Resisting #FakeJoy with #WokeShopping

colorful boxes and woman in silhouette looking for #wokeshopping Illustration by JA Laflin
Illustration by JA Laflin

Thanksgiving is over and shopping season has officially kicked off with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Lucky for you I cannot run with y’all who are scouring Amazon or camping out at Target for the latest deals. (Yay, more deals for you!) I don’t participate in the annual height of capitalism during the holiday season and I especially don’t understand why the shopping that occurs at this point in the year is the basis for how we measure “consumer confidence.” (Confession: I failed economics class in college and don’t know what the hell all that actually means for America’s economic health.) In my younger years, I found myself lulled into feeling great satisfaction as I walked out of Target at 7am the day after Thanksgiving with a cart full of “deals,” as if I had saved a kitten stuck in a tree, only to later wonder how did my personal happiness come to be defined by scoring Black Friday deals? When did reproducing and strengthening American capitalist structures become so gratifying?

I came to the conclusion that the glee and exhilaration of scoring a cart full of gifts and things I thought I needed at 75% off the original price because everything in the store was 50% off and I had a coupon in my email for another 25% was nothing but fleeting joy, or #FakeJoy as I now call it.

#FakeJoy happens when you go to Dave and Busters with your kid, and you both are all excited and happy to win all those “tickets” for playing whatever ridiculous game with tokens that you can’t easily convert back into any kind of meaningful equivalent to the amount you actually paid getting those points on your players’ card. And then you walk into the prize area and your “choices” of prizes are all crappy things that could be bought at the Dollar Store for twenty-five cents.  #FakeJoy is the realization that all of your happiness while playing whatever game of luck really earns you nothing significant except slap bracelets and squishy toys with bulgy eyes. You realize this “deal” is not a deal at all — especially one week later when you find neon bracelets and the half eaten ring pop shoved into the car seat.

#FakeJoy also happens when you go to whatever conference or trade show, and you get caught up in all the free things from vendors, which you drag back to your hotel room. And as you look at all the “loot” you’ve poured out of your free reusable grocery bag onto your bed, you think to yourself: what the hell am I going to do with eight stressballs, five two-in-one highlighter/pen sets, four branded plastic fidget spinners (you got for your nephews and nieces), one set of neon golf balls, endless pads of post-it notes of all sizes, and a blow up hammer that squeaks every time you bonk someone with it. You realize this deal really isn’t a deal when you’re unable to close your luggage now that it’s half-filled with with all this crap.   

But I digress.

Don’t get me wrong though – I’m not hating on y’all who were at Target at 5am on Black Friday. You do you. Full disclosure – I obviously come from a place of economic privilege to say that while I love it when I find a great deal, I can make the choice to not “save” this kind of money when I want. Over the years, I’ve realized that I derive greater pleasure and satisfaction when I give presents that are meaningful to and explore the connection I have with the gift recipient. So sometimes this means I give handmade things or personalized things or things that seem random to others but specifically refer to a shared experience. This method of gift giving helps me feel like the giving is meaningful and significant, not rushed or about my personal satisfaction because I scored the latest amazing deal. I have gotten great feedback from friends who I’ve given gifts to (or maybe they’re too polite to be honest about  how crappy my “thoughtful” gifts actually are).   

Resisting capitalism is pretty hard in itself because every retail business tells me gift-giving is a problem and it is easily solvable with two, at most three, clicks on their website. This season gift-giving matters are even more complicated because there’s currently a distinct trend in conspicuous consumption – the commodification of activism in fashion. (Also check out Sara Tatyana Bernstein’s recent Dismantle piece on Social Justice Chic.) With the growth of “girl power” and protest chic made possible by the popular tastes of a millennial generation who grew up with multicultural holidays in school, manufactured diversity in media, and political correctness savvy, buying clothes to embody a particular political statement is very “in” at the moment. While not new (we all have protest t-shirts in our closets), embodied politics in fashion represent the latest frontier of profit generation in mass fashion consumption. A simple google search for “feminist t-shirts” brings up over two million results for places your can buy something to put on that declares your feminism. It has never been easier to put together the perfect outfit to go to a Pride Parade or a Women’s March. T-shirts are an easy way embody these politics and websites proliferate feminism to you and your friends for a mere $25 plus shipping and handling (5-7 business days free delivery).  

Big box retailers are no strangers to appropriating Social Justice chic. Examples abound, including some of our favorite fast fashion brands like Forever 21 or online merchandisers who turn a profit ripping off the latest protest t-shirt supporting social justice issues. (#Femvertising is a real thing y’all.) Who knows where the profits for these politically correct t-shirts go? Does your Black Lives Matter t-shirt actually help fund activities to end police violence? Does your #NoDAPL t-shirt actually help fund the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe activities? Or better yet, does your Undocumented and Unafraid t-shirt actually help pay for legal fees when undocumented immigrants are filing for DACA?

A handful of places exist where you can purchase items that directly benefit anti-oppression and social justices causes at the grassroots level. Many of these websites also offer additional education and resources for you to learn about what’s going on. Several organizations I’ve supported in the past are offering opportunities to do some #WokeShopping this holiday season. For example, some musical theater, Hamilton-obsessed friends told me about the Love Is Love t-shirt supported by Lin-Miranda Manuel that helps fund Orlando hurricane relief and LGBT rights. Melissa Hung, freelance writer and blogger, designed the Year of the Resistance Rooster (this image appearing on tote bags and other products) to support the National Immigrant Law Center. (Also watch out for rip-offs of her work!)

Another gem and my personal fave is the Haikus on Hotties calendar benefitting Angry Asian Man. Now in their third production, this calendar of hot Asian men will leave you breathless. The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) advocates for Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls and offers several products that will please your feminist Asian American friends. Shop With a Heart is a full line of products that directly benefit The Garment Worker Center that organizes low-wage garment workers for social and economic justice. Finally, as Audre Lorde (1984) wrote in Sister Outsider, “There is no such thing as a single issue because we don’t live single issue lives”; Undocumedia offers the only intersectional issues t-shirt I’ve yet to see.

While #WokeShopping is a way to resist capitalism and the trappings of political chic, grassroots organizations and non-profits have reclaimed the Tuesday after Black Friday as #GivingTuesday. As an alternative to buying more stuff in general, I’ve donated in friends’ and loved ones’ behalf for #GivingTuesday as a way directly ensure that grassroots organizations can continue making an impact.

If you have more to add to this growing list, or ways you’re thinking differently about gift-giving, tweet at me at @dawnleetu. I’ll add your suggestions to my #WokeShopping pinterest board. Happy holidays and I hope your #WokeShopping keeps #FakeJoy away!

Help us make more work like this by heading to our Support Us page! Then follow us on Facebook,Twitter, or Instagram.