Last week as many Americans finished their Thanksgiving dinners, they had great deals on their minds. A perennial pastime at the intersection of being thankful for what we have and doing whatever it takes to get a great deal on the things we do not yet have, Black Friday is a most peculiar event. While the debate over the future of Black Friday at traditional retailers versus online retailers appears to have tipped in the favor of online retailers once-and-for-all, Turkey has just begun to adopt the post-Thanksgiving shopping event, surprisingly with much controversy.
In the last three years, Turks have begun to see local retailers emulating U.S. retailers and adopting their own Black Friday sales. With sluggish consumer spending globally, retailers are ready to embrace whatever gimmick they can to increase sales, Black Friday being no exception. In Turkey, however, the controversy around the sales event has taken a particularly ugly turn. Videos have surfaced in the media of customers berating shop owners for celebrating what they view as an anti-Islamic holiday. Friday is, after all, the holy day of the week they contend and the use of the word "Black" is meant to be disparaging. The observance of Friday as an official holy day was done away with in the early years of the Republic of Turkey, instead altering the "weekend" to observe the Jewish and Christian holy days of Saturday and Sunday. Government offices and business operate as usual on Fridays in Turkey.
To anyone who has stood in a Black Friday line, the thought that a world a way the practice could be construed as insensitive would be the furthest thing from one's mind. Those that argue against the use of the term "Black Friday" in Turkey range from those who don't feel adoption of a U.S. holiday makes sense for local retailers to those who believe the U.S. holiday is in bad faith and intended to be Islamophobic. While there are various explanations for the origins of the term one thing is clear, Black Friday was not meant to be a slight against the holy day of Islam.
With the advent of social media, one video in which someone claims that the holiday openly disparages Islam and its holy day of the week spreads like wildfire. Those who have no idea what Black Friday is are first exposed to it in this wildly provocative manor. The tweets and videos are generally responded to by the voice of reason in which the accusations of being Islamophobic are dismissed, but not before the original user's accusations are spread to thousands of new readers. By now, nearly a week after Black Friday, many Turks regard the event in a bad light. The perception that it is Islamophobic has been adopted by many, raising the question, what went wrong?
While there is really no way to respond to those who claim the term "Black Friday" itself is meant to be Islamophobic, there needs to be a meaningful response to those who argue the use of the term is insensitive in a country that is 99 percent Muslim. What's most interesting about the controversy, however, is that Turks very enthusiastically celebrate other holidays invented by the United States. Christmas in its current form is uniquely American and many Muslim Turks combine the practices of Christmas with New Year's celebrating it on New Year's eve, Santa Claus, Christmas Tree, lights, and all. Mother's Day and Father's Day are both holidays first officially celebrated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 and 1916 respectively and Turks religiously celebrate both holidays. The burning of St. Valentine at the stake, aka Valentine's Day, is also widely celebrated in Turkey. So why the sudden backlash against Black Friday?
Social media has given a voice to both those ignorant to facts and those who aim to cause a division among the Turkish populace. Polarizing an already polarized country benefits those that benefit from discord, whomever they may be. Is the Black Friday controversy a well-orchestrated attempt to cause divisions and help opposition leaders paint the government as soft on Islamophobia? Probably not, but the spontaneous combustion of backlash against the holiday is nothing short of incredible.
In the future multinational retailers may need to do a better job at researching local sensitivities while consumers should research the origins of holidays without jumping to conclusions. Cross-cultural understanding is desperately needed globally, especially in times of global conflict.
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