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Black Friday

By Terry Joseph
March 25, 2005

Though they remain tempting topics, this column is not about the ethnicity of Jesus Christ, nor does it attempt to support folklore about swimmers who brave the waves risking transformation into dark fishes, or the jingo about obfuscation of the sun's rays for three symbolic hours this afternoon and obviously, it has nothing to do with today's date.

In fact, had this very piece been written at an earlier turn of my 25-year career as a writer of opinion columns, the word "Black" might, with equal convenience, have been attached to Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday, those being other days of the week on which my views have been aired in the variety of newspapers with which I worked since first publication in The Challenge on September 24, 1979.

Against that backdrop, readers will appreciate that today's theme is not primarily inspired by commemoration of Biblical events which transpired in 33 AD but since this article seeks to examine selected purchasing trends among Black people and is published on Friday, the title volunteered itself; although the more thin-skinned of the tribe will likely conjure up comparison with the concept of being nailed to a cross or stereotyped as the "bobolee".

The persecution syndrome that violently kicked in last year when Bill Cosby dared to publicly air his opinion about fellow Blacks and just a couple months ago put calypsonian Cro Cro in the crosshairs for singing "Chop Off Their Hands", never quite relaxes although, in the latter example, an almost exclusively Black audience last Wednesday at the Mas Camp Pub crooned along gleefully as he belted out the contentious chorus.

From the stage, Cro Cro posited that the song spoke of a personal child-rearing philosophy and does not propose summary amputation of the limbs of recalcitrant Black children as a tribal solution. It is worth remembering, however, that seven years after he released the equally provocative "Corruption in Common Entrance", a State-commissioned enquiry found evidence to support his theory; initially described as "racist".

We can safely expect much the same first-response to Black American nationally-syndicated columnist and author, Yolanda Young, whose analysis in USA Today of findings by two research groups, Target Market, a company that tracks Black consumer spending in the US and the National Urban League's "State of Black America 2004" report, is more than a mere curtain-raiser for her next book-SPADE: A Critical Look at Black America.

Headlined: "Black spending habits ... alarming but not surprising", the article noted although African-Americans were largely the victims of an unemployment rate north of ten per cent, her people were contrarily spending more and mostly on frivolous consumerism, Young's early paragraphs reading somewhat like the lyrics of calypsonian Pink Panther's sardonic "Laughing in the Ghetto" spoof.

"In many poor neighbourhoods, one is likely to notice satellite dishes and expensive new cars," Young wrote, citing Target Market as saying: "Blacks spend a significant amount of their income on depreciable products." While the American economy nose-dived, the tribe spent US $22.9 billion on clothes, $3.2 billion on electronics and $11.6 billion on furniture to put into homes that, in many cases, were rented.

Among favourite purchases by Blacks are cars and liquor. Comprising just 12 per cent of the US population, Blacks account for 30 per cent of the country's Scotch whisky consumption. Detroit, which is 80 per cent Black, is the world's leading market (per capita) for Cognac.

So impressed was automaker Lincoln-Mercury with the $46.7 billion Blacks spent on its cars, the firm commissioned entertainment and fashion mogul, Sean "P Diddy" Combs to customise a limited-edition Navigator. His suggested improvements (ostentatious frippery, really) included six plasma screens, three DVD players and a Sony PlayStation 2.

The National Urban League's report found that fewer than 50 per cent of Black families owned homes compared with more than 70 per cent of Whites and according to a Charles Schwab 2003 Black Investor Survey, my people saved far less, were similarly delinquent in retirement provisions and their investment portfolios trailed those of other ethnic groups.

Not altogether surprisingly, the only area in which Blacks cut back over the period 2000 to 2002 was in the purchase of books, which dropped by a whopping 17 per cent. Since we all know local Blacks largely take their template from US counterparts and literacy levels among members of the tribe is said to have taken a dive in recent time, it is less than risky to conclude much the same pattern evolved here.

Which brings us back to Panther, Cro Cro and, of course, Black Friday, a time of contemplation, sacrifice and-even in the face of Yolanda Young's damning analysis-the Good Book's promise that we shall rise again which, if Black purchasing trends hold, might forever remain a secret.

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