Black Friday didn’t start with Amazon, gift wrapping or 30% off this or that. It didn’t even start, as the story goes, with shopkeepers coming out of the red and into the black due to the hordes of Christmas shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving.
The first Black Friday was on 18 November 1910, and it was in England. This was the day that some 300 women marched on Parliament, furious that Prime Minister Asquith called an election, meaning that Parliament would soon be dissolved and that the Conciliation Bill, giving some women the right to vote, was going to be scuppered. The Conciliation Bill was far from ideal, allowing only women property owners to vote, but it had already passed its first and second readings and was likely to pass into law. This was going to be momentous, a start of things to come on the road to full suffrage for women.
The women who converged on Parliament were angry and loud, but not violent. The violence came from police officers and men in the crowd. Some 30 women were seriously injured and a few days later two women died from what some sources believe d were conditions brought on by the police beatings.
Equally disturbing was the level of sexual violence perpetrated on these women. One suffragette noted: ‘Several times constables and plain-clothes men who were in the crowds passed their arms round me from the back and clutched hold of my breasts in as public a manner as possible, and men in the crowd followed their example… My skirt was lifted up as high as possible, and the constable attempted to lift me off the ground by raising his knee. This he could not do, so he threw me into the crowd and incited the men to treat me as they wished.’ (Source: British Museum)
Black Friday has come to mean an orgy of consumerism, the start of the Christmas shopping season. On the internet it takes place all weekend and in France it’s a week of ‘Black Fridays’. (Obviously, something got misplaced in translation.) So far removed from its original use and so little known to the average English-speaking person, Black Friday serves as a reminder of what we have come to value and what we choose to forget.