So yesterday evening the world watched live as the Obamas left the White House and Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, might I add, at what seemed like history’s most desolate inauguration ceremony…
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
As if #Brexit wasn’t enough of a blow for us to deal with here in the UK, Trump’s presidential campaign for the position of POTUS, triggered waves of traumatic experiences around the globe. Many found it terribly hard to come to terms with his trail of xenophobic, sexist, misogynist, racist, corporate capitalist, classist, islamophobic rhetoric. Most people thought it was banter, shock tactics for entertainment. Many even thought the possibility of him being elected was just pure dark humour. Many people around the world who chose to reside in a bubble of privilege, away from the marginalised but very vocal narratives of oppression and injustice being blasted across the media, were rudely awakened when Trump bulldozed his way into the political scene, casually.
I’ve noticed a lot of creatives over the past few years avoid politics in discussion, and overuse that generic dissociative phrase,
“I’m not a politician or a political person” which actually translates to, “I’m afraid I might be slaughtered by the masses for having an opinion, so I’m going to ride the fence and stay ambivalent, safe and away from being seen as a supposed threat or danger.”
a person who is professionally involved in politics, especially as a holder of an elected office.
So for the sake of those who would rather tackle this from a more individualist, ‘liberal‘ or ‘democratic’ point of view – I’m writing as a woman, as a woman of colour, a daughter of immigrants, as a first generation, Igbo British citizen of West African descent, as a Feminist, as an active, politically informed artist, teacher, creative, and finally as a designer. Hopefully I’ve legitimised my stance (!)
I watched the world go numb, shocked into silence and submission. “This is nothing new?!” I thought to myself, having been at the receiving end of racism, misogyny and sexism all my life?!
“The only reason ‘the world’ cares now is because it’s going to affect white people?” I thought.
The world being white supremacy right? “This is normal life for me, this is the stuff I fight against, these are the reasons I have to be politically active, this is my life on a daily basis and now the world takes this up because it’s beginning to affect white people…?” Mkay.
So I detached myself from the outside world, as usual and decided to peep at what the creative world was saying – sidebar; also dominated by white people… but also a space in which I belong.
Kind of, practically still in the margin… Another day another blog post? Yup!
The fashion world in particular has always been my safe haven, the way I had always expressed my identity, the academic route I chose to undertake in Higher Education, the space in which I socialised, promoted and created in – my second family.
I had learned to lower my standards for institutionalised spaces and fashion wasn’t exempt. I chose to read articles about What Brexit means for the British Fashion industry, Copying Lawsuits involving the Ivana Trump Collection, Andre Leon Talley leaving ‘Trumpland’ , and how will the Art World Creatively Cope with Trump Era, over “What Melania wore to…” you get my drift.
I was surprised and secretly impressed when I read that several designers such as Tom FORD, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim, Sophie Theallet, Humberto Leon and Marc Jacobs, were refusing to be associated with the Trump family. I didn’t actually acknowledge the fact that I had very strong, repressed feelings about the situation and somehow toward Melania, until I read this quote.
‘I don’t think people should become political about it..” – coping mechanism, “I think Melania is a very beautiful woman and I think any designer should be proud to dress her…” – what has beauty got to do with it, and isn’t proud a strong feeling to have for a woman who hasn’t offered us anything, or stood for anything in particular? How sway? How has she made us proud?
“Ivanka is equally as beautiful and smart, although she wears her own clothes.” – still confused… presuming pride comes from just having your designs worn by beautiful women. If this isn’t an example of sexism and the objectification of women in the fashion industry by men who dominate the field then I don’t know what is?!
“Everyone was very happy to dress Michelle [Obama] as well.” – OKAY WHAT DOES THIS ACTUALLY MEAN? Not why but HOW, the comparison? Mrs Obama has a very extensive track record of ‘has done’s’ politically and socially, as a woman, a feminist, and an activist. Melania was so impressed by her she even plagiarised her speech!
“I think they look great in the clothes”. Wait…what do you mean? Have you seen them naked? “You’re not gonna get much more beautiful than Ivanka or Melania.” – Hilfiger, casually reminding WWD and the rest of us plebs, that Androcentric Eurocentric standards of beauty from the male gaze, do indeed exist and are continuously pushed as ideals into the media through fashion.
