Dear Marc Jacobs, We See Race, We See Colour

Before I start you should know something, I love Marc Jacobs, I have five Marc Jacobs handbags, or six, all his perfumes, Marc Jacobs Men’s fragrance was my very first of his from way back when and I still use it today, I have revered his collections for forever, have mad love for the Stam bag, Frances Q tote, even the Ulkita. I love his special products from his Jacobs for Marc by Marc for Marc Jacobs. I loved every year of his tenure at Louis Vuitton and have loved most every Marc Jacobs show, even the ones I shouldn’t have, I have defended him blindly to everyone who would care to hear, I loved him with Robert Duffy, I hold out hope for them to get back together, I have loved him from one stripper affair to the next porn star lover, I loved the show where he used unknowns and models off the street, I love his rebellion and the fact that Marc goes left when the fashion world is going right. I do love Marc Jacobs, he is the coolest of the coolest, not even über cool Tom Ford comes close. He always struck me as a designer that was in tune with the times, feelings and appreciated culture. One that understood the importance of identity and the necessity for acknowledging difference and celebrating it.

So his latest comments on black women’s hair, really hurt, like a personal attack especially fresh off this article I wrote about my hair and the important part it plays in my culture, identity and heritage.

I didn’t care much for this show, much like I haven’t really checked much for fashion week this time round, one can only say the same thing over and over before one starts sounding like a broken record. But then Marc Jacobs tried it hard. When people called him out for appropriating the Rastafarian culture without acknowledging it in his SS17 show when models walked the runway sporting deadlocks, his response was soul crushingly disappointing to say the least.

“All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin colour wearing their hair in any particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see colour or race – I see people,”

There is a story in South Africa that has been making the rounds about young girls fighting for their right to wear their natural hair as is. Twelve, thirteen year old girls who should be too young to know the harsh realities of life are already fighting a war to protect their identity. When I read this insipid response, I thought about them, how crushing it must be for them to be told that they, as they are, are not enough, they have to conform to an ideal akin to their natural self until they are told otherwise by someone who most likely knows nothing about what it is to grow up being made to feel like you as a person, as a woman, as a young girl trying to carve her space in this world, are not enough. Throwing their theft of your identity in your face.

I didn’t care much for the dreadlocks on the runway, I wasn’t offended by it one way or another, matter of fact I didn’t decry it as appropriation because I didn’t feel the need to, it was just another day in fashion but then came the response and my brain went into instant staccato. What an overly privileged and ignorant thing to say. An incredibly foolish attitude to have towards such an important issue.

You know what, it is okay to be influenced by cultures outside of your own, it is absolutely acceptable to acknowledge that you are influenced by history outside of your own. It is perfectly okay to wear braids and dreads and what not, but there is something intrinsically wrong with refusing to admit or acknowledge the root of your influence, something wrong in being this obtuse about cultures and races and the many different people that hold the fabric of society together, and hide behind words like “I don’t see colour or race- I see people“. That argument is as reductive as slavery was and still is. As black women we do not get the luxury for off days, not when we are constantly being reminded of how history never favours us. Every. Single. Day. We see race everyday we are reminded of the colour of skin, we see colour every time we cannot get a foundation that matches the darkness of our skin tone, we see race when we cannot see women who look like us walking the runways or fronting magazine covers, we see colour when magazines have to create a special issue, “the black issue” just to celebrate the achievements of black women in fashion, we see colour every time we try to buy nude underwear only made nude for caucasian skin tone, we see race every time a black woman’s complexion is lightened for commercial purposes because her blackness is seen as other and not mainstream enough. We see race every time our colour is emphasised as a prefix to introduce us or describe our achievements because it is unexpected that a black woman be outstanding, hold a position of power, or achieve anything outside the ordinary. We see race when young black women are called out for the way they wear their hair or choose to express themselves.

Whilst you might not see it, we see race, we see colour, it is a part of us, it is our being, our heritage, we cannot turn it off because we are constantly being reminded about our place in society, being told that our blackness, our skin, our hair is just not good enough until people like you deem it so. Do. Better. Marc.

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