Updated: Sep 23, 2019
I must have missed the memo that was sent out about the way in which we as a country would celebrate the month that is historically been referred to as "Black History Month." Carter G. Woodson the Father of Negro History Week, which later became Black History Month (ironically, the shortest month of the year...but whatever) would be rolling over in his grave if he witnessed this year's commemoration of Black American's contribution to this body politic we call the United States of America. As we peruse the stories that have come out recently regarding this growing trend of "Blackface" revelations from politicians like Gov. Ralph Northam & Atty General Mark Herring to now high end fashion brands like Gucci & Prada selling satire latent clothes that are blatantly racist and offensive, it boggles my mind how these products made it from concept to fashion reality. Think about how many people within the company have to approve of a product like Gucci's Balaclava knit black sweater as seen above, before it went into production, only to be pulled from production once Gucci was immediately hit with a tremendous backlash. Think about how many sets of eyes would have seen this product go from concept to design to reality, and you mean to tell me no one had a problem with it until "WE" had a problem with it. That in and of itself is very disturbing.
Is this Black History Month or Blackface Month? Has the month of February, which historically has been celebrated around the country as Black History Month become a caricature for White America to poke fun at our culture? It is amazing to me how many stories just within the past weeks have surface regarding White politicians who have either admitted to wearing "Blackface" at one time or another, or their photographs have surfaced that they've either apologized for or like Gov. Ralph Northam of the Commonwealth of Virginia; whose medical school yearbook photos of him in Blackface and another white man dressed in a Klu Klux Klansman uniform, basically apologized for and then took it back. When the photos first surface Gov. Northam immediately apologized for the racist picture but later retracted the apology denying that it was him in the photograph, but admitting to wearing black face as a youth to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest. (Really?) News analysts, Political pundits to social media junkies are all calling for this Governor of Virginia to resign, because he clearly has lost the power to lead. A lot of thoughts are running through my head right now (even while i'm writing this blog), because it doesn't seem as cut and dry as we would like to believe. The majority of people are saying he should resign and a very small minority are saying he should stay on and fight for his reputation. My question is should we believe his apology and his definitive words of "not being a racist." (Where have we heard this before and how many times have we heard it before!) This seems to be the cliche of the closet racist; this is almost like their go to move when caught saying or doing something undeniably racist. Like for example WHEC Meteorologist Jeremey Kappell who was recently fired for using the racial slur "coon" when making reference to a downtown Rochester Park named after slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Kappell, called it Martin Luther "Coon" Park. He said in a statement regarding the incident, "In my mind I knew I mispronounced, but there was no malice. I had no idea the way it came across to many people." Kappell also said that his use of the word was a mistake by saying Dr. King's last name too quickly. (Coon, King...not even close)
For me, I don't know what's worse the photos or the apology, because to me the apology is just a disingenuous attempt at trying to salvage their credibility and quail the ground swell of public opinion against them and not a sincere and substantive acknowledgment of empathy towards the community that you have so overtly and blatantly wronged. I mentioned this story during my radio show last week; during our "What Are You Thinking About" segment, and how the Governor refuses to resign indicating that he believes he can reconcile his name and reputation if he is allowed to stay on as Governor. He also mentioned his reasoning for not wanting to resign was the risk of being remembered as a life-long racist. It also come out that this same Governor's own Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to wearing Blackface. (This almost seems like an racial epidemic of some sort. Is it contagious?) And, how does this Governor and Attorney General both think they can continue in office under the spectrum of racism and still be effective at their jobs? It is it impossible and so it should. Our society's tolerance for racist and racism is very low, and you can see this played out on social media, when they are lambasted for stories like this or racially charged comments that tend to ultimately lead to an apology or resignation OR both. No one should ever be promoted to a position of leadership and be a racist. Of course, we know it happens all of the time. It's just not something that is blatantly broadcast and paraded in front of us. But, you know what they say, "what you do in the dark eventually comes to the light." And, maybe this is what has happened here. Both of these men thought their racist behavior would remain locked up in the closet with the rest of their skeletons, but somehow someway the skeletons have escaped and our dangling in plain view. Now what?
