Tag: Protest

Redefining Protest

The recent PR fiascos in fashion took no break for Black History Month. In fact, some even felt that brands had decided to use the month as an opportunity to stir up some buzz by antagonizing the Black community. Balmain’s late January blackface incident, Gucci’s questionable sweater design and Burberry’s blatantly bizarre use of a noose on the runway caused understandable outrage on social media.

As with all social media conversations sparked by outrage, boycotting inevitably came up. Most people seem to agree that if brands can’t be culturally sensitive then they don’t deserve the Black dollar, yet it still seems boycotting is something that’s hard for us to commit to.

Just as everyone else, arguably even more, luxury brands are an aspiration for much of the Black community. Labels are a symbol of wealth and as an oppressed people, it feels good to look and feel upper-class occasionally; furthermore, for those who have obtained substantial wealth it feels good to finally flaunt. This is why there are countless Gucci and Prada references in hip-hop.

In the spirit of protest, though, Young MA says at the end of her “Thotiana” remix, “we ain’t buying Gucci, we ain’t buying Prada,” likely referencing the aforementioned Gucci sweater as well as Prada keychains that went viral in December 2018 for similar reasons.

However, when discussing protests we may have to broaden how we view the issue. I saw someone on Twitter note that Black people can’t protest luxury brands because we buy knockoffs instead of the real thing. While I think it’s important to note that everyone buys knockoffs, not just Black people, this got me thinking about the stigma behind fake luxury pieces, because although they’re common they’re still a source of shame.

What Dapper Dan proved over 30 years ago, though, is that it doesn’t matter if its authentic as long as it fly. His now iconic work was often made from knockoff materials because at the time high-end brands had no interest in this Black man’s shop in Harlem. He was a pest who received numerous cease and desist letters.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’re simultaneously looking for an effective means of protest while shaming people wearing fake labels. To me, the answer is evident. While I obviously see that value in authentic fashion and wouldn’t normally encourage counterfeits, there is no protest in doing what you should and normally would do.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

 

Balmain, Black Face and (Possibly Fake) Ignorance

I almost can’t believe that I’m writing this in the year of our Lord 2019, but then again stuff like this shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

Balmain closed Couture Week in Paris on January 23 with Creative Director Oliver Rousteing’s first-ever couture collection. The show was supposed to be a big one for obvious reasons: it was Rousteing’s first couture collection, it was the week closer and it was Balmain’s first couture showing in 16 years. However, it ended up being the talk of the industry for something no one expected: the beauty look.

Rousteing’s Spring/Summer 2019 vision was one in complete black and white apparently as models were covered in either ghost white or pitch black makeup depending on their skin tone. The odd beauty look, which was done by Val Garland, was immediately called out by many on social media as black face (and white face).

Of course there were also those who argued that the makeup couldn’t have been rooted in racism because Rousteing is partially Black himself and there was white face involved as well. It should be pointed out, though, that Rousteing was raised by adopted white parents and doesn’t identify as a particular race, but as “human.” I will also add that I don’t believe the beauty look was rooted in malicious racism either. I believe it was rooted in tone-deafness, which is almost just as bad in this age of information.

A simple search into black face would reveal its ugly history in minstrel shows. White actors dressed in black face perpetuated stereotypes as a means of entertainment and justifying racism for years and when Black actors were finally given opportunities to work they were forced to don the same black face.

To present a beauty look even reminiscent of this is irresponsible and offensive, but it seems that such avoidable irresponsible and offensive occurrences keep happening in the fashion industry. H&M’s “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie and Prada’s monkey figurines last year are also examples of the kind of tone-deafness major brands keep finding themselves under fire for.

That fire, though, has brought these brands a lot of press and to some people all press is good press. There’s a running theory on social media that brands are only pretending to be ignorant in order to create controversy and garner attention. This creates a dilemma, do we ignore these instances and not reward brands with the influxes in views that go along with a scandal or continue to call them out?

To me, the answer will always be call them out. Unacceptable is unacceptable and we can’t accept it because we think we know the motive. Ignoring racist imagery would be encouraging it. If we ignore black face from Balmain it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll see it elsewhere soon.

The reality is that the closing show of Couture Week, or any fashion show, is just too big of a platform to display ignorance. Brands have a responsibility to understand the images they’re putting into the world. Doing the necessary research (and thinking) is not too much ask.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

What Classifies as an Award Show Fashion Statement?

Unsurprisingly, award shows have always been riddled with celebrity fashion statements. Nights such as The Grammys where all the stars (and cameras) gather are without a doubt a great time to speak up. However, it is also true that TV & Film award shows tend to have more subtle protests, while music award shows are more theatrical.

The point is that they all seem to get political in one way or another.  Some of the most notable recent award show fashion statements include Pharell dressing his backup dancers in hoodies to honor Trayvon Martin at the 2015 Grammys, various stars wearing blue ribbons to the 2017 Oscars to signify support of the ACLU and, of course, Joy Villa in her controversial “Make America Great Again” gown at last year’s Grammys.

This year, many celebrities elected to wear black to the Golden Globes to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual assault. The lack of color on the red carpet was definitely noticeable, but the problem is that it wasn’t really that groundbreaking. Many critiqued the protest by noting that black gowns at an award show are hardly a statement.

On the other hand, many artists at this year’s Grammys adorned white roses to support the cause. This protest, while still simple, seemed to say a little more. The white roses were obviously meant to symbolize something and weren’t easily confused with a regular Grammy accessory.

This difference is huge because a protest is hardly a protest if it doesn’t require much diverting from the status quo. Fashion statements, just like any other protest can’t afford to be subtle if they truly aim to make a difference. While TV & film award shows such as the Golden Globes don’t offer as many opportunities for performance art protests as music award shows do, they do offer just as much public attention, and therefore should be just as bold when it comes to their political fashion statements.

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.