I think we can all agree Black History Month was a bust. From Liam Neeson’s unnecessary admission of looking for any “Black bastard” to kill as a way to avenge his friend’s rape to Jussie Smollet’s alleged hate crime hoax, it seems like every week brought on more confusion. While these situations seem insane on their own, the biggest WTF moments came straight from the fashion industry. For starters, Gucci released a blackface inspired balaclava sweater. Second, Grace Coddington took pictures in her kitchen that perfectly showcased her mammy memorabilia. Finally, to round out the bunch, Burberry sent their model down the runway with a noose around her neck. While these incidents have so many lingering questions, a discussion needs to be had about two major points. First, there is undoubtedly a marketing plan that has goal is to alienate the Black consumer while simultaneously creating publicity propelled by Black social media. Secondly, where are all the Black owned luxury brands?
I first noticed the shift in marketing when H&M put the Black boy in the monkey shirt. The controversy that arose while the brand’s bottom line remained largely unscathed must have flipped a lightswitch in the minds of PR teams everywhere. More and more blatant attacks on Black consumers began to pop up in various industries. Naturally, when Prada released and retracted their blackface figurine in December, I figured no brand could be stupid enough to let something like that happen again. My being wrong was an understatement. However, simply chalking these situations up to coincidence is misguided. Why would a company take drastic measures to offend consumers? Racism. Many luxury brands wholeheartedly believe that seeing Black bodies in their product diminishes its value. They will make an exception for a celebrity because they know they’ll see a return on the investment. In the age of social media where “Black Twitter” reigns supreme as trend forecaster, a racist image “accidentally” leaking is the easiest way to start the controversy.
Many people suggested to boycott Gucci altogether. My question became “where do we go from here?” A successful boycott in my eyes would push Black dollars normally spent on brands we perceive as luxurious into the hands of an up and coming company created by us. However, upon further review, I was hard pressed to find one luxury brand. Not a lot of us are designing leather goods and accessories, and the ones that do have a very specific niche market. That niche is all afrocentric prints, all the time. While I do love a kente cloth print, I prefer the variety and versatility of solid colors. Undoubtedly, the issue is we turned our backs on our own creatives. In trying to keep up with the Joneses, we’ve backed ourselves into a corner. We might only make up 10% of the nation’s population, but we have the majority stake in pop culture. Make no mistake that luxury brands look to, and steal from, us to remain ahead of the times. It will be one hell of a time when we finally realize our power. In the words of Jay-Z “you need me, I don’t need you.”