Black Friday: What Does It Really Mean?

"Black Friday: September 24, 1869, the day the markets crashed following a failed attempt by some financiers to corner the gold market. Led to the depression."

Say what?

Why in the world would the biggest shopping day of the year be called something that denotes the market crashing and economic depression? Ah! A slightly further look yields this definition: "The term Black Friday has been applied to the day after Thanksgiving, in which retailers make enough sales to put themselves 'into the black ink'." Okay, that makes sense. Sort of.

I think there's more to the story than meets the eye, though; an as of yet unrevealed true meaning to the term "Black Friday".

I think that most people consider the day after Thanksgiving as the worst, most frustrating, and dangerous day to go shopping. While some diehards plan months in advance for their shopping ventures on that day (spend more time, in fact, than they do planning their Thanksgiving Day menu), most of us plan on how to avoid going to the store at all, only to get caught up in getting that good deal, finding the best savings, or simply going because everyone else is doing it.

In my case, I try to avoid going to the store, any store, that entire weekend. In fact, I try to avoid driving at all that weekend, especially near the malls.

I still wonder, though, why that Friday has to be "black". Why is it not called Green Friday for the money that's made, or even Pink Friday for all the women who will be shopping that day? It could even be called Red Friday for the bloodshed (remember the Cabbage Patch Doll debacle?). This is a day most profess to dislike, so why "black"? Obviously, the implication is that the Friday after Thanksgiving is somehow dark and evil. My point is that "black" has been a color considered bad probably since the beginning of time, and since we categorize people in terms of color – black, white, brown, red, yellow – black as evil is a problem.

We have to keep in mind that words carry a lot of weight. As writers / bloggers, we know the importance of choosing the perfect word for any given sentence, yet we throw around stereotype-inducing phrases, such as Black Friday, without much thought. Yet, how things are labeled makes a difference in how they are treated.

For instance, back when Columbus stumbled on the Caribbean, he played a large role in enslaving and abusing the indigenous population. When word got back to Spain about what was happening in "their" new holdings, a law was passed stating that only "bad Indians" could be enslaved and abused. From that moment on, the native Caribbeans were labeled as cannibals, and therefore bad. All of the sudden, their mistreatment was not only ignored, but sanctioned by church and government.

Words are very powerful indeed.

Where did this whole "black is bad" thing come from, anyway? How did it start? Angels are always portrayed as white, surrounded by brilliant light. Most even have blond hair. The Middle-Eastern Jesus is portrayed as white with blondish hair, too. Is black simply the polar opposite of white? If light is good then dark must be bad?

Even children's entertainment plays into the stereotype. In Lion King, Simba, Lana, and Mufasa are all golden in color, with relatively lighter manes. Scar, on the other hand, is darker in color, with a darker mane, and boy was he evil! Aladdin is an even better example. All the good characters are light-skinned and attractive, while all the evil characters are dark and homely (we've progressed to include "pretty" into the good category and "ugly" into the bad / evil category). Glenda the Good from The Wizard of Oz was beautiful, surrounded by light, while the evil Wicked Witch of the West dressed in black and was ugly as, well, sin. These are visual cues for children to be able to distinguish good from bad in those movies. Unfortunately, this concept carries over into real life, where true villains seldom wear a black hat or run around looking stereotypically evil. This puts our children at risk. Often times it's the light, the "pretty", which is hiding the monster. But that's another subject to investigate at another time.

So again, where did this stereotype begin? Could it stem from a time when there was no electricity, no streetlights to brighten the night, nothing but a fire pit to offer comfort? I imagine this is the case. Not that long ago the night – darkness – held us in fear. Things happened at night. When we were living in caves, animals would come at night and drag away our family members. No one would venture out into darkness for fear of the unknown grabbing us and eating us alive. Other Things happened at night, too. People could get lost, fall into a ravine, or – god forbid – stub their toes while looking for someplace to pee! Darkness was no friend to our diurnal ancestors.

Later, when we had candle light to brighten the night, there was still the darkness outside to fear. Folklore had monsters that came out only at night; vampires, werewolves (who needed a full moon to change), incubi, and witches. Reality, too, had its share of dangerous nighttime creatures: Cats had eyes that glowed and were excellent hunters (and as everyone knows, friends of witches); bats came out only at night, and some sucked the blood of our livestock; and what about those chilling howls at night as wolves communicated across the forest?

Considering how many thousands of years we spent fear the nighttime, it's kind of understandable that we still have a bit of ingrained fear of darkness, even with all the nightlights in the world chasing away the monsters.

This is probably why Europeans were afraid when they saw people of color. Their culture, which included gods as light beings and demons as dwellers of the dark, programmed them into believing that darker skin tone and strange cultural practices (don't forget fear of the unknown!) Made these people evil, or at the very least , less than human. We know better now. I don't think our stereotype of black and white being evil and good has anything to do with skin tone anymore. I think it's all about fear of the darkness itself.

Yet, our fear of the dark, in this day and age, is unfounded. While it's true that it's easier for danger to hide in the dark, say a mugger hiding in the shadows or a rapist hiding in the bushes, the darkness itself is not evil. Yet the first thing we all do when we come home late at night, me included, is turn on some lights; more than is needed to see where we're going. We turn the lights on for comfort. What do our sophisticated, 21st century minds fear now? Surely we don't still fear vampires, witches, and werewolves, oh my!

I suppose, being human, our biggest fear is death. When people die, we close their eyes. When we close our own eyes, we see darkness. Hmmm … when we close our eyes its dark, so dead people must be in the dark, therefore darkness has something to do with death, and we don't understand death, so since we don't understand it, we fear it . Ah! Now we're getting somewhere!

We don't understand it.

What we really fear, then, is the unknown. And what is more unknown than our inner selves, our secret beings? Perhaps the darkness we really fear is the darkness inside ourselves. Our secret demons live deep in the darkness we call our brains. We can't see them; it's too dark, but we know they're there. Every now and then they make their presence known. As Dexter would say, they are our Dark Passengers.

We've all found ourselves pushed to the limit at one time or another in life. Some of us snap, let that Dark Passenger loose, and our lives are forever ruined. Most of the time we manage to control the demon within, keep him lurking in the blackness of our minds, tucked away safe and sound. Just being reminded that he's there, though, and so very strong, scares us.

Which brings us full circle: This, in my opinion, is why the Friday after Thanksgiving is called "Black Friday". It's the day that, when dropped into a shopping mall or Super Center, we all allow our Dark Passengers to come out and play; and that, indeed, is a very frightening prospect.