The everlasting issue of blackface in fashion

A troubling and tired realization of our favorite brands’ flaws

Lila Gill, Staff Reporter
Originally published March 6, 2019

Eileen MacDonald

Eileen MacDonald

Recorded as early as the 15th century, blackface has been a way to make fun of, belittle and imitate black and African culture by non-black people. In our modern age we usually see it as extremely racist and a serious attack, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.

In early February, designer brand Gucci put out a black balaclava sweater that strongly resemble blackface. It was quickly pulled from stores after immediate backlash on Twitter and Instagram, followed by an apology post saying the brand is “fully committed to increasing diversity.”

In a similar case, singer Katy Perry put out a pair of shoes, available in black, with abstract facial features painted on the top. She too posted an apology saying, “It was never our intent to inflict any pain.”

And to top off an all-too-racist February, Adidas recently dropped a new shoe in celebration of Black History Month. The issue was that the sneaker was completely white, yet claimed to be “celebrating black culture.”

Eileen MacDonald

Eileen MacDonald

Some have argued that these claims are a stretch and that these brands did nothing wrong, but I have to disagree. Fashion is a cutthroat industry that is full of scamming, stealing, abuse and scandal. Everything about the culture is to be daring and shock people, to make a statement and get a reaction. So it’s not rare for lines to be crossed, especially when it comes to racism and appropriation.

Seniors Marlowe Barrington and Elijah Warner are co-presidents of the Black Student Union.

“The fact that we know the Gucci balaclava sweater was even imagined is baffling, because not once along the many steps (one would assume) a design goes through before it makes it to the site for sale, was it questioned,” they said in an email interview. “It makes us wonder about the representation within these high fashion companies.”

Gucci responded to these concerns in their apology statement, but the problem is; why does it take a blackface scandal to increase diversity? Companies should already have this in mind during the hiring process.

The most alarming part of it all though is how normalized this type of incident and unaffected the general public seems to be. Sure there are people who respond to these designs with anger, that’s what makes the companies issue out an apology. But even then, you have to be moderately invested in the fashion world to hear about it. The number of scandals that occur with big companies every month is much larger than the number of scandals we hear about. It’s always pushed under the rug, whether that’s due to the brands trying to save face or people just not caring—I don’t know.

But I do know that this is not going to end anytime soon if we keep responding this way. We have to speak up, louder than we already do.

“Remember that your intention and impact are different. Something may have been intended as a joke, but regardless of the intent, you are responsible for the impact your actions have,” Barrington and Warren said.

In 2019, we have a come a long way from the racist displays of the 1400s. But we are still dealing with the same issues. As a society we cannot advance without binding together and ridding ourselves of these biases. It’s the 21st century, let’s act like it.