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I am a Black woman. I am also a Black fashion designer.
The backlash that Virgil Abloh is getting for his latest Off White collection/show has me feeling split down the middle, and don't you worry! I'll give you my reasons why...
There are so many factors that people don't take into consideration once roused up about something as passionate as racial issues, but no one, including those who are personally offended, slows down enough, even after their emotional storm clears, to ask themselves why they felt this way.
#1 Historically, Blacks are mentally triggered by anyone who looks like us not visibly "supporting us."
I love being Black. I am from one of this country's blackest cities (I'm from, and live in, Atlanta). All we are (were(?)... times have changed) taught was how Black we were as kids. How the world has, and would, turn on us because of it. For some, or even most kids, this lesson continued at home. Childhood lessons stay with you. We're not always aware of how, or even of they're presence all of the time, but they do. This consequence has subliminally planted the idea that all people of color (especially Black people) are on the same team. We're not. This is not to suggest anything about Mr. Abloh. This is in regards to the masses, and their reaction(s) to the images of his Italian team. I want to reiterate what I just pointed out: WE. ARE. NOT. ALL. ON. THE. SAME. TEAM. It's not even always about race. African Americans have been so misled to believe that this is the way life works, but it doesn't. There were the images of his team that lacked melanin, and then there was the backlash, and accusations, and anger, and hurt, but no actual questions aimed directly at him, as to why. Then when they were asked, they weren't satisfied with his answer. This has happened so much throughout history, and it's disgusting! Looking back now at the historical figures we were taught to idolize, I realize that they were mostly light skinned, frat boys, and some were even reverse racists. One race sticking together doesn't equal equality. Segregation imitates a calm, but that's because there's a comfort zone with being in the familiar. Then there is hostility towards anything outside of that comfort zone. Then there is the almost (sometimes?) physical tug-of-war over whose race is more superior, and then there is even the superiority of colorism within races, and it goes on, and on, and on.
#2 On the outside looking in, an observer has no idea what goes into creating collections, and the image put out for it.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I too am a Black fashion designer. Not only that, I am a creator. Creators have visions. Creators are visionaries. Virgil Abloh had a vision. It was his. It may not have been agreeable to what the masses want, but it goes back to my initial point. Everyone assumed he would "take one for the team," right? He is a man of color, so there should be melanin poppin' everywhere, right? This was his choice. There could be a list of reasons there were no faces of color there. There has to be a reason that he chose models that weren't Black. He saw something the rest of us didn't, and that's why he is the Creative Director for this multi-million dollar brand, and the rest of us aren't.
The reasoning behind my second point is this:
When I was in school for fashion design, I learned hard lessons about race in the industry. I took offense, and took action. I was frowned upon for choosing not to design on a small size dress form (I chose a size eight or size ten). I only did reports on fashion designers and stylists of color, and not the ones who were known, because of their influence in social media. I spoke openly about them, and asked questions that no one could answer, because despite all of their degrees, my professors and teachers were taught to worship the European way of fashion. I'm not against that, it just wasn't what I wanted to do, so I didn't. The year after I graduated, I designed a small collection of A-line skirts, chose six models of color (all girls I knew, all with curves, all over a size six), and produced a fashion show. I did it because that was my vision. It's what I wanted to do while I was in school, but couldn't. I had the piece of paper, a little more Black fashion history under my belt, and a vision, so I presented it. No one's just sat down, and asked Virgil Abloh, "So, what exactly was your vision behind doing this?"
#3 Society seems to be in the deepest of sleeps when it comes to history being in a constant viscous cycle of repeating itself.
Traditions are what built the cage, and provided the lock and key that trapped society in this unending cycle of angry ignorance. Assumptions, stereotypes, and negative energy that fill the industry sometimes (even unconsciously) are the results. Just because our ancestors believed it, doesn't make it correct. It also makes the ideals ancient. While there isn't much under the sun that is very new, innovation should be welcomed. Encouragement should be in abundance. Acceptance of difference in skin color should be as easy as self acceptance, but then that leads to the question of how much one accepts oneself, and that's a whole other article.