But isn’t this the white male voice of guilt ridden, excusing-anything-and-everything-to-make-his-point type of reasoning and privilege I’ve heard all my life?
So many blanket statements, so many meaningless statements gathered together, in hope, maybe, to hide guilt? Guilty by association, guilt for wanting to gain from such a disastrous situation, guilt from wanting to win, for being truly capitalist, and or for having the privilege to be so callous?
Okay, so the 46 year old Slovenian born, Architectural graduate, model and Vogue cover girl, married Trump in 2005, bore a son for him a year later and has been by his side for over a decade. So she knows him very well. A lady who calls her husband a “genius” but disagrees with ‘some of the language he uses‘ and acknowledges that “he’s an adult and knows the consequences” and states, “I do not try to change him.”
Then a quiet little voice inside said to me, “Our presumptions say more about us, than those we project them onto.” And that was the moment I was able to properly contextualise my feelings into some kind of rational theory.
Whether we say it or not the people in power have so much influence on us as a society, they are there to govern us and help lead us into more a progressive and functional social space as a civilisation; whether it is your local social worker, teacher, Prime Minister or President. They call the elected president’s family “The First Family” and his wife “The First Lady“ as a sign of respect and honour; chosen to exemplify our ethics and values. Chosen, we choose, we decide, and they work for us…
I realised how I had treasured Michelle Obama, and kept her so close to my secret little heart, she was #goals, quite literally. She wasn’t the stereotypical ‘wife of‘, she was a woman in her own right, she was open and honest and had integrity, she won our hearts for being so down to earth and active in the global community.
I’m only 26, so I have never really been ‘mature’ enough or old enough to really truly personally experience the socio-poilitical acts and impacts of other First-Lady-type women. I mean I’d read up on Grace Kelly, Queen Victoria, Boudicca, Cleopatra and I even had a distant fondness for the Princess of Wales as a young girl. Remembering her as a people person who through her actions shunned any Disney narrative of a naive, mindless pretty and pointless princess, waiting around for ‘captain save a hoe’ to show face. She was literally in the trap house, in the bando, in these streets and those actually very scary looking mine fields ( even if they were already quite possibly cleared out). And we adored her agency to help, to support and to work like a regular woman.
I was proud to be a woman because of these Herstories, but Michelle Obama was my time, my adult life, my reality, my history and she looked like me… Finally a woman in power who looked like me and was everything I wanted to be like as a child growing up.
I kept her in my heart in silence and repeated her words of wisdom to myself daily…
She gave herself to us, she worked for us, with us, by us…
Whenever I scan the Likes folder on my Tumblr dashboard, she is there… and the Tumblr geeks are there with a long list of credentials in the comments and reblogs, with the links attached… You couldn’t hate her if you tried. She was legit the irreplaceable mum from Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
It’s funny how the world has now found such deep appreciation for the Obamas now they’re out of office, when only a few years back Mrs Obama was regularly scrutinised for her hairstyles, because of her blackness, and even her mothering methods, whilst her daughters were dragged through the media at every given opportunity. Never enough it seemed?
The norm for black and brown women, whose bodies are always being exoticized, studied, decoded, up for public debate and forced into the white narrative, through the white gaze; aggressive, overtly sexual, promiscuous, ghetto, violent, provocative and non submissive to the patriarchy.
She came into the White House in 2009 and left yesterday with an understated elegance, dressed both times and on several occasions in Jason Wu.
We know that the FLOTUS has always had the power to influence women all over the world, especially in terms of fashion and style. Before Michelle, Jackie O was especially famous for the way she poised herself into position, taking on the responsibility of influence, dealing with the trials and tribulations that came – in style. Designers flocked to dress her and some successes including the likes of Halston (who designed the pillbox hat she wore to Kennedy’s presidential inauguration in 1961), were brought to the attention of the public on the back of this walking, talking billboard.
