Black-Face: “The Racial Agenda”

VERY Offensive High-End Black-Face Controversy

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Black-Face: “The Racial Agenda”

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Editorial note: 
The Greyhound Growl staff condemns the outrageous and deeply offensive racially charged “designs” that are featured in this article. We, as Greyhounds, are proud to be diverse and inclusive and we do not condone racism in any form.

 

Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Moncler are under fire right now for being accused of using blackface in their designs, and now you can add Katy Perry to the list. Gucci has received a lot of criticism lately following the release of a sweater that blatantly resembled blackface. Pulling the sweater from stores and an apology wasn’t enough as influential figures including T.I., Spike Lee, Wacka Flocka, Joe Budden, and Rae Holiday still called for a boycott of the high end brand.

 

Legendary fashion designer Dapper Dan breaks his silence surrounding the blackface controversy with Gucci, “I am a Black man before I am a brand,” Dapper Dan said. “Another fashion house has gotten it outrageously wrong. There is no excuse nor apology that can erase this kind of insult. The CEO of Gucci has agreed to come from Italy to Harlem this week to meet with me, along with members of the community and other industry leaders. There cannot be inclusivity without accountability. I will hold everyone accountable.”

Following the meeting, Gucci, led by president Marco Bizzarri, announced four new initiatives in a long-term plan of actions “designed to further embed cultural diversity and awareness in the company.”

“We accept full accountability for this incident, which has exposed shortfalls in our ongoing strategic approach to embedding diversity and inclusion in both our organization and in our activities,” Bizzarri said. “I am particularly grateful to Dapper Dan for the role he has played in bringing the community leaders together to offer us their counsel at this time.”

Gucci’s chief executive, François-Henri Pinault, has spoken out about the uproar his company found himself in last week when social media users complained that its balaclava sweater resembled blackface. Pinault told the Wall Street Journal that Gucci’s parent company, Kering, needs to be more culturally sensitive to African Americans. While the luxury conglomerate has teams who review products for the Asian market, they don’t have similar groups in place to review how sensitive products are to African Americans.

“It’s true we don’t do that for the African-American community, and that’s a mistake,” Mr. Pinault said.

Gucci issued an apology for selling a sweater resembling blackface and pulled it from stores. The black turtleneck-style sweater features an opening with a pair of bright red lips that can be stretched around the wearer’s mouth. To many people on social media, the $890 sweater looked like the blackface makeup used historically by white performers to mock and make caricatures of African Americans.

”Gucci deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper,” the company said in a statement. “We can confirm that the item has been immediately removed from our online store and all physical stores.”


These clothing missteps come along other recent spotlights on the inappropriateness of blackface. A photo surfaced from the 1984 yearbook page of Virginia governor Ralph Northam depicting a man wearing blackface standing next to another man in Ku Klux Klan robes. Democrats immediately called for the governor’s resignation. Northam first affirmed, then denied his presence in the photo, admitting in the process that he did, in fact, wear blackface on a separate occasion that same year, when he attended a dance party dressed as Michael Jackson. All of this prompted Virginia’s attorney general, Mark R. Herring, to admit to attending a college party dressed in blackface as well (he was going as Kurtis Blow).

“Because of our ignorance and glib attitudes … we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” Herring wrote in a statement.

Reeling from recent accusations of blackface, Prada has announced that it is starting a diversity and inclusion council that will be headed up by director Ava DuVernay and artist Theaster Gates.

The aims of the council which will include several other yet-to-be-revealed members are to create internship and job opportunities for students of color in fashion, which will include partnering with universities, as well as working to increase the number of people of color working within Prada itself.

This news comes just two months after Prada came under fire for selling and decorating its stores with black monkey-resembling figurines with thick red lips, which people described as racist and compared to blackface. The brand said the items were intended to be “fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre,” according to a spokesperson, but nonetheless, quickly pulled them from stores.

“Prada is committed to cultivating, recruiting and retaining diverse talent to contribute to all departments of the company,” Miuccia Prada, the label’s CEO, said in a statement announcing the council’s creation. “In addition to amplifying voices of color within the industry we will help ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live.”

Prada pulled its “Pradamalia” figurines from its store. The toys, which were shaped like monkeys, with black bodies and large red lips, had prompted accusations of racism. “They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface,” the brand wrote in response. “Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery.”


Northam and Herring are American politicians; Prada is an Italian fashion brand. They’re not quite the same, and these controversies were not quite the same. But they got people talking, and when accused of partaking in the racist and VERY offensive American tradition of blackface, both immediately pointed to their lack of ill intentions. Of course, people rarely cop to deliberate racism and trying to prove or adjudicate someone’s intentions gets us nowhere. As Robin Givhan recently wrote on the subject: “Blackface lives because so often the people who indulge in it simply don’t see themselves as racist.” It is so deeply ingrained in our cultural history that some people are blind to it.

Last week, photos from inside Vogue editor Grace Coddington’s home revealed her collection of figurines depicting black women as domestic “Mammy” stereotypes. Coddington has not commented on how long she’s had them, or why they’re in her kitchen, but their presence in the background was another example of fashion’s lingering, persistent, sometimes dumbfounding racial blindspot.

