It’s time to educate ourselves about black history
At the beginning of February, a month dedicated to paying tribute to the oft-unrecognized achievements of black people throughout American history, Gucci’s website displayed a model donning a sweater that was sourly reminiscent of blackface. The distasteful sweater, a black turtleneck that extended to the bridge of the nose and featured a red-lined cutout for the mouth, rightfully caused uproar on social media, compelling Gucci to remove the sweater from its physical and online stores and issue an apology to consumers. In its apology, the Gucci team stated that it is transforming this incident of racism into a “powerful learning moment.”
This is an all-too-familiar refrain. Earlier this month, Virginia’s governor admitted to having unknowingly worn blackface at a college party and last year, a daytime talk show host casually normalized wearing blackface on Halloween. The chronic and recurring nature of these incidents, as well as the continually recycled excuse of blissful ignorance, is alarming. Even more alarming, the person accused usually chalks the incident up to an enlightening learning experience, a problematic trend due to its underlying presumption that there is some sort of rigorous learning curve when it comes to refraining from blatant racism.
If the use of blackface, which once prospered on the American stage in minstrel shows and fully immersed white audiences in a repulsive cocktail of racial subjugation and offensive stereotypes for comedic entertainment, persists to this day, what does that say about our awareness of black identity? What does it say about the usefulness of American education in closing the gap in knowledge between historical and contemporary racism? If the apologies administered by Gucci and others are any indication, American educational institutions have been lax in teaching black history in its entirety, and Americans have been equally as complacent in accepting these meager helpings of history.
The instances of racist imagery that rear their ugly head every other month cannot be dismissed as mere ignorance or as simply being “out of touch.” The perpetuation of blackface by powerful brands, such as Gucci, are instead reflective of an active willingness to be ignorant.
Many on social media called for more hiring of black people to prevent this and similar instances from happening again, and Gucci has also vowed to implement more diversity hiring for their design team after the incident. While it is absolutely critical for companies to be inclusive and employ a diverse team of staff and Gucci is no exception, it is also problematic to depend on staffers of color to serve as the sole filter for potentially racist imagery that could be propagated by the brand. Everyone, no matter their racial or cultural background, should know and understand that blackface is wrong.
There is no admissible excuse for being culturally insensitive. In light of Black History Month, let’s devote more energy and resources into having conversations acknowledging and vehemently condemning blackface, as well as learning more about the pivotal black figures who have shaped our world. If you feel that cultural awareness is an area in which you are lacking, The Editorial Board urges you to be proactive. Consider signing up for an African American studies class next quarter or do independent research at home. Now is the time to combat America’s lingering racism.
Written by: The Editorial Board