And, to add to this racial saga taking place in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax is embroiled in his own public drama, accused by two women of sexual assault and rape. So, it is definitely quite a bit going on in Virginia, and all of this happening during the month of February. (Who would've thought!) If I told you that this Black History Month we would have two prominent politicians both admitting to wearing Blackface, a Black politician accused of sexual assault, two global fashion brands under fire for racist apparel and an American President vilifying immigrants coming to this country for asylum, and proposing a "Wall" as the only solution his tiny little brain could come up with, you would think that I've been "sipping on the syrup." Nope, that is where we are today. That is the headlines that has taken most of our news cycle sense the month of February, OR Black History Month began. However, I'm still wondering is this Black History Month or Blackface Month? Has our culture become a parody for other races and ethnicity's to poke fun at and mimic? Is this how our wealth of contributions to the livelihood and well-being of not just this country but the entire world are recognized and appreciated? I refuse to believe that this is how the world sees us as African Americans; a minstrel show on display purely for their entertainment. We are so much more than that. Ask Ida B. Wells, Thurgood Marshall, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, Dr. King and millions of others who made an edible mark not just in this country but around the globe, who we are and they will tell you that we are Kings and Queens, we are Royalty, we are Heads of State, Ambassadors and even Presidents. We are not caricatures or cartoons paraded around for the amusement of others, we are a dignified, intelligent, charismatic, creative people whose backs this country rests upon. We are not a joke, but are to be taken seriously and substantively, because from our mental genius birthed the inventions and innovations this country and even the world has benefited from. We are so far removed from the "Step & Fetch" minstrel renditions or the "Amos & Andy" parodies that were used to entertain our White counterparts. We are so much more.
We are THEE most copied, imitated and emulated race of people on the planet. Our fashion, our music, our athleticism, our ingenuity, our brain power, our creativity; these are just a few of the many character traits of African Americans that other races, cultures and creeds often emulate and imitate. And, Blackface is the residue of our global imitation; it is one of the darkest parts of our nation's history and what is surprising is that there are still some that completely disagree with that last statement. And, we can see their disagreement displayed in photos, fake apologies, and now even in fashion. Recently, Global Fashion Brand "Gucci" apologized and removed some very offensive and racist ski-wear (pictured below) because of the backlash they received from social media once the line was officially released for public consumption. Although it was debuted in Milan, Italy back in Feb of 2018. Why did it take them so long to realize how disgustingly racist this apparel was? Was it the public's response? Or, was it their own sensibilities finally coming full circle? I tend to believe it was the latter.
I wonder what they're response would be if they didn't get any black lash from social media; I wonder if they would apologize if no one was openly offended by their overt racism? Or, is the apology rooted in the overwhelming number of people that were offended by it? If only one person was offended, would Gucci have pulled it's ski wear off of it's website and offered an apology? After all, according to @diet_prada Instagram posts, the line was debuted in Milan, Italy last February 2018. They even convinced R&B star Rihanna to don their racist ski wear at Coachella, and as they concluded, "no one clocked them at the time for having any racist connotations...or maybe they went unnoticed among the layers and layers of styling." Below are some of photos from Gucci's ski wear product line that debuted in Milan, Italy last Feb 2018.
And take a look at the apology that Gucci offered a year later after the line had been seen by the fashion industry last February and is now available online. (Or, was available until they took it off their website because of the barrage of criticism they received)
And, now PRADA has chimed in! This blog post has literally become a real-time log of what is happening in the world around us. I kid you not, I was up to approximately 4 am Saturday morning finishing this blog with the intentions of waking up and giving it a proofread before I published it and begin sharing it on social media, only to discover that high-end fashion brand PRADA is now ensconced in a similar Blackface controversy that Rapper T.I. just responded to on his Instagram page. @Troubleman31, which is T.I's Instagram account, not only posted a response to Gucci's apology but also photos from mega brand PRADA, who; as you can see from the photos below, pulled some very similar merchandise from their stores because they too looking strikingly similar to Blackface. This, again is more evidence of our global insensitivity, and something needs to happen. T.I. is demanding a boycott of Gucci & Prada products, and this seems to be the only way that these high-end brands will hear and maybe even understand the demands of its mega consumers. And, I hear you saying, well they pulled the merchandise and apologized, what more do you want? Well, how about being more proactive in the design phases of this clothing lines, how about catching these massive racially offensive design faux pas before they are approved for mass consumption. Or, maybe this racist wear was pulled ONLY because you and I were offended, and they still see no moral problem with it. And, therein lies the heart of this post. If no one in your company could see this as a problem until it has hit the shelves of stores worldwide and the public response is to boycott; then that's a problem. And, maybe the solution is to boycott. Maybe we need to go back to our Southern roots as a people an adopt the methods of the movement that got the attention of a bigoted nation. I say all the time it is not, "White Power, or Black Power, it is Green Power" or the "Golden rule is the one with the Gold rules." In so many words, they may not respect our color but they will definitely respect our dollar.
