Here’s an essay I wrote for my Public Affairs Reporting class that I felt was worth sharing.
From a very young age I knew that I wanted to work in fashion. I spent hours as a young girl sketching dresses and exploring my seamstress grandmother’s file cabinets full of patterns. At that age, I thought the only way to work in fashion was to be a designer, so that’s what I wanted to be. As I got older, though, I discovered an equally strong love for writing. At first I wasn’t sure had I’d converge my passions, but as a freshman in high school I was introduced to the idea of fashion journalism by my English teacher.
As I grew older I learned of oppression based on race, gender, sexual orientation and wealth. Exploring the hardships that marginalized people like myself have faced in the past and the systems that continue to work against them led me to discover another passion: activism. Again, I wasn’t sure how I’d combine all my interests. However, as I’ve learned at Howard University, the journalist’s role is to serve the people. Because of this, I believe honestly reporting on the flaws of the industry is one of my responsibilities as a fashion journalist. In order to do that kind of work on an impactful scale, though, I decided that I needed to be a fashion editor with the influence to create content as well as lead others to create content that with marginalized people in mind.
My other responsibility as a fashion journalist is just as much to the individuals who religiously patronize the industry as it is to the businesses that make up the industry. Among those who view clothes only for their day to day utility and are uninterested in fashion, the industry is often thought to be simply vain and superficial, but I aim to produce work that can change that. My love for fashion compels me to address it from a historical and political perspective in addition to the cultural perspective to highlight its significance.
All of this culminated to create what now stands as my ultimate goal. I aspire to become a fashion editor who by emphasizing fashion as a cultural, historical and political topic can simultaneously combat cultural insensitivity in the industry and elevate the public perception of the industry beyond just vanity. The work that I hope to do will positively affect the way people of color’s cultures are used and represented in fashion and media as well as highlight fashion as a serious historical discipline.
I believe this gives me a unique perspective as a journalist because although I am certainly not the first journalist to report on fashion with such goals, I believe there is a serious need for those voices to be amplified and although I would still be happy if it was done before I was able to, I want to be the one to amplify them, which is why I aim to be an editor rather than a reporter.
I am very aware, though that the reality is that the work I want to do will be difficult. Even if I wanted to be a general assignment reporter I’d have to work past the barriers that come along with being a Black woman journalist. It is simply a reality that being respected in any workplace as a marginalized individual can be a challenge. Then, there’s the added fact that I want to write about the issues that affect me. The problem here is I know I’ll be labeled as an “angry Black woman.” During a panel on campus, I asked Gillian B. White of The Atlantic how she dealt with this and she told me by relying on the facts. She said as long as she knew her reporting was based on facts the irrationality implied by the angry Black woman trope was invalidated. This sentiment has been echoed in Public Affairs Reporting, giving me the confidence to believe I’ll be able to produce despite the inevitable adversity.
On the other side of the coin, I’m also aware that my choosing to report on race issues probably reinforces the false expectation that all Black journalists want to report on race. I feel slightly guilty about this, but I hate the fact that I have to. One of my least favorite things about being a minority is being thought of as a spokesperson for my entire race. Obviously, all Black people aren’t going to agree with me on everything and just because I want to write about race doesn’t mean all Black reporters do but people some people are either still obtuse enough to believe that or choose to pretend to be.
Be the zeitgeist.