A lot of women from the Baby Boomer generation hail Jackie O as #goals, not just for her quintessentially American, modern and minimalist style, and as a patron for the Arts and Humanities, but for the way she normalized her position of power as a First Lady. She modernised the concept of the housewife and home maker in the White House by publicly broadcasting her restoration of it’s interior style and historical character. The world loved Kennedy even more for having such a wife by his side.
My generation hail Michelle as goals for literally being the bomb! There was never that awkward vibe traditionalist wives project, when you can tell they are afraid of overshadowing their husbands, they were a team, and you could tell he loved her for not being afraid to be herself. She was unapologetic, funny, down to earth, cool, sexy, intelligent, educated and super care free. She was alive! She ticked the boxes, all of them and the ones you didn’t even know you should’ve had down but scratched in at the last minute. She was just a normal black woman, what I had associated with black women all my life, none of those stereotypical portrayals the media try to force own our throats. She was alert, aware, but never seemingly under pressure and always up for bants. It was like she had had that job for years and gone on holiday and just come back to check that the dogs had had their baths… A truly democratic woman, a real life Proverbs 31. ( A PK always has to drop a reference or two. 🙂 ) She made eating healthy cool, she was vocal and reliable and sometimes we even forgot who the actual president was. But I guess that’s the point of being a partner, you become one?!
Now, is the debate about who will or won’t dress the current First Lady about supporting American fashion as an industry, or the state supporting Fashion as an Art form? Is it about making American designers great, or creating a reliable and sustainable workforce for American designers? If the First Lady is the people’s lady, should she not be accessible to the average woman, whether it’s through the lifestyle she endorses, or the brands used to endorse a certain type of lifestyle through its products, to its consumers ?
As a designer myself, I know that we as craftspeople have narratives and idealistic utopian visions we try to manifest info the world through fashion. It can be a quick though very exhaustive route to escapism, and or realism. We bring ideas to life and people wear them on their backs like silent slogans, silent screams of beliefs, morals, ethics, ideas, hopes and visions. Allowing form to follow function; being the loudspeaker for our moral fabric.
For Trump’s presidential inauguration the First Lady was dressed in luxury fashion designer Ralph ( formerly known as Lifshitz ) Lauren’s clothes; an American national born to Jewish immigrants in New York. A designer who capitalised on aspirational style, tapping into the British gentry and All American upper class style.
The American Dream wasn’t built on inclusivity or diversity, it took centuries of racism, xenophobia, genocide, segregation, indentured slavery, civil war, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, bigotry, religious extremism, disenfranchisement, lynching, mass incarceration, brute police force and many many more forms of oppression to sustain it.
For a long time the American Dream was a white man’s dream, the dream that the Pilgrims left England for, to found on another man’s land.
These aren’t just ‘white problems’ , these are worldly problems, but those with the most privilege have been the least affected because of their socio-economic access to power. And that power is being distributed by the leaders of our White Western Euro Imperialist Capitalist Sexist Patriarchal society, that no body sees, but behind closed doors behave in ways that support Trump’s beliefs, those same values that have a trickle down effect in society, crippling the most vulnerable and disenfranchised peoples in our communities.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Trump is the epitome of this narrative, and watching Melania covertly support him is like watching reruns of your favourite choice of traumatic slavery narratives, on a plantation where the Master’s wife watches in silence while he rapes, beats, castrates, brutalises and dehumanises his slaves. She is aware of her privilege, and his, whilst simultaneously being acutely aware of your disadvantage at the hands of her husband, yet she does nothing. With all of her privilege, she does nothing, a bit like a Stepford wife who exhibits codependent enabling and covert narcissistic tendencies. Oh and word to the wise, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.” – Donald Trump
This isn’t about alienation or exclusivity, though most people tend to view the fashion industry as a trailblazer for such notions, this is about democracy, creative expression and endorsement. We’ve come to a point in our society where we think about money and business before people, wellbeing and humanity. It’s a game of chess and the “Queen” holds power, and in this circumstance the FLOTUS has a long standing position in socio politics as being the billboard for designers to showcase themselves.
