It was 2:30 in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, and my good friend John and I were having our usual Thanksgiving dinner at the Old Country Buffet. I’ve been going there for Thanksgiving for so many years that I have lost track. John has been going with me for about eight or nine years. We like it because the food is ready when we arrive, we can eat all we want, and if we don’t like something, we can go back and get something different. The variety is much greater than any home-cooked dinner, and we can leave when we are done without having to make small talk with anyone. Not bad for $15. That, in and of itself, is a lot to be thankful for.

Looking out the window, we could see the growing line of people on the sidewalk outside of Best Buy. Every year people camp out there as much as 24-hours before the opening in order to get discounted items that they probably don’t really need. This year, Best Buy was opening on Thursday at 5 PM for their “Black Friday Doorbusters” rather than waiting until Friday. This technically makes it Black Thursday.

As I looked at the already long line of people, I realized that 90% of them were black. Now I know that’s not why they call it Black Friday, but the thought did cross my mind as I pondered the reasons behind it. I always assumed it was because store sales for firms that were in the “red” financially recovered from high sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving, putting them in the black. When I got home, I researched it and discovered the real reason. It was originally named Black Friday in 1966 by the Philadelphia Police Department because of the massive traffic jams, over-crowded sidewalks, and general mayhem caused by the bargain hunters.

We did once have a Black Thursday. That was back on October 24th, 1929 when the Great Depression began. We also had a Black Monday on October 19, 1987 when the Dow Jones average fell 22% – the largest drop in history.  But now Black Friday has a more positive connotation in spite of the mayhem and occasional violence that occurs as shoppers trample each other and fight to get the discounted items.

Once we finished eating, John and I parted ways in the parking lot, and I went for a drive past Best Buy for a closer look. I then decided, against my better judgment, to check out Wal-Mart, in spite of the fact that almost every year I read about the violence and stampedes at a Wal-Mart somewhere. I arrived at my local Wal-Mart at about 5:00 to discover that they were open. Their Black Friday sales were to begin at 6 PM. (They used to open at 5 AM on Black Friday) The place was already mobbed, and many isles were ribboned off to channel shoppers who were after a particular item. I accidently found myself in the Xbox line, but thanks to one of literally hundreds of employees and police in the store, I got directed to one of the non-ribboned isles where I could browse. It was all very confusing.

In surveying the shoppers, I quickly realized that nine out of every ten shoppers either spoke with accents and/or were black. I was definitely the minority shopper. Why was this? Is our society really segmented by income and ethnicity? Of course it is. But seeing it first hand was definitely disturbing. I go to Wal-Mart fairly often because I like their prices and variety. But I had never before really noticed a significant ethnic leaning to their customers. Usually I only notice the very high level of obesity. Black Friday discount prices, or in this case Black Thursday discount prices, evidently had made the difference.

Feeling a compelling pressure to purchase something, I bought a large towel to put down inside my front door for my dogs muddy feet when they come in. I also bought two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Neither item was on sale, and the register isles were almost empty even though the store was packed. I asked the cashier why, and she told me that it wasn’t 6 PM yet.

Perhaps if I had waited until six PM, I might have gotten my $12 purchase for $9, but probably not. Curiosity satisfied, I avoided all stores the rest of the evening. On Friday I took my dogs for a hike in the woods and gave thanks that I didn’t need, or want, to do any shopping.