Black History Month: Everyone Wants to be Black, Until it’s Time to be Black
Using fashion as a form of cultural expression to line your pockets, without real knowledge or understanding of the history you’re trying to replicate and imitate, is not only disrespectful to the craft but more importantly to the people. Black society has been defining culture and informing outsiders through art and fashion for centuries, but because the timeworn system doesn’t recognize this it’s often as if they’re not there – they don’t belong. The world is at a critical time right now where we need to be making real commitments, real progress, and real change… So why does it feel as if we’re heading 10 steps back?
The recent scandal between Kerby-Jean Raymond of fashion brand Pyer Moss and Imran Amed founder and Editor-in-chief of The Business of Fashion may be surprising to most, and by most, I mean anyone who works in fashion and isn’t black (which is the majority). Raymond had been meeting with Amed for months to discuss the annual #BOF500 lineup and was set to be on one of the covers until that is BOF decided to go in another direction. During this time it seems as if the Editor-in-chief had been extracting information from Kerby and was using him as an insight into the black community, then Kerby was excluded in favour of big brands who could cough up the cash. Cultural appropriation in the fashion industry under the guise of inclusivity for corporate gain isn’t anything new, and it’s far from okay. The commodification of black culture, when used by big businesses to ‘tell a story’ for profit, is offensive and harmful, and an insult to black communities across the globe. A lot of attention in fashion is given to diversity on the runways and that’s such a small part of what’s going on, people rarely take a look at the behind-the-scenes. If change is really wanted in fashion then invite black people to the table and let them be a part of the conversation, and make sure you pay attention and listen.
What’s most upsetting about this situation is black women are the ones suffering the most. Black women are constantly told they are too this or too that until it’s on-trend, they are the ones being used and objectified – yet they are never given an apology. Inequality in fashion and in the wider landscape is old news, and for black women, it’s just another roadblock in life’s ever-evolving narrative. Fashion as an industry, and the world as a whole needs to stop glorifying those who play a part in the systematic mistreatment and oppression of black women. Black women have never needed and will never need their white counterparts to make them feel whole and complete, that’s something they’ve known all along.
Industry exclusion no longer hurts the black community; it hurts those that are excluding black voices and leaving them out of the conversation as they’re missing out on the meaningful lasting work black culture in fashion can create. Black communities will always support each other, they don’t need anyone fighting their battles for them. Black art and black fashion has never needed outsider validation, and that’s not something I see changing anytime soon. Nevertheless, talented black creators are often overlooked, which is why it’s important that black individuals own brands/platforms and are in positions of power in the industry to tell their stories the right way. In the USA Harlem’s Fashion Row have launched In The Black an e-commerce site that champions designers of colour, giving them access to a side of the industry they may not otherwise have had. Initiatives like this are vital so that black communities can reclaim their narrative ensuring they’re represented correctly, and so that others seeing these changes happen know that they can claim their space too.
Sometimes, it can take for something negative to happen for some good to come from it. Black culture has been marginalised for so long, but thankfully the current generation is using their voices and platforms to not only educate but hopefully inspire. People of colour in fashion need to use their space and their voices to shine a light in the dark places, the areas we forget about and often neglect. Black society will continue celebrating each other, showing up for each other, and telling their stories the right way. As designer Aurora James said, “True change isn’t a trend, it takes more than one season.”
Written by J’Nae Phillips
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