Black Friday and White Noise

Customers check out at a Walmart store in Bentonville, Arkansas, with their Black Friday items on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (Photo: Gunnar Rathbun/AP)

Black Friday and White Noise

Here we go again, right on the heels of gorging ourselves in preparation for the frenetic commercialism of the holiday season. The relentless pursuit of consumer "goods" (which are almost universally bad for people and the planet) obscures the deeper possibilities of giving and sharing that exist just beneath the surface of our fragmented "political economy." At the same time, a charlatan demagogue was ostensibly elected on the promise of returning to people a figurative (or maybe even literal) lump of coal--which was supposed to be a bad thing, but what the heck. People rightly longed for change, but that may well be all they find in their till.

A lot of attention has been paid to the cadre of disaffected white voters who made that fateful decision in the ballot booth a couple of weeks ago. The common wisdom goes that this class was tired of having their jobs evaporate and their calls for help go unheard. Their economic dislocation was considered a potent enough galvanizing force for them to accept the empty rhetoric of a billionaire populist, perhaps even providing a basis to overlook the racist overtones of his campaign. Some of them may have welcomed those overtones; others may have been more interested in buying into the familiar security of that lump of coal and didn't really care about the implications. But hopefully they kept the receipt, since the time of returns is at hand.

While so much has been made about the alienation of these voters, less has been noted about the deeper disaffection of voters of color. Some African Americans may have opted out of this election, perhaps with due regard for the lack of a candidate who authentically cared about their lives and communities. Or maybe they were simply caught in the gears of a system in which their votes routinely have been suppressed or usurped. Subsequently, the media fixated on legitimizing the claims of disaffected white voters as an electoral tipping point, while the concerns of myriad others were discounted--providing an early rendition of "White Christmas."

So it's hard to assess any of this apart from an obviously racialized lens. For those who haven't been paying attention, "alt-right" isn't a new Americana musical genre--it's an old American power structure. The simultaneity of pandering to the dislocated, and demonizing the "other," has made it safe for the stain of our history to crawl out of the dustbin and back into the visible spectrum, from where it was supposed to have been permanently barred. Perhaps -isms would always be with us, but not like this anymore. The slippery slope of hate has a way of gaining momentum if not checked everywhere--and eventually traps even its purveyors in the end.

This is the backdrop for the upcoming holiday season. Now we get to be saturated in the white noise of crass consumerism, as our vestigial economy is sacrificed on the altar of environmental catastrophe. And we get to be bombarded by the post-election white noise of base nationalism, as our politics are sacrificed on the altar of racism and xenophobia. As always, the perpetuation of these cycles is conditioned on the populace buying into the premise that some people matter more than others, and that our consumer habits don't matter at all. Yet as history counsels, if they want to sell a big lie, just stop buying it. We don't need any more toys, or noise, this year.

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