Our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) is a function of consumer spending. We are prodded, cajoled, enticed and engaged in the spending exercise, and all that happens because money makes the world go round. Between 65% and 75% of our GDP is based on consumer spending, which explains why in the wake of the economic meltdown of 2001 (post-9/11), then-President George W. Bush encouraged us to spend to spark an economic recovery.
Some of us spend, though, to our detriment. We spend because we want to keep up with the Jones family. We spend because we have been told that “everybody” has … a little black dress, a leather tote bag, the right cosmetic or perfume, and because that message is tossed at us relentlessly. We get email messages, Instagram messages, telephone reminders that the sale is going, going, gone. Don’t worry. If you ignore the notes, they will come back tomorrow or the next day. Early Black Friday, delayed Black Friday, then Cyber Monday, and more.
Here’s the bottom line: Capitalists want you to spend your money, and they want to capture your surplus value.
When a $100 sweater is marked down by 50%, understand that you aren’t getting a deal. Retailers aren’t giving stuff away. They aren’t going to lose money; they’ll lose profit. So if you get the $100 sweater for $50, believe me, that they’ve still captured the $30 they paid. So don’t believe the hype, and don’t go running for a “discount,” which is more a hook to get you to spend money.
I’m the wrong one to write about this. I’m a consumer, just like you. I want to shower my friends and family with goodies. These days, I’d rather shower them with experiences and, if I must shop, I am shopping with Black-owned businesses. So check out #BuildBlack, #BuyBlack, #BankBlack, #BlackXmas. Grateful to LA Black Lives Matter co-founder Dr. Melina Abdullah for putting this out there. Our dollars can be a form of our resistance. We can’t talk about the many ways we resist oppression while simultaneously supporting it with our spending. We can’t go running after corporate dollars to support our events while giving them a pass on the ways they support structural racism. We absolutely must use this holiday as a way to withdraw from our cooperation with predatory capitalism.
What would happen if we withdrew our spending from this consumerism that masquerades as a holiday? While our economy would not crash and burn, retailers would undoubtedly feel it. What would happen if we shifted our spending to Black-owned businesses? We’d increase capacity in our communities. What would happen if, as BLM LA has suggested, we withdraw our spending from non-Black companies for the entire month of December? Or are we so addicted to consumerism — and especially majority consumerism — that we can’t stop?
Our nation’s economic viability depends on our consumer spending. Consumerism is the foundation of predatory capitalism. We participate in this national orgy of accumulation because we have been trained to do so, trained to line up (pre-covid) outside stores to trample each other in search of a bargain, trained to interpret a ripoff as a bargain.
Whether we are “woke” or not, we are products of our predatory capitalist environment. We must resist it both in our individual acts (checking our consumerism, buying and banking Black) and our resistance to structural oppression. More than that, we must train our young people to be mindful and aware of the systems that oppress us. Most importantly, we must understand the many ways that we are agents of our oppression when we support madness with our dollars.
During these holidays, everyone gets warm and fuzzy, seduced by the parades and candy canes, the music, and pumpkin smells. Don’t let the positive energy fool you. The average family will spend about $1,500 this year on holiday stuff. The average Black family earns just about $40,000 a year. I’m not suggesting that folks cut back on experiences and good times, but I’m certainly suggesting that if you care about Black liberation, you walk on by consumer traps.
Consumerism is the foundation of predatory capitalism. Just say no.
Malveaux is an economist, author and dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Los Angeles.