Political fashion is about seeing the world with the wide scope of perspectives that influence the way we dress and express ourselves through clothing. This wide scope of perspectives acknowledges the advantages and disadvantages that systemically, people have based on their race.

Concepts like “privilege”, “racial prejudice”, “oppression”, and “ally”, carry a lot of weight in today’s social context. We acknowledge that there is a social problem that historically has not gone away. We often avoid starting these conversations, as we are unfamiliar with how people will react when we start speaking about this. 

But as hurtful, triggering, and frustrating as it is to speak about systemic racism, disregarding it will not make it fade away. The best we can do is to let ourselves learn more about the huge branches that develop from this problem so that we figure out how to identify them around us and within ourselves. 

This week in Political Fashion, we address systemic racism not with the intention of attacking or blaming. We are addressing it with the hope that we can acknowledge how inequality, inequity, discrimination, and racism come in many different ways, shapes or forms. Identifying our own biases, and the advantages or disadvantages that people around us have.

Racial prejudices are often covered with “optical allyship”. This means, pretending to be inclusive in the surface but not doing meaningful work against racism. Image Courtesy of Andrea Iyamah

They say that dreams come true if you work harder. If you reset your mindset, get surrounded by positive people, and set yourself to success with optimism, discipline, and ambition.

But this opportunity to succeed is not necessarily equally available to all. Our brain is designed to make thousands of assumptions every single day to simplify all the information that it's absorbing every second through our five senses. We simplify this information by making generalized assumptions of the people around us based on the color of their skin, their race, or their country of origin. These assumptions are often referred to as biases. 

Biases impede us having the chance to know the people around us without prejudging them. Biases are one of the reasons why people of color are being labeled as X, Y, or Z. Biases make people of color have to walk an extra mile to get half the recognition and status many white people obtain by doing half of the work. Sometimes there are barriers of language, barriers of education, financial obstacles that systemically have been affecting disproportionately communities of color, making this opportunity to succeed even harder. 

Racial prejudices in fashion include limiting the hiring of black talent to models, and roles that are more visible to the media. Image Courtesy of Jeofroi.

Biases are sometimes invisible, others are quiet. Without specific words or notable actions, we can overlook or misjudge someone unconsciously. 

Biases are a critical point on systemic racism, which influences political fashion, as they make generalizations or assumptions of someone based on their race.

The first step to tackle this problem is to identify it. Let’s discuss some common prejudgments affecting people of color. 

Teyonah Parris in the Marvels. Image Courtesy of Marvel Studios. 

Black women & political fashion 

Sadly, our world is fighting more than one social justice issue at a time. There are inequalities in gender, religions, sexual orientations, age, disabilities, health conditions, marital status, and more. 

One characteristic does not overshadow the other. Quite the opposite, they are cumulative. In a world where the six wealthiest people in the entire planet happen to be white men, it takes additional effort to succeed as a woman, but it takes way more effort if you are a woman of color. 

On How to Get Away With Murder, Ms. Keating’s character addresses the struggles she faced a Black lawyer in the workforce. Image Courtesy of Netflix.

Based on 2022 census, Black women earn 67 cents for every dollar a white man makes.

The common misconceptions about black women influencing political fashion are:

She is not smart enough

[Parents who feel hesitant about leaving their kids at school with a Black teacher because they think the teacher is not qualified enough.] [Questioning the academic preparation of a Black nurse significantly more than if she wasn’t a black woman]

She is angry. She is not sad.

The angry black women stereotype is everywhere. Workforces, schools, and social spaces keep spreading the misconception that all black women are angry, sassy, defensive, or even aggressive. These prejudices make it harder for them to be taken seriously in the workplace, to be respected in their community, and to be understood emotionally. 

Mass media plays an important role in racial prejudices. Image Courtesy of Brittanica. 
She is not feminine

The generalization of the Black angry woman leads to the assumption that Black women are not feminine. These characterizations are perpetuated with the lack of black feminine characters in pop culture and mass media. The idea that women of color are “less” women than others, is hurtful, and is still prevalent in our communities. 

Good assumptions?

In an attempt to be inclusive, or polite towards the Black community, there are people who would try to make compliments that end up contributing to a misleading generalization of this community. 

Stereotypes such as Black women being good singers, and Black men being great at sports, are not positive ways to address the Black community; not if we are not recognizing just one individual for their talent instead of making a vague generalization.