Then (because there’s always a “then…”), Katy Perry reportedly pulled black shoes with a face on them from stores. This might have been a case of the Streisand effect, where one draws attention to oneself in an attempt to do the opposite. But Masika Kalysha pointed out the shoes and many others flagged them as blackface, which proves they never should have been made.


The Ora Face Block Heel and the Rue Face Slip-On Loafers, which debuted in 2017 in a partnership with Global Brands Group, both featured black designs with protruding eyes, noses and large red lips. They come in two different colors, black and beige. The styles had been available on the Katy Perry Collections website, as well as through major retailers such as Dillard’s and Walmart. The shoes started attracting attention on social media as other controversies about blackface were dominating the national discourse. According to a joint statement from Perry and Global Brands Group, the shoes were “envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism.”

 

“I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain,” the joint statement continued. After the backlash, Perry and Global Brands Group said the shoes had been removed from Katy Perry Collections.

Outwear label Moncler has joined the embarrassing list of companies that didn’t check in with their Black friends before going full throttle with production of racially insensitive merchandise. The brand recently launched a new collaboration with art collective Friends With You, which includes jackets and bags baring images resembling the blackface figures seen in minstrel shows. The cartoonish figure in question is called “Malfi” and can be seen on a jackets and shirts within the line. In addition, the collection features other cartoon-like characters in their designs including a smiling cloud, and a yellow smiley face but their “Malfi” character is the one that’s definitely problematic. In the meantime, folks have been fired up on social media regarding the new collection, shining a light on a painful history of the demeaning representation of Black people via blackface. The Friends With You mission statement includes intentions to “affect world culture by cultivating special moments of spiritual awareness and powerful, joyous interaction” and “spread the message of connectivity around the world,” so it’s a wonder that this image was chosen to accomplish that.

In a time where racial tensions are high, it seems especially neglectful to produce merchandise with images that are even remotely similar to those that were used to mock Black people. The glaring issues with using blackface and racially insensitive symbolism for anything has been addressed several times in the fashion industry yet and still the issues keep resurfacing. To add insult to injury, Moncler’s “Malfi” jacket retails for a whopping $1,515.    

The brand has since issued an apology for the misunderstanding; assuring customers that the stylized face was not actually a golliwog – but instead, a friendly penguin called Malfi. “We are so sorry for any offence caused,” Moncler said in a statement this afternoon (July 15). “Malfi the Penguin is one of a cast of characters created by artist duo FriendsWithYou whose message is first and foremost one of global friendship.”

“We are deeply troubled if the face, seen out of its context, could be associated with past or present unacceptable, racially offensive characters,” the brand added.

In 2013 the luxury Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana presented their Spring collection on Sand while the toy soldier printed dresses and striped rompers were kitschy, it was the images of dark-skinned, slave-like African women splashed on burlap-sack frocks and adorning the ears of models that made some people cringe. While the decorative images and figurines also known as Blackamoors of black people dressed lavishly in turbans and jewels are largely considered collectible art, they can also be very offensive. No matter how beautiful they may have been, the figures still represent slavery. The Dolce & Gabbana collection was, according to the designers, inspired by their Sicilian heritage. There were rustic, flour sack dresses and examples of Sicilian basket-weaving in the form of wicker crinolines mixed into a show that favored generically feminine 1950s silhouettes. There were also lots of garments that hearkened back to an older tradition by incorporating prints based on archetypes found in the opera dei pupi, the Sicilian marionette theater where Medieval epic poems are retold with puppets. In many of those stories, the drama centers on the question of whether the heroic, puppet knights will again prevail against the wicked “moors” the puppets representing Muslim invaders.

Furthermore, for a show that presented over 85 looks, there were no black models represented on the runway. We can’t decide whether it’s better there weren’t any considering the collection’s questionably racist embellishments or if the lack of diversity makes it even worse. Had a black model been wearing the earrings or dress, we probably wouldn’t give it a second thought. But don’t let the only sign of diversity come via racially insensitive imagery.

The organizers of the “Hallowood Disco Africa” had issued an apology via Instagram, which reads:

As the organizers of the fashion party “Hallowood Disco Africa”, we would like to sincerely apologize that this private party offended so many people. It was never our intention to do so. We had named the party “Disco Africa” to reflect the growing influence of Africa in the design and fashion world, not only as a growing market but also as the source of creative ideas. In retrospect, we clearly failed to think through the possible negative consequences and interpretations that might have resulted and appeared in both traditional and social media. These interpretations are all the more upsetting because most people in the fashion industry, from which we come, have always taken a strong stand against social discrimination whether on sexual, religious or racial grounds. Creative talent is what counts, not a person’s social, racial, religious or sexual background. We’re so sorry that we failed to make our position clear and gave the impression of racism. We are now much wiser and will do our very best to clarify our position in the future. #hallowood2013 #discoafrica

When will people understand that blackface is highly offensive and unacceptable? It is rooted in centuries of racism and was created to dehumanize African Americans. At this point, fashion brands are thoroughly equipped to clean up their myriad messes but need to continue to be held accountable for their actions. Dapper Dan isn’t Gucci’s accountability officer, and it shouldn’t be the responsibility of one diversity-oriented employee or social media influencers to flag questionable balaclavas as they materialize. Accountability needs to be felt by everyone, on every level of production, from inception to promotion to consumption. It needs to be a part of the culture.