Designers such as Gucci, H&M, Prada, Moncler, and even Dove continue trying to unravel their brands from the debauchery they created for themselves with distasteful marketing campaigns which have insulted their Black consumer bases.
Gucci, Prada, and Moncler clothiers have used images of ‘blackface’ associated with their products. Gucci recently made a public apology for a black sweater they released which covered the face and outlined the lips in red with exact similarities to the depiction of the ‘Blackface of the 1800’s’. In 2018, Dove went under fire when they released an ad of a Black girl using their product which appeared to make her white after she used it. The insensitive nature of these campaigns all but suggest no matter how much money Blacks spend our culture is still not respected.
Flirting With Blackness
The flirting with our culture began in the 1600’s during slavery. Slavemasters recognized the Africans came rooted with undeniable talents and gifts. Slaves were often asked to perform for their masters during ‘Big House Shindigs’ and private gatherings. Slaves sang without any American vocal training. They danced with no formal dance academy training. They played instruments by ear without any piano or fiddle lessons. They wrote poetry without even comprehending the American foreign language.
When the slaves performed well, rather than just say they were talented, it was common for the slaveowners to say their performances were good ‘for a nigger’. Even though their skills were complimented the level of their skills were never considered equal to the level of Whites. In fact, the slaves were always taught they were doing it wrong because they didn’t do it like White people did it. Because Whites couldn’t master how to perform like Africans they manipulated the Africans to believe their way of doing it was incorrect and they should conform to doing it the English way… ‘the correct way’.
Countless stories throughout history tell of White women’s anger over their husbands impregnating their slave concubines. If the slaveowner’s wife saw her husband giving attention to any slave the White wife would purposely make life harder for the husband’s concubine. She’d make the slave girl go for days without bathing so the slave’s scent wouldn’t entice her husband. The wife would make the slave girl shave her hair to strip her of her identity and make the slave girl unattractive to her husband. If a slave woman became pregnant by her master, the wife would take the slave woman’s baby from her and sell it to another slaveowner to be raised miles away from them to keep her husband from finding any value in continuing a relationship with that slave girl. Any way the wives could officiate seniority over their husband’s interest in the African women they did it.
No matter what the slavemaster’s wife did more and more mixed babies kept popping up all over the South. The slave women knew how to make natural oils that smelled better than their masters’ wives’ expensive perfumes. The slave woman knew how to sing to their master when he was troubled and he was mesmerized by her voice. She knew how to make herself look beautiful with short hair, long hair, or no hair at all and her mystery just magnetized the slavemaster to her even more privately.
Just as Slavemasters were fascninated with slave women so were their wives with slave men. The slavemaster’s wife had already observed the slave man’s physique. She picked him out at the auction because of his muscles and strength. No matter how much her husband belittled and controlled the slave she was highly curious about his nature. She found his ability to play instruments without any training fascinating. She found his eye for art and words without any English development ingenius. She found his confidence attractive and even though she would never publicly say it the slave man secretively turned her on. Mixed babies didn’t only come from slave women having babies. Thousands of mixed babies were born to the masters’ wives as well.
Birth of Blackface
The entire genre of Blackface began as the White man’s way to simplify the value of a slave as a human being. In the 1930’s White performers in New York would paint shoe polish all over their faces to appear black. They’d mimic the demeanor of Southern Slaves to get laughs during their performances. The acts usually charatcterized the slaves as dumb, scary, thieves, over sexual, and lazy. Thomas Rice developed the first widely popular ‘Blackface’ character named “Jim Crow” in 1830. It didn’t take long for minstrel shows all over the country to adopt Blackface as a signature proponent of American theatrics. It became so popular that by 1845, Blackface had become American Family Amusement as White parents taught their children to laugh at the stereotypes of Blacks.
The Black Sound Is Amplified
In the late 1800’s, Black Culture began to find it’s own path. It was Scott Joplin who produced the “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 who brought fame to the evolving trend of his very own ‘Ragtime’ music. Joplin became known as the “King of Ragtime”. He was born in Texarkana, TX and his piano gift took him all over, playing for the wealthiest people in the world. When he played for the World Fair in Chicago in 1893 they had never heard his style of music and they were drawn to it. The word spread of his sound all over America and by 1897 ragtime was THE happening sound in America.
