Fashion is notorious for exclusivity, especially when it comes to race. Up until recently, the fashion community hasn’t “been here” for people of color. Of course there are the Naomi Campbells and the Jourdan Dunns of the world, but more often than not, catwalks are overwhelmingly white. Though the fashion industry isn’t keen on celebrating black people, the industry does love using, or should we say appropriating, black culture. There have been many recent incidents of careless cultural appropriation in the industry like Marc Jacobs putting models down the runway in dreadlocks, and Valentino’s Spring 2018 collection that, although it was inspired by tribal Africa, only featured eight black models out of 87 but did include cornrows on white models.
A part of this issue is public icons that are infamous for cultural appropriation, like the Kardashians. The famous family has come under fire many times for appropriating black culture without much regard to the significance that these cultural staples hold to the black community. Recently, Kim Kardashian posted a picture on her Instagram featuring a hairstyle she called “Bo Derek” braids.
Now, this isn’t the first time Kim has worn braids, but what is particularly upsetting to people this time around is her failure to recognize that this hairstyle has deep roots that date back to tribal Africa, specifically the Fulani people. People in the black community commonly refer to it as Fulani braids or, more generally, just cornrows. Kim’s blatant disregard for the cultural background of this hairstyle and her indifference to the offense that people have taken is unfortunately not surprising. For many black people, it’s not just hair; it’s a part of a rich culture that has historically been threatened and ridiculed.
In another recent fashion faux-pas, Russian fashion influencer Miroslava Duma and designer Ulyana Sergeenko were called out for using the N word. Duma posted a picture to her Instagram story of a bouquet of flowers Sergeenko sent her with a note attached which read “To my N*ggas in Paris”. Being that these two women are not black, many felt this was a racial slur.
To make matters worse, Sergeenko posted an apology on Instagram where she said, “Kanye West is one of my most favourite musicians and NP is one of my most favourite songs. And yes, we call each other the N word sometimes when we want to believe that we are just as cool as they guys who sing it.” Listening to black artists does not serve as a pass to use the N word. When said by non-black people, the word is not “cool,” it’s a racial slur with centuries of oppressive history behind it. Many black members of the fashion community were quick to call out Duma and Sergeenko. Supermodel Naomi Campbell responded to the post, writing on her Instagram, “Seriously?! Why would you a) write this b) post this…this better not be real!” Fashion Editor Nikki Ogunnaike reacted to the post in an equally anger-charged article saying “Earlier this week two fashion powerhouses were outed for their casual use of transphobic, homophobic, and racist speech. The n-word was used. Half-assed excuses were offered. And none of it is okay.”
These two women are not just anybody —they have the responsibility of major influence in the fashion industry. Kim Kardashian shares this ability to influence. Yet, their ignorant actions only give the impression that it’s okay to use racial slurs and to engage in cultural appropriation. Its 2018, racism and cultural appropriation are two trends that definitely need to be cancelled.