based organizations in an effort to acknowledge the original stewards of this land and return it to those who have historically cultivated regenerative and healing relationships with the Earth.

“Land back is rooted in this idea of literally getting to stewardship and restoring that ancestral relationship with the land, and letting Black and Native people lead that conversation around that movement,” said Charlie Amáyá Scott, a Diné (Navajo) scholar.

Brands taking the Reclaim Black Friday Redistribution Pledge include Bryr, Windy Peak Vintage, Meow Meow Tweet, tonle, Sotela, Grey Jays, Passion Lilie, Rosemarine Textiles, Lagusta’s Luscious, Slow Made, and more.

This year marks 400 years since the Mayflower arrived on Plymouth Rock. When having conversations about Thanksgiving, it is important to acknowledge the first people to encounter the Pilgrims, the Wampanoag Tribe. It is unfortunate that while most of us know so much about the Pilgrims’ journey because of the way we have been taught history, we don’t necessarily know the name of the community that was first colonized in what is now known as the United States of America. This is one simple example of how Indigenous people, or Native Americans, have experienced centuries of dehumanization, genocide, and erasure. Addressing histories of exploitation takes deconstructing the systems we operate in. One simple step we can each take is acknowledging the land on which we each reside.

“As a Black person, or as an Indigenous person, we’re always in the position where we’re having to do the work to undo the things that we never had any part in to begin with,” said Katie Pruett, the founder of ESJ.

Furthermore, Black Americans, descendants of American Chattel Slavery, were taken captive and brought here to America for textile and agricultural work—building the wealth of this country. The dehumanization, exploitation, and abuse that Black people have had to endure for centuries continues today as Black Americans still face injustices and inequities in most spaces. Despite directly contributing to the wealth of this country, when enslaved Black Americans were freed, they did not receive reparations.

“Reparations as a whole isn’t just a racial justice issue, it’s also a climate justice issue,” said Kai Ramey, a community organizer, poet, and land steward.

Today, Black Americans collectively experience one of the highest poverty rates of any group in the United States. Our acknowledgement of this horrific truth and examination of how we can provide support without causing further damage is a necessary step if we are to be part of creating real systemic change.

“Systemic change follows cultural change. As brand owners, we have the ability to challenge what is accepted and do our part to redistribute funds from white-dominated spaces to Black and Indigenous land-based initiatives,” said Rachel Faller, the founder of tonlé, a sustainable fashion brand and one of the brands taking the Reclaim Black Friday Redistribution Pledge.

An Economy Built on Racism

One of the main side effects of modern day capitalism is exploitation. This is especially reflected in the fashion industry where payment structures place power in the hands of large brands, most of which have built business models rooted in encouraging overconsumption. This overconsumption causes harm to the environment, which disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities globally.

“We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?” – Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

Businesses are built with a goal to maximize profits for shareholders and investors, which in turn, prioritizes profits over people. This notion leaves those at the bottom, the workers, with only a small share of the wealth. Many of these low-wage workers are from Black and Brown communities, which have historically been and continue to be exploited, reinforcing systems of poverty.

This structure of who holds power and who yields it is the foundation to how the systems we operate in have been built. It is critical that we recognize how our understanding of global economies is rooted in colonial power dynamics. Trade is at its core built on the existence of global inequities. Previously colonized countries are still struggling to rebuild as a result of years of extraction, which continues to manifest today in the form of capitalism. To truly dismantle these inequities, we must first challenge ourselves and ask “what got us here in the first place?”

Sales and discounts only further perpetuate exploitation. Because prices are designed by brands to be marked down and still make a profit, the average customer may not be aware of how small of a percentage the worker actually makes on the sale of a garment. Fair pricing should be connected to the labor that was put into making the product. I acknowledge that surviving as a business is necessary. However, if we normalize fair pricing and challenge the expectation for sales set by modern capitalism, we can take one step toward building a more just economy. Envision an economy in which all people are treated with respect and compensated fairly.

Nourish Your Soul and Keep Learning

It is time we deconstruct, rethink, and rebuild a more just future. This campaign is one aspect of a larger conversation on how each of us thinks about the role we play in dismantling systems of oppression. Redistributing wealth is a small way we can help give back the stolen wealth and land. It is by no means the only way nor is it a panacea. If you are interested in learning more deeply about the history of this holiday and the harmful side effects of modern capitalism, here are a few resources to dive into:

You can access a full list of resources compiled by Charlie Amáyá Scott here. Also, you can amplify and support the #ReclaimBlackFriday campaign by:

  • Directly supporting Indigenous or Black land-based organizations. You can find links to each organization participating in this campaign here, but there are many others you can support as well!
  • Purchasing products from Black and Indigenous creators and businesses, and businesses that are taking the Redistribution Pledge.
  • Tune into the Instagram lives hosted by Reclaim Collaborative on deconstructing America’s history and future.
  • Share content created by Indigenous and Black leaders to raise awareness on the problematic history of Thanksgiving and ways to consider redistribution during these holidays and beyond.
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