The Fashion Industry Has Failed Black People—Here’s What Needs to Change.
Within the past week, a number of global companies have pledged their support for the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement, and are denouncing racial injustices. While it is important for your company to not to remain silent during these tumultuous times, it’s hard to distinguish past problems from authentic and genuine intentions that will lead to actual change. With every senseless killing of a Black person, there seems to be public outcry, pledges for change, then the public forgets and the cycle repeats. Many companies who have taken a stance against xenophobia have workplaces oozing with inequities and discrimination. But what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others as of late is the straw that will break America’s proverbial back. Pressure is being applied to corporations and many have been called out for public statements that don’t align with organizational culture.
“It,” in this case, refers to allowing the fashion industry to capitalize off Black culture while not welcoming Black talent through its doors, or providing those of us who manage our way in with opportunities to grow. Collectively, we’re tired of the systematic disenfranchisement that exists within the fashion industry, tired of not seeing any Black people in executive roles, tired of being tokenized, tired of being undervalued.
This frustration is compounded by seeing brands and publications that have historically excluded and marginalized Black people share messages of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Where was this solidarity when we were applying for jobs, advocating for promotions, and pointing out the lack of diversity—and at times outright racism—within the industry? These messages mean nothing if they’re not backed by action to dismantle long-standing practices that have stifled Black people in the fashion industry.
How do we come to terms with the fact that so many brands and publications don’t have Black people on staff in full-time positions, but now they’re turning to us now for our voice and perspective? Michal Arceneaux recently tweeted, “Black writers: a lot of people will be approaching you, but only for your pain and grief. … I know this economy is what it is so do whatever you have to, but flip those narratives on their head if you can. And say no if you can.” We haven’t been top of mind for opportunities in the past, but now our contributions are in high demand. So how do you reconcile that with needing to support ourselves and wanting our stories to be told, but also acknowledging how problematic that is?