Category: Social Issues

State of the Zeitgeist

2017 was interesting, to say the least. All things considered, I’d say that the one word that sums up this year would have to be “hectic.” From culture to historical events, there was simply a lot going on. As we reexamine the past twelve months and promise ourselves to improve over the next twelve, we’ll have a lot to consider.

The fashion industry, particularly, had a year that merits some reflection. The push for diversity and cultural respect has never been stronger; however, the industry has proven to be completely unprepared for this. PR disasters surrounding appropriation and tokenism plagued 2017 as brands attempted to give consumers what they thought they wanted.

The editorial side of fashion also had a pretty unfortunate year. Most notably, the Terry Richardson scandal disrupted many collaborations. In addition, multiple bloggers were vocal about the discrete advertising and bias found in many magazines. What’s worst is that the disconnect between consumers and brands and the unethical journalism were simply icing on a cake of runway shows that many viewed as “boring.”

The hip-hop industry, on the other hand, had a year that was far from boring. Most of the many projects that came out this year found themselves on one end of the spectrum, complete trash or certified hit. The abundance of collaborations and mumble rap generated so much noise that it was easy to miss the lackluster work.

I must admit, though, I am disappointed with just how much lackluster work there was to miss. I, like many others, was hoping that the introduction of the Trump administration would inspire some brilliant music as well as fashion. Instead, all we got was a few powerful protests, but many more empty ones.

My hope is that going into 2018 we’ll find inspiration in both our 2017 failures and successes, creatively and socially. While New Year’s resolutions are a bit cliche, they do help us to be honest with ourselves and seek improvement. So my hope is that every creative and/or activist who comes across this dedicates themselves to contributing to the spirit of the times in a way that is no less than phenomenal in 2018.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Disrespectful, Inappropriate and Necessary.

For over a year now, Colin Kaepernick has been using his platform as an NFL superstar to protest police brutality. On Friday, September 22, 2017, a group of Howard University students protested this year’s Convocation speaker, James Comey, during convocation.

In both instances, I have seen people call the protestors “disrespectful” and tell them that what they were doing was “inappropriate.” I find this both amusing and troubling. A protest, by definition, is an act of civil disobedience and “disobedience” almost promises that the act will “disrespectful” and “inappropriate.”  A protest is meant to make you uncomfortable; it’s meant to make you upset. If those who I’m protesting enjoy my protest, then I’m doing it wrong.

Oppressed people have two options: be loud and obnoxious until you get enough attention to change things or suffer in silence. In my opinion, to suffer in silence is to willingly accept what’s being done to you.

In my favorite Zora Neale Hurston quote, she says, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Colin Kaepernick decided not to let anyone believe that he enjoyed police brutality. The group of Howard students who protested during convocation decided not to let anyone believe that they enjoyed a symbol of an unjust system being welcomed into their safe space.

Those acts are things I can respect. What I cannot respect, however, is respectability politics and the choosing of white comfort over Black lives. The”disrespectful” and “inappropriate” argument against protest sounds a lot like “be a good nigger and don’t start no trouble.”

When in actuality, trouble is exactly what we need. The “good trouble” John Lewis spoke of is so necessary. You can’t disregard people and then expect their opposition to be pleasant. Pleasence is too easy to ignore. You cannot let yourself be ignored and you shouldn’t encourage others to let themselves be ignored. Agency requires ruffling more than a few feathers.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

 

The Future of The Red Hat

 

One of the most cringe-worthy sights I face living in DC today is bright red hats. I find myself preparing for the rage that’s sure to come when I read the ridiculous phrase displayed on them. Whether someone is wearing one or selling one (ironically usually right next t-shirts depicting the Obamas), the sight of a Make America Great Again hat makes my skin crawl.

Recently, I was at Union Station when I saw a boy who couldn’t have been more than ten years old place one of the hats on his head. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at his parents, but then I thought about him as a parent. Would he teach his children that “make America great again” was a phrase of patriotism or hate? If patriotism, would it be because he truly believed it or would it be because he was slightly ashamed to admit the true meanings behind the message?

