Less than a week into Black History Month, Gucci released a black-knit women’s balaclava which included bright red lips ringing an opening for the mouth, an image that widely represents the offensive blackface
Before uninformed comments start popping up about today’s society being “too sensitive” to everything, let’s go back to the basics. 200 years ago white performers in the US first started painting their faces black to mock enslaved Africans onstage. The performers did skits and comedy shows making fun of the African community to an all-white audience, degrading the value and dignity of another race.
Criticism of Gucci’s design spread quickly online, prompting the brand to pull out the product off the shelves and issue an apology.
“We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make,” the company said in the statement. “We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.”
Even in 2019, brands still miss the point about the outrage of consumers when they release products that are deemed offensive. It’s not just about the sales, what these brands are failing to see is that they’re excluding their own market. “Blackface isn’t just about painting one’s skin darker or putting on a costume. It invokes a racist and painful history. Such negative representations of black people left a damaging legacy in popular culture, especially in art and entertainment,” Harmeet Kaur of CNN writes.
Part of a line of goods called Pradamalia, figurines that seemed to depict racist caricatures of black people were displayed on the brand’s stores. “The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface. Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery,” the firm said. New York-based civil rights attorney Chinyere Ezie wrote a post after seeing them in the shops in SoHo, “History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better.”
Adidas “Celebrating Black Culture”
Dubbed the “Celebrating Black Culture,” Adidas’ new shoe released to celebrate Black History month featured an ironic full-white and cream color. When images of the pair first surfaced last month, social media users expressed anger and confusion over how the shoe’s design represented its supposed theme. Following the backlash, Adidas released a statement and stopped selling the product. “Adidas released a new collection in celebration of Black History Month featuring designs inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. It includes footwear and apparel across a variety of categories. Toward the latter stages of the design process, we added a running shoe to the collection that we later felt did not reflect the spirit or philosophy of how adidas believes we should recognize and honor Black History Month. After careful consideration, we have decided to withdraw the product from the collection.”
Blackface in magazine editorials
There were several instances where blackface was used to create a “fashionable” imagery in magazines. Whether or not the producers of these shoots knew they were contributing to the proliferation of racist ideals, not doing their research is simply not an excuse. According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, “Minstrelsy, comedic performances of ‘blackness’ by whites in exaggerated costumes and makeup, cannot be separated fully from the racial derision and stereotyping at its core.”