So, do you believe Gucci's apology after this line has been available for pretty much a year before anyone from their company realized that something was deeply offensive about a sweater that cover the bottom portion of a person's face and their lips were outlined in red lipstick? Or, a basically a clown ski mask donned by a white skier with red lipstick around the mouth area of the skull cap. This wasn't offensive to the designer who decided to put this idea on canvas? I wonder where this designer happened to see this before? I know they are not taking credit for coming up with this design on their own? (Or, maybe they did!) Gucci is a global brand, and for them to have the gall and the audacity to have not just designed the racist ski wear but, to debut it not just Feb of 2018 in Italy, but Feb 2019 in the U.S. is incredibly offensive. It's like the world has become numb to the plight of their fellow man. Are we listening and watching; are we in tune to what is happening around us? Are we really aware of what's going on? I find it very hard to believe, and maybe that's why it's hard to accept the offenders apology, because in this 24 hours news cycle and the advent of social media, it is very hard for people nowadays to miss anything that happens in our world. Dr. King made this prophetic statement about the racist disposition of our world over 50 yrs ago in his famous address, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" "...Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood."
This Gucci fashion debacle; to me, is just more evidence of the global disconnect that exist within our world towards each other. Dr. King was right in 1968 and his still right even til this day in 2019. It goes to show you, as far as we have come as a country, and our world, we only see how far we still have to go. Why do we only seem to come to our moral sense once we have been called to the proverbial carpet? Where is our sense of proactive-ness or responsibility, and accountability in not just our professional lives but even our private lives. It is quite disturbing to see all of this transpire during a month where a people that is responsible for building this country into the Global leader it is today, are being mocked and made fun of not just by the outside world, but the from the very same people from within the country we help to build. Dr, King's prophetic words still ring true today, even though he was speaking about a day and time 50 yrs ago, where the country and the world seem to be divided on everything from race to politics, if his words still ring true today the harsh reality is that nothing much in this country or our world has changed. Keep in mind, we are coming off of the heels of electing our nation's 1st African American President in Barack Obama back in 2008, and yet it seems the more time passes, the more it seems like it was just an aberration; a mirage or an elaborate daydream that we all collectively had and have since decided to wake up. Was that really all it was? Were those 8 yrs Pres. Obama was in the White House and the Leader of the Free World really just an elaborate daydream, or did it really happen? Or, what's worse is did it really happen, and still nothing has changed. (Which I believe is worse than Obama's 8 yrs in the White House being a complete aberration) One would think that our racial paradigm would have shifted a bit after we experienced such an historic moment as nation. But for that time to have come and gone and we still have to deal with "racial ignorance" is; for me, the most appalling. Because, at the very least, what I believe the Obama Presidency accomplished was a racial awareness; an empathy for black and brown people all over the globe. But, it seems as soon as he left office the racial awareness that I thought we had achieved as global community walked out the door with him. Now that's not to say, that during his presidency we didn't experience racial tension and racial anxiety, because we certainly did. From Trayvon Martin, to Mike Brown, to Freddy Gray and countless others African American's that fell prey to the deadly trend of police brutality. Or, Professor Louis Gates; being accosted by a Boston Police Office in his own home, prompting a national debate that the President himself had to weigh in on and offer an olive branch of beer and pizza to both the professor and the police officer. Is this is just an exaggeration of sorts, or maybe it is my racial naivete, but really and truly thought that the Obama Presidency had more of a positive impact across the world than maybe it actually did.
Are we in some ways responsible for the racist caricature that our African American culture has become? Are we co-contributors to the vitriol and hatred that is spewed at us? (What you talkin bout Willis?) I will tell you what I mean, I believe that in some ways we are just as culpable for the misappropriation of our culture by others, because we've done it to ourselves as well. This is why you have artist like Rihanna who thought it was OK to model the racist ski-wear at Coachella, because the tag said "Gucci" and so did the paycheck. We've allowed our own pursuit of capitalism to compromise our sense of unity and soul that is indeed missing from our culture nowadays. The "Almighty Dollar" has become the substitute for our creative spirit and ingenuity that got us to where we are today. This is why I've often said that when the comparison is made between Blacks of today and yesterday, "we were more when we had less, and now that we have more we are so much less." There is definitely no excuse for the blatant racism that is represented in the recent stories involving "Blackface" from politicians or global fashion brands and this behavior should not be tolerated. But, we as a race of people must also do a better job of remembering and respecting our culture and our heritage by walking in the path that was forged by our forefathers and fore-mothers. We are STILL so much more than what we ARE, but STILL have yet to become what we truly CAN BE. This month remains a constant reminder of not just how far we've come, but how far indeed, we have to go!
Blackface or Black History, you decide?