This brought me to a story that my friend Jaylin told me earlier that week. Jaylin had encountered a lady who was sure that the confederate flag on her chest was a sign of pride; the woman even preached to Jaylin about her rights as an American as if she wasn’t wearing a symbol of treason. This woman knew as little about what she was wearing as those chanting “make American great again” while living off of the Affordable Care Act know about what they’re supporting.

This leaves me with the question, “what will be the future of the Make America Great Again memorabilia?” Will it be viewed as a symbol of ignorance for those who understand history to laugh at, or will it be viewed as a symbol of an important shift in American history?

Obviously, my hope would be the former, but I’m not sure. It seems laughable that Trump’s ideologies will be the governing principles for more than fours years (if that), but last October it seemed laughable that they’d become the governing principles at all. Only time can tell what will become of the red hats.

When I say that fashion is an invaluable indicator of time, this is what I mean. I hate to call those bright red eyesores “fashion,” but they are a textbook political fashion statement. As scary as it may sound, when people read the phrase “make America great again” in decades to come they’ll think of today. The only question is what kind of thoughts the words will conjure.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Nautica, Lil Yachty and the Economic Engine

It’s a pretty well-known fact that hip-hop has expanded from just a genre to an entire culture that reaches every facet of its fans’ lives and has a major impact on pop culture as a whole. Because of this, it’s safe to say that hip-hop artists and fans have become an economic engine creating extremely profitable trends. Many companies have taken notice of this and began to capitalize on this influence.

Most recently Nautica has named rapper, Lil Yachty, as their newest Creative Designer. The relationship between the two began in 2016 when Yachty served as the face for Nautica’s Urban Outfitters collection. This partnership expansion couldn’t have come at a better time for the company who has been struggling to remain relevant with younger demographics. Yachty is popular right now and easily recognizable by his red hair and beads; moreover, his style shows a love for the 90’s vintage style clothes that many would associate with Nautica. Also, it’s kind of hard to miss the connection between Lil Yachty aka Lil Boat and Nautica’s obvious sailor connotation.

Yachty told WWD, “Nautica is like a part of me. It’s for kids, sailors, grown men and cool people… The old designs, the new designs, I think it’s dope. There’s not really much out there like Nautica.”

Along with the announcement of their newest team member, Nautica released a limited-edition collection curated by Lil Yachty that included re-releases of vintage logo t-shirts and pullover fleeces, among other items. This collection fits in perfectly with Yachty’s style of bringing back 90’s streetwear which is extremely popular right now.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see Lil Yachty grow as an artist and potentially as a player in the fashion industry. While his position as a Creative Designer with Nautica is only for 2017, I believe that it may be expanded once Nautica sees the full impact of having a hip-hop artist on board. I’m also excited to see more brands partner with members of the hip-hop community.

I’d much rather see brands incorporate the people making the trends into their teams, instead of trying to figure it out on their own. When rappers, especially new rappers, are brought on board with major companies I can’t help but be happy to see the fashion industry deciding to share the wealth. With all that the hip-hop/Black community has created and done for pop culture and fashion, we at least deserve a piece of the pie.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Why We Need A Black Mirror

Deddeh Howard is a 27 year old model, fashion blogger and medical student (that’s what I call Black girl magic). Recently, images of the Liberian-born model have flooded social media sites such as Twitter. These popular photos were a part of a series entitled Black Mirror, created by Howard and photographer, Raffael Dickreuter, in response to a lack of diversity in the modeling industry.

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Howard told People “I was looking for ethnic models [while trying to find blog inspiration], and I realized that I could count the Black models. I freaked out. It was almost like a slap that woke me up, like, ‘Wow, we are really underrepresented.’”

