Shoveling Mulch and Thinking About Fashion
June 8, 2020
Whenever I can during gardening season, I try to get out to the town mulch bins. It takes some time and effort to fill up my containers and load them into the car, which gives me an opportunity to think. Today, I thought about fashion.
I follow a few fashion blogs and writers, just for fun. At a certain point, I noticed some of the people I liked the best seemed not to be contributing and almost by accident I discovered that at the onset of the pandemic, they had been let go from their employment with hugely successful sites. I posted a comment on one site and discovered that there was a deluge of opinion that appeared to stop the addition of any new content for a few days. Then I discovered that another content leader was also under criticism for her workplace practices and personal behavior. Ruminating on these things, some questions came up.
What am I seeking on these sites? I have always loved clothes and style. I’m a second-hand shopper and use these sites for ideas and inspiration, not as a prompt for actual purchases unless I see something similar that I like at Goodwill – which sometimes happens. It’s more about fun than aspiration; I fit neither the age nor the income target demographic. So, why did I think that these businesses were performing as I thought they appeared? Why did I imagine that the white female founders were inclusive and promoting of their content producers of color and various gender identities? Was this just my own projection of how I would expect or want them to be? But why didn’t I question and check?
It’s disappointing that in a creative space owned and aimed at women, appearances were ultimately deceiving. Photos of diverse staff groups laughing and having fun together were betrayed by dismissals of staff at a time of great social and physical peril. Instead of reconfiguring jobs to reflect the value of the person, the position dictated termination in the interests of the business. If events could not be produced, the event coordinator was out the door. If the budget needed trimming, the sacrifice would not be felt equally. Questioning management as the only person of color in a business led to an involuntary resignation without benefits or severance. When racial disparity, lethal police practices, death and social outcry became unavoidable and businesses posted #BlackLives Matter, those who knew too well the hypocricy involved cried foul and were able to make their voices clearly heard.
Well known fashion influencer Cipriana Quann shared a horrifying experience of unjust arrest and processing through the system in New York City. Thankfully, she endured this injustice without injury, but not without insult, humiliation and trauma. If you haven’t listened to her detailed account, find her on Instagram and listen. These experiences are disproportionately meted out to people of color and gender identities, but are not limited to them. My family experienced the unjust arrest of our disabled brother for a bank robbery that he did not and could not have committed, that dragged on for months and cost my parents a considerable amount of money. Had he not had us behind him, he would have been shuffled off to Attica and would no doubt have died there. I was detained for three hours in Ben Gurion Airport and questioned in Isreal for resembling the profile of someone else. It was an unnerving episode made worse by not feeling well after a long flight, but in the scheme of things, not nearly as bad as what many others endure. One friend of mine, a woman of color, endured five days in jail because of a spurious claim by a white woman that she had snitched a swag bag from her at a casino (she had not). Five days in jail.
So here’s the thing: racism permeates every sphere of our lives. It underlies every institution, business, system and structure in America, because it has been there from the beginning. It is baked into our Constitution, into our laws, into our practices and into our consciousness. Right now, many people are risking their safety to demonstrate their commitment to ending racism in its most egregious and evident forms. We must not overlook the reality that many people who hold views endorsing the existing system and practices are organizing to prevent the changes that need to occur. Maybe there will be a miracle and 401 years of the legacy of the sin of slavery will be resolved right now. Until and unless that happens, though, we must dedicate ourselves to the change we want to see in ourselves, in our cities and in our countries.