OPINION: Burberry is fashion’s latest blaxploitation victor

A hoodie featuring a noose from Burberry's Fall/Winter 2019 collection debuted at London Fashion Week. Photo from Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com

Tagwa Shammet, Contributing Writer

To me, a noose is symbolic of the treacherous hate and spite fired at the black community for as long as history can remember. A noose is murder. It’s death, torture and sadness. To Burberry? It’s this year’s fashion statement.

During London Fashion Week 2019, Burberry debuted its latest hoodie that contained a noose around the model’s neck. I’m trying to comprehend why Burberry thought this was a good idea.

I’m imagining myself at Burberry’s roundtable, hearing ideas thrown around. Never once could I picture a scene where a noose would have made a praiseworthy fashion statement.

“We are deeply sorry,” said one Burberry statement after the company received backlash.

“It was insensitive,” said another.

Insensitive to say the least.

It lacked thought; it lacked care; it lacked any common sense.

The fashion industry can, and will, always get away with its perpetual cultural appropriation and thoughtlessness as long as it’s labeled “trendy.”  A few weeks before the Burberry incident, Gucci released a blackface sweater. It might not explicitly call it by that name, but the company took the product down after backlash.

Gucci had the blackface sweater on sale for nearly $900. It looked exactly like Prada’s monkey keychain fashioned onto a purse released last December that put the company in hot water.

But these are well-known and loved brands that celebrities and everyday people won’t boycott.

Look at rapper Tyga. He’s still rocking Burberry, even after this cruel “fashion” statement. Katy Perry was accused of releasing shoes that looked like blackface. Maybe I didn’t get the memo, but when did blackface become the latest trend? Probably when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam did it and was let completely off the hook. Let me set the story straight right now: blackface isn’t cool. It’s not a trend, it’s offensive.

Blaxploitation is a film term that refers to the exploitation of black people through stereotypes while profiting off of black life. Blaxploitation can easily describe the fashion industry as well. The fashion industry has been profiting off black culture since its inception — from the Kardashian’s continuous appropriation of black hairstyles such as cornrows, to the modeling campaigns in predominantly black communities, but lack of black model representation.

Now, these brands are exploiting black pain. Black America, have you been through enough? Burberry is the latest blaxploitation victor.

These brands are becoming richer by the day. If they won’t stop, then it’s up to us. We — fashion lovers and enthusiasts, regardless of race — have to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. Enough is enough.

I saw the Burberry hoodie on my Twitter feed and I couldn’t even believe my eyes. People claim that racism doesn’t happen in 2019. To those of you who believe this, take a look at this hoodie.

I don’t care what anyone says. Fashion has, and always will be, one of the biggest perpetrators of blaxploitation and among the most racist industries. Burberry went to London Fashion Week under the impression that it had truly done something great. Instead, the company was “blindsided” by the reaction as if it couldn’t understand why people were mad.

Do you know who could’ve helped Burberry understand they were wrong before they even created their product? A black person. The fashion industry not only lacks black models but black designers as well. According to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, out of the 470 registered designers, only 12 are black. Start hiring more black people to help you appeal to black consumers appropriately.

Let this be a lesson to all fashion companies: black pain shouldn’t be your means for profit. You revive racial trauma for black people by selling these products.

It’s hard to see Burberry losing much profit over this scandal. I truly hope it understands the root of this uproar and learns from it. The only thing it did right was not put the hoodie on a black model. I guess the company took some notes from H&M.

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