As Ragtime became popular, the Africans in New Orleans, LA were brewing a completely different sound. By the 1910’s, the African-American community in New Orleans had created their own unique sound mixing brass-bands with ragtime and blues. Jazz was birthed and by the 20’s it had become the newer sound of America. New Orleans bands had triggered their famous call and response style of music mixed on top of a plethora of advanced musical collaborative skats and it fascniated the world. Jazz had spread to Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Chicago, New York, and slowly became an American treasure. Jazz gave birth to Big Band and Bebop.
In the early 1920’s, Jazz was so big, Josephine Baker (St. Louis native) had become an international icon. She was seductively attractive to White men and held as a multi-talented staple of the Jazz era. Her signature girdle of bananas took her all over the world as she sang and dance before all White audiences. Her talents were so accepted that she caused many venues to break their segregated policies when she began rejecting tour dates at venues which supported discrimination against Blacks. Although many American venues still did not change their policies by 1927 Baker became the first African-American featured in a major motion picture, Siren of the Tropics. Baker became so disgusted by America’s interest in her talent but it’s disinterest in her race that she abandoned America and moved to France where she married.
It was in the 20’s that Black Culture began to separate itself from American culture. The “New Negro Movement”, most commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance, became the incubator for the next wave of American influencers. Poets, Painters, Dancers, and Musicians were impacting American culture all over the place. Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, WEB Dubois, Duke Ellington… they all became intellectual pieces to a movement that was pressing America to recognize the importance of Black Art. In 1931, William Grant Still became the first African-American to have a major orchestra play one of his pieces.
By the 40s, Billie Holliday gave America a crush on jazz it couldn’t resist. During that same time, Jackie Robinson was changing the landscape of American Baseball. He was often rejected because his style of playing was different from the way Whites played but it was so electrifying to witness that he changed the way the game was played. In that same era, Madam CJ Walker was hyjacking the hair industry. By 1943, The Nicholas Brothers had danced in so many movies that their dance ability, using tap and acrobatics, was now being recognized as an American phenomenom in London and in other parts of the world. In 1956, Sammy Davis, Jr. starred in Mr. Wonderful on Broadway and he broke barriers proving Blacks could parallel Whites in major motion pictures.
Pop Culture Is Branded
The name ‘Pop Culture’ itself was the beginning of culture division in America. Pre-Civil Rights Movement Black artists were marginalised in America. It was easy for White artists to hear a Black artist do a song in a backroom bar somewhere in Memphis or New Orleans and steal it without anyone even knowing. Elvis Presley became known as the “King of Rock N Roll” but Rock N Roll music had been on the Black scene years before Elvis Presley hit the mainstream. Little Richard, Ike Turner, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, and Joe Turner were very popular doing rhythm and blues music called “Rock” before Elvis Presely or the Beatles were even known. Pat Boone and many others bought music from Black Artists and put them out as their own. Big Mama Thorton released “Hound Dog” long before Elvis Presley but it was Presley who got credit for making it a hit. White musicians often listened and learned from Black musicians privately because it wasn’t socially acceptable to do it publicly.
The term ‘Pop Music’ became more effective than ever in the 50’s. But, Black artists could never be included in Popular Culture because Black Culture was still deemed the lesser culture even though mostly everything being released by ‘Pop Artists’ was influenced by Black Artists. Although, Elvis Presley commonly admitted he admired Black musicians and especially Black ‘Church’ music, he wasn’t big enough to change the hearts of the racist times in which they were living. Pop meant White and White meant American.
R&B Is Categorized
Even though the Rhythm and Blues extension of Jazz in the late 40s and early 50s is what created Rock N Roll, White America would not share the genre with Blacks. So, Black artists were categorized as Rhythm & Blues artists. It was a mixture of Blues, Rock, and Gospel. It became commonly known as “Soul Music” in the Black Community.
R&B ripped America because while chartmakers attempted to deem it lesser than pop music R&B took on a life of it’s own creating an avenue for Black artists to define themselves without seeking the approval of American Pop Culture consumers. By the 60’s, R&B was the sound of the Black Community but it was also becoming the private crush of American Culture. Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The Temptations, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, and many others had developed their own sound, image, and brand. The culture had built such a demanding appeal that they didn’t even need the approval of Pop enthusiasts. Black Culture took on it’s own identity in America and it would never be the same.
The 60’s artists opened the door for Black expression in clothing, hair, dance, and even in film. The Black train was moving so fast that by the 70’s R&B artists were just as popular as the Pop artists and were gaining multicultural interests in America. Black artists began showing up on Pop charts and the white within Pop was becoming brown.
