In an unfortunate reality of the moment, many businesses find themselves in between a rock and rampant racial inequities. Corporate America was never built to hold space for Blackness, but problems have shown to go much deeper than assimilation and respectability. Corporate efficiency and personality-based company culture make it almost impossible for people of a different experience, or worst, a contradicting one, to enter and survive.
A company looking to hire quickly and seamlessly, is going to go to the college that’s closest to their office or look in their alma maters. Call-me-by-my-first-name CEO’s build quirky start-up cultures that best work with their personality and experiences. Consider the following facts:
1. Black people make up 15% of the population
2. 85% of people do not have associates outside of their own race
3. White supremacy is a system and culture built to amplify Whiteness and keep Black people out of mainstream conversations
… Now tell me, what are the chances that someone fitting the above criteria and muddling through the latter layer of bullshit is going to be in the direct and comfortable purview of someone in charge? Not high.
And no industry is worse an offender than the fashion industry.
Built on the desire to introduce art to commerce and sell the idea that fantasy is only a card swipe away, the fashion industry is the shining child of capitalism. And, like her mother, she does not hold space for Blackness or Black people. It’s a domino effect of privilege: the internships that require you to wear designer clothes, work for free and get college credit – requiring you to pay unsubsidized summer tuition, – the beauty knowledge of editors who make “universal” listicles that only pertain to white women, the social graces and connections that come from generational wealth, access and visibility. You couldn’t throw a rock through the halls of Hearst and not hit a fashion intern whose privileged pedigree isn’t outside the realm of possibilities for your average Black kid in America. For those who disagree, ask yourself these questions:
If you’re a midwestern girl, what are the chances your parents have friends on the board of museums who can get you interviews, have enough money to grease the pockets that secure your spot, or can afford to pay college tuition for the summer while you work for free and spend your cash on taxi cabs and discount Celine sneakers upstate. If one of those is true, what are the chances you are also Black. EXACTLY. It wouldn’t happen.
So when the winds of change blew through One World Trade and the bowels of midtown, no one was surprised that sartorial darlings hid their heads in shame. What was shocking however, was the trail of White tears that led to the unemployment office. Members of the fashion C-suites like Leandra Medine of Man Repeller and Reformation’s Yael Aflaho, stepped down in an effort to “make space” for change, grow and “reflect” on their shitty behavior after the internet had dragged them through the digital mud. But what does that say about this moment? And what kind of role models are these people? Forgive the circular questions.
It stands to reason that those who don’t rise to the standard of basic decency and equity are not meant to be role models. But isn’t that oversimplifying visibility? Power is as power does, and while Leandra Medine is “stepping back” now, she already has power - 988K followers, established relationships in her chosen field, and a fuck-ton of equity. It’d be better for her to use her platform to educate the White girls who follow her, act and think as she did, hoping that when they grow they are better than she has been. It would’ve been truly inspirational to see her tackle the challenge of personal growth the same way she tackled fame and entrepreneurship - publicly and fearlessly. But instead, she cowers.
Afraid to withstand public scrutiny as they stumble through the work that was laid at their feet by their ancestors, White people cower. But if Black people can go through 300 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow, one would hope you could withstand a few shady comments.
Moving past emotional capacity, White people in the public eye also have a responsibility not to uphold their false perfection as reality. Running away from the toxic culture that you helped build is the moral equivalent to farting in a room and walking away. Don’t run from what you’ve done. Stand still and own your truth until the dust settles. White people, especially women - who are learning to navigate privilege and marginalization - become beacons of change when they highlight their flaws and their journey to “better." Not only does it share what change looks like, but it normalizes the process of growth and restorative equity.
When we glorify and conflate Whiteness and perfection, we do the world a disservice. To “grow up” beloved, fall from grace and hide until you can stand solely in the bright white lights of adoration is playing right into the hands of White supremacy. These sorts of actions aren’t going to change anything. Instead what they do is weaponize genuine outrage to activate White tears and protect wealth and legacy. But I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar, they already knew that.