Now, let’s talk about some common misconceptions on Black men. 

He is irrationally angry and aggressive. 
In And Just Like That, Lisa Todd Wexley, and her husband Herbert, address the challenges of being a Black marriage having to constrain their anger in public settings. Image Courtesy of Max.

The protests in 2020 after George Floyd’s murder helped us amplify the acknowledgment of inequalities towards black men in our communities. A report from that year, shows Black men are five times more likely to be arrested than white men. (The Hill) 

The anger of a black man is severely punished, even if it’s valid. This puts black men in a very difficult position in their workplace and in their communities. How can they address something that is clearly unfair without being portrayed as irrationally angry? How can they express their joy, their sadness, their excitement, and their disgustment with the same recognition other people receive? 

He is a fetishe
Racial prejudices against Black men include fetishizing Black bodies. Image Courtesy of The Reckoning. 

There is an assumption that there is a general biological component that makes black men dominant, athletic, and strong. This contributes to the over-sexualisation of black men. (GQ UK)

 There are several racist reactions to this over-sexualisation including, white men considering black men as rivals, assume sexual performance or appearance of body parts, among others. 

Non binary & trans people of color

Racial prejudices add to the prejudices against non binary and trans people. Image Courtesy of Yes! Magazine. 

One human being is the sum of multiple characteristics. A Black woman faces discrimination for being Black, and sexism for being a woman, but her race doesn’t make her less of a woman and her sex doesn’t obstruct the fact that she is Black. 

When we talk about non binary and trans people, the discrimination and segregation increase significantly. Because the prejudices against non binary and trans people add to the prejudices on race. 

These prejudices become actions of exclusion and segregation. Not making an effort to start a conversation with them in the workplace, lacking empathy to see how things look from their perspective, disregarding comments, or actions that make them not feel welcomed. 

A study by the Trevor Project, stated that in 2022, 1 in 4 Black trans and non binary youth attempted suicide (CNN). 

Biases & Political Fashion 

Image Courtesy of University of Fashion. 

The biases in our community, and the assumptions we make of others become part of systemic rules that we intrinsically and unconsciously may be following. 

These are some ways in which these biases may be showing up around us. 

Sales associates in fashion make assumptions of their customers as soon as they walk into the store. 

Being immediately intimidated when interacting with a person of color, because of the color of their skin. 

Making generalizations of the living conditions in Black communities. 

Hiring, or becoming friends with a person of color, with the sole purpose of using them as a token. (Tokenism is the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly”).

Biases in Fashion Design

Zelda Wynn Valdes was a fashion & costume designer who created clothing for leading performers such as Marlene Dietrich, Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dandridge. Zelda’s work is underrepresented in fashion’s history & fashion reference text books due to the lack of representation of Black talent in these reference materials. Image Courtesy of Repeating Islands. 

So what happens when fashion designers create clothing with these unconscious biases? They feed unto the spiral of systemic racism that prevails. They hire black models as tokens, they make some of the already mentioned assumptions about black men, black women, and black people in general. 

This is why it seems that the fashion industry is becoming diverse, but many consumers are still unhappy with the way the industry operates. 

Precious Lee starring in a Versace Ad for the Spring 2021 launch. Image Courtesy of WWD. 

There is the misconception that racism can be covered with band-aids of diversity, with hiring black models and black entry-level employees, by curating a shelf on Black History Month, or posting a black square in the midst of a hypersensitive moment in the history of systemic racism in the world. 

But the only way to truly address these biases and tackle them directly is to hire a diverse workforce in the fashion industry who has experienced firsthand these biases. It’s not just about acknowledging Black people in our community. It’s about equity, supporting everyone to thrive and be recognized with their talents and the role they play in our community. It’s about inclusion, making sure everyone is understood, that they don’t feel out of place, or that they oddly stand out with the people around them.

It is about celebrating our differences, not comparing each other but seeing what everybody can bring to the table without prejudgments. It is challenging. We all have biases that consciously and unconsciously we’ve been carrying in our brain for a very long time. 

In Political Fashion, we believe knowledge is a super power that can help us accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish. If we want to fight against our biases, and if we want to be informed and support allies for everyone around us, we have to keep learning, listening, and growing.

Diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do. -Marco Bizzarri