Hip Hop Solidified Black Culture
By the 80’s street kids in New York birthed another layer of music in the Black Community that would forever change music and entertainment as we know it. Hip Hop frightened mainstream America in the 80’s because it wasn’t just Black but it was ‘street Black’. It’s elements were built from an inner city overlooked culture in America which had slowly become the reality for life in most Black communities. Un-employment, lesser pay, mass incarceration, drugs and violence, and subpar education became the picture of most urban communities in America. The culture was the only thing Blacks had.
Rather than conform to what America thought was correct, Hip Hop artists made their own path and they had built so much interest within the urban communities that it caused mainstream America to pay attention. The clothing was different. The art in museums were now upstaged with grafitti. The concert bands were replaced by disc jockeys who blended records together to create a completely new sound. Modern dance was upstaged by breakdancing and poplocking. Once again, Africans were introducing something that White America couldn’t understand. So, just as they did on the Slave Plantation they tried telling us Breakdancing was not an accepted form of dance. They told us DJ’ing was stealing and not creative. They told us rapping was ignorant and it was not a form of poetic expression. They told us our fashion was ‘ghetto’ and not acceptable in the respected American society.
By the 90’s, Hip Hop was so popular that it became the most common Black platform of expression. Hip Hop clothing opened new doors because it’s afrocentric appeal had never been marketed in the fashion industry. Black clothing lines were making millions because Blacks were only interested in supporting the styles and fashion of our own culture. Nobody in the Black community cared about Gucci or Louis Vuitton or any of the others. Our culture created a desire for FUBU, Cross Colours, Karl Kani, and other Black designers to create styles which illuminated the movement.
Black Culture Produces Billions
Black Culture had produced Billions of dollars through music, fashion, and art. When the mainstream American and European companies recognized the impact the Black Dollar has on the world they began callibrating their products to include us. Suddenly Tommy Hilfiger and others began using Black models in their advertisements. By the 2000’s our entertainers had abandoned our own brands to get major checks promoting European brands and mainstream American brands. Companies realized our people spend money on what our entertainers tell us is the best. If our rappers say Gucci is the elite brand to wear our people esteem it as such as well. If our entertainers promote Fendi and Versace and Louis Vuitton more than likely our people esteem these brands as the best.
It was the rise of the Black music videos which changed our culture. In the 80’s splurging, or promoting wealth, became popular in Hip Hop music but by the 90’s splurging became visible in Black music videos. It’s a difference when you see Black people wearing expensive clothes and driving expensive vehicles. Black Culture had been manipulated by leading companies as a direct avenue to boost the validity of their products. Even though many of the companies were disengaged from the Black Struggle they were attracted to the Black dollar. Our entertainers were being showered with expensive luxuries but our culture was suffering and drowning in the despair of misdirected identity.
As major companies show us how they really feel about us it is time we revisit what made our culture attractive to them in the first place. Our independence is what drew the mouse to the cheese. We didn’t rely on their influence to have our own and our influence produced billions without their manipulation. They wanted a piece of it, which is no problem, but you don’t get to make money off our culture and disrespect it in the process.
I must admit I absolutely thought the Gucci sweater was just oversight on another weird piece of European fashion but after seeing similar designs on other companies’ sites as well it became apparent that these companies know exactly what they are doing. They secretively hate our culture but our culture is the side-chick that they love for reasons their wives will never fully understand and they can’t leave it alone. They are addicted to how quickly our music and our influence can boost product sales and they can not get such quick revenue with any other race of people on the planet. They are hypnotized by the way our entertainers can bring so much relevance to a product that a T-shirt with the true value of $5 is instantly worth $500 once one of our entertainers is seen wearing it. They never imagined if one of our artists says he is ‘rolling down the street smoking indo sipping on gin and juice’ it could make the sells of an alcoholic beverage explode. If it worked for alcohol in the 90s it would definitely work for fashion.
While coorporations play around with our attention meanwhile they aren’t pressed to have any diversity on their governing boards. Hardly any of these companies have diverse leadership. So, while they want to make money off of our culture they don’t want to invest in Black people who can teach them the proper way to reach our culture. These mistakes will only end in two ways. Major Designers will have to include more diversity in the structuring of their companies or Blacks will have to steal our culture back from America. It is a state of emergency because if we don’t watch it Black Culture will become American Culture and we’ll never be able to reclaim it after they rename it. We’ll forever be the woman America can’t dance with in public but when they ask America how it learned to dance so well it will always know deep down inside who taught it how to move so cool.