by Sharon H. Chang
Every year people living in the United States spend obscene amounts of money on the holidays. This Black Friday, for instance, Americans just spent a record 5 billion dollars in 24 hours, and by the end of the fiscal year retailers are expecting total holiday revenues of over 680 billion dollars.
That’s a lot of fundage; the kind that could go a long way towards oh, say, drastically reducing or even eradicating inequity. Put into practice by everyday holiday consumers, well-known adages like “put your money where your mouth is” and “vote with your dollar,” could clearly do some serious social good.
Instead, however, corporate giants like Wal-Mart, Costco, and especially Amazon typically capture the largest chunks of our gluttonous money pie. Meanwhile companies like these often have oppressive impacts on the neighborhoods we live in (e.g. racist employment practices, driving up housing prices, pushing out People of Color and the poor)–as those of us who live in Seattle know all too well.
So how about changing it up a little? What could it look like if we, the average consumer, made some different decisions about how and where we spent our money this holiday season? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Support Indigenous and POC
Easy first step. Purchase your gifts from Indigenous Peoples and POC (People of Color); the same groups who are less likely to get your business than anyone because of barriers put in place by systemic racism.
The Duwamish Native Holiday Gift Fair has been held at the Duwamish Longhouse for several years in November but this is the first time it’s being held across four months through the end of the year. “We’ve never done it before but I’m like you know what,” Indigenous Artist and Organizer John Romero said in November, “it’s a great opportunity for non-Natives…to come and participate and find out it’s not the ‘Thanksgiving thing,’ the ‘pilgrims and indians.’”
The Duwamish are Seattle’s first people, descendant from Chief Sealth after which the city is named, though many Seattleites are likely unaware of this fact. Many Seattleites also probably don’t know the Duwamish tribe continues to be denied federal recognition even as we live and shop on their ancestral land. Romero hopes the community will come out and raise their awareness at the last Duwamish Holiday Gift Fair the weekend of December 15th featuring 18-22 Indigenous artists.
Some of those Indigenous artists can be found online too like Coast Salish Artist, Peter Boome, Blackfeet Ledger Artist and Painter, Terrance Guardipee, and Indigenous Artist & Designer, Ixtli White Hawk.
Which reminds that a lot of gems can be found on the Interwebs such as WeBuyBlack.com, the largest online marketplace for Black owned businesses, and EyesSeeMe.com, providing positive children’s books about African American culture and history. Locally, Libyan American artist Koloud “Kay” Tarapolsi sells art promoting positive images of Arab and Islamic culture at A Crafty Arab, and Native Works sells jewelry by Indigenous apprentices with proceeds supporting Seattle’s homeless Native community.
Put Down the Smartphone and Start Moving
However the Net can’t be our final destination. Online shopping is convenient, sure. But e-commerce is also dominated by Amazon which is (a) overtaking/undermining local brick-and-mortars seemingly by the minute and (b) an arena where individuals and small business often can’t compete.
It’s very difficult to maintain a strong web presence so many Indigenous Peoples and POC don’t have websites at all, much less integrated online stores. For instance, half of the artists I spoke with at the Duwamish Fair in November did not have websites and at least half of the vendors at the POC Boutique pop-up last weekend in the Central District also did not have websites.
POC Boutique Organizer, Jamila Dow, handcrafts unique jewelry with fellow-artist Kyla Crawford. The partners vend together as KJ Jewelry. Dow wanted to do something more incorporative of People of Color and launched the POC Boutique last year in September. Because of limited time though, Dow said, it’s hard to advertise and get the word out about the pop-up. KJ Jewelry does not have a website and Dow does what she can on social media. “I just really want people to know we’re here.”
Leading us, as shoppers, to a not-so-easy next step. Sometimes we need to put down that smartphone and step away from the screen. If travel is accessible, try visiting physical businesses, Indigenous and POC-owned stores, holiday markets like the Duwamish Gift Fair, or pop-ups like Dow’s next Boutique, POC Season’s Greetings Boutique, happening today at the Black Zone. Then, when you get hungry, eat at Indigenous and POC-owned restaurants and food trucks.
“I think it’s really important to come support People of Color in what they’re trying to do,” Dow emphasized. “I don’t think our businesses are always recognized and really stand out there in the community.” Pop-ups, Dow pointed out, are additionally a great way for vendors of color themselves to build community, share and support each other.
Upcoming in Seattle:
Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, Dec 3, 9, 17
Centilia Cultural Center, Saturday, December 16
Darius X Studio on Beacon Hill, December 16
Eighth Generation Pike Place Market store, various days in December through the 24th
The Sacred Hoop, December 22-24
#GivingTuesday Didn’t End On Tuesday
Lastly, it’s worth remembering that spending money this holiday season doesn’t have to be about getting something in return. You may have noticed your favorite nonprofits and organizations asking for financial support all on the same day earlier this week. Celebrated the Tuesday following “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving to honor and encourage philanthropy. The movement was launched in 2012 and just observed it’s sixth birthday. It’s a time when all kinds of good and charitable causes step forward with arms linked and ask community to join them. If you have the means, donating is always a good idea.
And it gets better! Giving doesn’t start and end on just this one Tuesday. You can still give on any other day of the year. You can also give things other than money like new and lightly-used goods or your time and services. Do some research into reputable, community-based organizations–of which there are many–find out what their needs are, and give now as well as all year round.
All that said, December has taken hold and the consumer storm has unquestionably begun. Happy (or good luck?) shopping everyone–and please do remember to support Indigenous, POC and local this holiday season.
*Note to Readers: The businesses, orgs, events, artists and vendors, listed herein are not at all meant to provide a comprehensive list of Indigenous and POC endeavors to support. There are many more wonderful, important and creative efforts out there. Please use this article merely as a launching point to continue your discoveries and patronage.
Sharon H. Chang is an activist, photographer, and award-winning writer. She is the author of the acclaimed book Raising Mixed Race (2016) and is currently working on her second book looking at Asian American women and gendered racism.
Featured image: Wearable art by Ixtli White Hawk (photo: Sharon H Chang)