By: Rachel Garnett
When you launched your Spring 2017 collection at New York Fashion Week, I was eager to see what I knew would be eclectic patterns and high-end ensembles I’d never actually wear. Rather than recaps of your new line, my timeline became flooded with scrutiny and disappointment in regard to the hairstyle choices you chose for the models taking the runway. Your disconcerted response proved to be even more vexing and I found myself wanting to add to the list of justifiably petty tweets in your Twitter mentions.
I understand you were flustered. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I recognize you felt pressure when being accused of something you may not have intended to do. I’m not here to attack you or label you racist. I do however believe you’re absolutely misinformed and therefore feel the need to educate you on where the accusations against you are coming from. It is apparent you need a better context of the sting connected to your decisions.
We can start with the obvious: Kendall and Gigi wear dreadlocks and it’s high fashion. Zendaya dons locs and they’re “dirty.” It is essentially summed up in the commonly used metaphor: you present a paper in class and get a “C” while another student presents your same paper and gets an “A.”
I wish it was as simple as a class presentation but unfortunately this issue digs much deeper. Look back to slavery: it is painstakingly clear that Black women are inherently at a disadvantage. Within our very first presence in this country, there was a certain kind of Black woman that was deemed “acceptable” enough to work in the master’s house and therefore around their white owners.
That leaves us with the type of Black woman that merely existed for work and bearing more slaves. The differentiation was commonly divided by skin tone, as Willie Lynch describes in his address to slave masters in 1712. Lynch describes using skin tone as a method to separate and define slaves, however hair played a big part in the process as well.
An enslaved Black woman with lighter skin and “better hair,” due to her already mixed mother being raped by her master, was much more likely to survive by being accepted to work in “better” conditions. In other words, how European you looked determined the kind of life you lived.
This is not to be filed under history alone. In your response, your frustration led you to express an argument that many dissenting opinions believe: why are we complaining about white women wearing dreadlocks if Black women straighten their hair? It is essential you understand there is an alarming difference.
To this day, Black women consciously and subconsciously straighten their hair and adopt other European hairstyles as a means for survival. To get a decent job (hell, any job), be seen as attractive, or even be acknowledged in general, you have to look “presentable.” In case you didn’t know, being “presentable” and “acceptable” from a societal standpoint is strictly based off
European standards. This becomes a parallel similar to how the more acceptable “house slaves” were often the ones with lighter skin and more European looking features. Even as we are represented by some of the most influential and iconic figures of our generation, we continue to have absolutely no control over white standards being the norm. We do not have the luxury to survive in a professional world as our natural selves.
When we do, we do so unapologetically. However, you must understand this liberation never comes without a fight. For those unable to fight because they fear losing their job, they have no choice but to comply. They have no choice but to stand in the mirror and watch their vibrant coils quickly turn lifeless. This is a history of coercion so prominent that many Black women in these circumstances are unable to even identify the issue.
This goes beyond my opinion. They’re taking away our jobs, kicking us out of school, and harassing us in public for hairstyles that served as the last piece of autonomy we had left.
Like many, you say don’t see color but I’m requesting that you do. It is crucial for you to see color because the world around you certainly does. The United States court, who deemed it legal for a workplace to discriminate against the same hairstyle that you’re dressing white models in, absolutely sees color.
We need you to see color because then you will understand that accusations of cultural appropriation are much more than a bunch of angry Black women on Twitter threatening your sales. They represent a group of people oppressed every day for merely living in a space and operating in a system that never considered them to begin with.