The hunger games have begun, and those who decline to dress are vilified, whilst the rest bid for the attention of a FLOTUS who “… can’t talk… can’t give a speech… doesn’t go to events… doesn’t (seem to) want to be involved…” – (Ivana Trump)
My fury comes from a place of womanity, in a time where Feminism serves as a kick ass generational guild for women in this sexist society of ours. I look to women for the heads up, for support, for a backbone when mine has been crushed. To be allies and call out oppression when they see it, and not pat it on the back, snuggle up to it at night and make excuses for it.
And then the still voice comes back again “This is a great example for when people ask what the reason for Black Feminism is…” because I can’t continue to centre other people’s narratives inside mine own. It’s detrimental to my emotional and psychological wellbeing.
I can’t beg her to understand my pleas, or be the voice of reason for me, or force her to stand up for women or the people, or trust her to have our backs as women and as a black woman.
As young as five I experienced extreme racism, mud on the windows, spit on my back after school, physical attacks and verbal abuse in the square, by those I thought were my playmates. Those who had no idea why their parents hated us but allowed themselves to be used as tools for that expression of hatred. Those that would have been allies chose to be enemies. I let go of the expectations I had for others and chose to stand up for myself, for others like myself and for justice, and speak out against what I knew was morally wrong. Though I was an introvert and taught myself to be a professional ambivert for the sake of my passion for PR, Fashion was my way of standing up for my beliefs. Design was my slogan when I was too tired to fight back and just wanted to walk away – in style, my style.
Trump, is a hypercapitalist, and this is Disaster Capitalism, playing out in full effect, a love of money, extreme greed and a thirst for power, selfishness and hyperindividualism – “to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.”
A crooked business man who debates qualified political candidates with sexism, lies, and childish bullying schoolboy tactics. A sexual predator and father of two daughters who “grabs“ women “by the
pussy“ and claims that “if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
A liar a racist and a con artist who claims that Mexicans bring “…drugs. They’re bringing crime.” and that “They’re rapists…” and promises to build a wall bigger and strong than that old Berlin wall, you remember that one? and “make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” oh we will do, as a racist propagandist! Don’t forget the “birtherism” conspiracy theory about Barack’s nationality questioning his legitimacy as US president.
Oh, and the constant reminder for all the working class inner city living black people in America, “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” but the real reason Black Lives (don’t) Matter, and the reason you need to skip that class and head to the All Lives Matter lecture theatre for some whitexplantion and some brief and causal miseducation? “Our African American communities are absolutely in the worse shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever.” … OK THEN.
I’m reminded of the reign of Hitler and the Nazi Party, and the lengths he went to divide and rule and exterminate so called immigrants, disenfranchise businesses and creative institutions and anyone who rejected the most obscene notions of extreme nationalism, all in the name of so called racial purity…
Quotes to ponder over…
“Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe, colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa.” – Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism
“When people of colour are expected to educate white people as to their humanity, when women are expected to educate men, lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world, the oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.” – Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
“The specialization of radical feminism actually lies in the cataloguing of wrongs suffered by woman at the hands of man. If this catalogue was ever completed, the specialization would no longer be necessary and it would be time to move beyond this listing of wrongs suffered to an actual attempt to analyze the nature of women’s oppression in this society and take real, thought-out action to end it.
So the maintenance of this specialization requires that feminists expand this catalogue to infinity, even to the point of explaining the oppressive actions of women in positions of power as expressions of patriarchal power, thus freeing these women from responsibility for their actions. Any serious analysis of the complex relations of domination as it actually exists is laid aside in favor of an ideology in which man dominates and woman is the victim of this domination. But the creation of one’s identity on the basis of one’s oppression, on the victimization one has suffered, does not provide strength or independence.” – Against the Logic of Submission , Beyond Feminism, Beyond Gender.
Welp… He said he’s going to “Make America Great again!” maybe we can come together and beat him to it, we can make the world great by pushing back and creating positive, progressive, inclusive, non divisive narratives that encourage equality in every arena.
And to sum up this very lengthy text, I’d like to humbly reference the goddesses by encouraging us all to finally take a seat at this global table, and GET IN FORMATION!
Images courtesy Alex Brandon/AP/REX/Shutterstock