I, along with many others I’m sure, recognize Deddeh’s realization all too well. I was about a sophomore in high school when I really began to notice the lack of ethnic models posing in magazines and walking runways. I tried to ignore it at first because of my love for the fashion industry. At that time, I wouldn’t dare question the industry that I hoped to one day join. However, I now plan on not only joining, but overhauling the whole business, so I’m much less hesitant to share my critiques.

In fact, the same issue that Howard and Dickreuter chose to shed light on has grown from a critique to a priority for me. The lack of diverse models is one of the fashion industry’s major downfalls and is sure to have troubling effects on young girls of various races.

Agencies and designers love to point to their token dark skin model when asked about diversity, but to be candid, that’s bullshit. That one Black girl walking your runway with twenty White girls just doesn’t suffice. Also, “diverse” is so much more than Black and White. When the little Asian, Hispanic and Native American girls flip through magazines, they want to see themselves too.

Howard shared one photo from the Black Mirror series on Instagram, coupled with a caption that read “What do you mean you already have 2 to 5 models that look like me? Did you say the same thing to the 50-100 white models you already have?”

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I can guarantee you that the answer to that question is no. According to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, 69.73 percent of models who walked in New York Fashion Week 2016 were White, 13.29 percent were Black, 7.37 percent were Asian, 4.47 percent were Latina and 0.57 percent were Middle Eastern. While this is an improvement from the 75.25 percent White models reported following last year’s Fashion Week, it’s not enough. CFDA’s efforts towards inclusion are commendable, but that doesn’t mean we should stop viewing this as a problem.

Until there comes a day where you can’t count the number of Black models in a show or magazine on one hand (or even have to think about doing such a thing) and you don’t have to hope that at least one other minority will be represented as well, I’d still count lack of diversity as a major issue within the fashion industry. The time when shows have an equal or slightly smaller number of White models might not come until I’m well into my career, but it will be the product of the work of Howard, Dickreuter, members of the CFDA, myself and so many others and therefore is well worth the wait.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Black Women Don’t Have Time For Jokes

 

The New Yorker recently published a review of Donald Glover’s new show, Atlanta, by Emily Nussbaum. In this in-depth piece, Nussbaum discussed the various main characters of the show and what they offered to the story. However, the one character who Nussbaum merely glossed over was Van. She quickly mentions Van and then moves on to cover the humor of Atlanta. The one point she made about the only major female character is that she does not get to be funny.

I both agree and disagree with this statement. I find humor in Van’s no-nonsense attitude when it comes to Earn because it’s relatable. This attitude brings humor in the form of familiarity for me because it’s the same way that my mother deals with my father and the way my aunts deal with my uncles. However, it is true that Van is the only one who doesn’t blatantly crack jokes. I had never really noticed this before reading Nussbaum’s review because to be completely honest, I didn’t expect jokes from Van.

When I saw her I saw the familiar image of a Black woman who is trying to take care of herself and her family and doesn’t have time for much else. Van has a steady job and a home while Earn is barely making enough to support himself, is homeless (but “not real homeless”) and often tries to convince Van to let him spend the night. Basically, it is her responsibility to put their family on her back and be the real adult.

This is the reality for many Black women who are the backbones of their families. Black women are incredibly strong simply because they have to be. Often left with no other option, Black women are used to having to do it all without breaking a sweat. Grandmothers, singles mothers and aunties are the closest many Black kids ever get to superheroes.

That load doesn’t leave much time for giggles. Not to say that these are always hard, angry women, but they’re just under tremendous pressure. When you have to worry about work, finances, kids and sometimes grown men who never learned to be men, you understandably become stressed and serious at most times. The occasional deep breath and laugh is something that is cherished by these women.

To give Van too many moments where she’s delivering punchlines would take away from the authenticity that fans and critics love about Atlanta. Just like Earn, Alfred (Paper Boi) and Darius, Van is trying to make it through life with the cards dealt to her, and as a black woman, that hand often includes a lot of hard work and not many jokes.

 

Be the zeitgeist.