Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's yearbook page from Eastern Virginia Medical School features several photos including the one on the far right of two men--one dressed as a Klansman and the other in blackface. After initially apologizing for appearing in blackface, Northam said that after examining the phot more carefully he is not either of the men pictured in the racist photo. That hasn't stopped Virginians and political leaders from across the country--Republican and Democrat--from calling for Northam to resign.


Protests and Boycotts Mean Nothing Unless Black America Uses its economic Might to Strengthen its Communities

Black folk are upset, and rightfully so.

Black folk in America have not had to search hard for a reason to be angry, to demand apologies and resignations, call for boycotts, and set it off on Black Twitter—from a partial government shutdown that disproportionately impacted Black Americans, to photos of White governors in blackface, to the news that overpriced fashion brands (brands that Blacks consumers have been very loyal to) are using blackface imagery in their designs, to the Grammy Awards choosing Jennifer Lopez to give a musical tribute in honor of the 60th anniversary of Motown during the annual show.

In our opinion here at The Tribune, anger is in order.

But then what?

Okay, so let’s demand that Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia apologize and resign.

Well, he did indeed apologize. Then a day later, he essentially erased that apology by declaring that it wasn’t him in the infamous photo, while admitting that he has, in fact, donned blackface before to impersonate Michael Jackson. Anyway, it’s not something he’s proud of, he says, but insists that this is not who is now. He wants to work to regain the trust of the people of Virginia, blah, blah, blah. Explaining his position in an interview with CBS’s Gayle King, Northam says, “Things happen for a reason. And there is a reason— I believe—that this happened…we are in a position to learn. I will focus on race and equity. That’s something that, for the next three years, is gonna be my commitment to Virginia. And I really think we can—make impactful changes.”

Oh, by the way, he says he does not intend to resign.

So now what? He says it’s not him in the photo. He won’t genuinely apologize and he refuses to resign. He has doubled down on his stance. And he remains the duly elected governor of Virginia. 

By the way, he landed that gig with 87 percent of the Black vote. It’s no secret that Black voters are a force to be reckoned with, especially with the Democratic Party. Even now, though, 58 percent of Black voters in Virginia say Northam should not resign. Everybody appears to understand that except Black voters, who seem just fine with giving their votes away to the party’s star candidate without doing much research or demanding anything in return. We have to take some ownership of this debacle, and we must no longer allow ourselves to be taken for granted. A vote is a terrible thing to waste.

It’s So Unfashionable 

If the a governor of a state wearing blackface in his medical school yearbook photo wasn’t enough, Gucci came under fire for a god-awful ugly sweater in black that can be worn over the bottom half of the face. If the sweater wasn’t hideous enough, it features a red opening shaped sort of like an open mouth that would cover the mouth area once the sweater is pulled up over the bottom half of the face.

The nearly $900 sweater, that was discontinued with deepest apologies by the clothing company looked disgustingly reminiscent of blackface imagery. And blackface found its way into fashion and accessories created and sold by Prada, another luxury brand with which Black people are all too fascinated. 

The infamous Gucci sweater that critics say is reminiscent of blackface imagery sold for $890 before the luxury fashion label discontinued it.

There are calls for boycotts of the high-end retail lines and demands for more inclusion of Black people on their design and development teams. There is the rhetoric about elevating “voices of color within the . . . fashion industry”, which has already started, it seems, with the naming of director Ava DuVernay to a newly formed diversity council that Prada is creating for its company. Everyone from Atlanta rapper T.I. to director Spike Lee is denouncing the brands. And that’s great.

In fact Black entertainer, musicians, actors and others in the industry ought to take some ownership of this issue. Every time they rap about Gucci and Prada, place the brands in their music videos and movies and wear them on the red carpets, they are complicit in elevating the prominence of these products as symbols of status and distinction within segments of the Black people community.

So forgive us for not being so impressed by their outrage now. It’s easy to tell folk to stop buying Gucci because of a blackface sweater or to not buy Prada because of a so-called monkey accessory that looks like a racist caricature of Black people. But a much better look would have been to encourage fans and followers to not buy the latest Gucci shoes or Prada bag because spending $2000 on a pair boots or $3000 on a purse is simply not practical for many of them.

The Reaction

Instead, Black folk yell and scream for boycotts until more Black designers are hired to work for these brands. But then what?

Really, let’s dissect it. Apologies and a few more Black faces in those places will not equate to Gucci and Prada or any of the other majority-owned luxury brands actually valuing Black consumers and the dollars they spend.

The luxury fashion industry is a $420 billion market; and for whatever reason, Black people are there for it. 

One study reveals that Blacks spend more on luxury (clothes, cars, jewelry) items than their White counterparts—spending as much as 28 percent more on those types of goods than Whites. This is a big deal because in this nation, the median Black income is still about half of the median income for Whites. Oh, and the wealth gap in America is not is a myth. According to the New York Times, for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04. A report by the Institute for Policy Studies asserts that the 400 richest families in America own more wealth than all Black families combined. And according to a 2018 study produced by the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, a White family living near the poverty line still has about $18,000 in wealth while Black family living near the poverty line owns nearly zero wealth.

Of course the wealth gap in America was not caused by how much money Black people spend on Gucci. We know that it has been created by institutional and systemic racism that has brought about bias in banking, homeownership, and employment. But Black folks sure aren’t helping the situation with spending habits that only make rich White people richer.

Yes, Prada and Gucci should hire more people of color. Our active presence is needed in all spaces. But threatening to withhold our support from Prada, Gucci or H&M until they meet some demands and then running back to get the latest Gucci bag as soon as they hire two Black people doesn’t really help Black people in general. In the end, it only benefits, you guessed it, Prada and Gucci and H&M as our dollars contribute to their massive bottom line. 

Guess what would help our communities more, however? It’s simple; let’s take those same dollars we have been using to help make the CEOs of Prada, Gucci, H&M and others rich, and support Black-owned fashion brands and labels. That would be one hell of a response to the “and then what” question.

Christian Omeshun, ENIN, Deep, Christie Brown, Adorned by Chi, daily paper, Alero Jasmine, Arryles and BCB3 are just a few of literally scores of up-and-coming and well-established Black-owned clothing lines that offer a range of prices, styles and look—from classic to casual to high-end glam. 

And we don’t want to hear anything about these or other Black designers and labels not offering the designs that consumers are looking for. Gucci is out here selling a wide-brim straw hat for $450 that pairs perfectly with a blue and red tweed dress that looks like a dyed potato sack with trim and buttons for almost $3000, calling it “vintage”.  With that, we have a good deal of confidence that any of the Black designers and labels we mentioned above offer styles that fit right in with what is being sold as high-fashion today.

Do We Even Know What Mad Looks Like?

We are not saying that Black people should not protest, demand change, or hold others accountable and responsible. Of course, the outrage is appropriate. We absolutely should be mad. 

But then what? 

And do we even know what “mad” looks like? 

Have we gotten mad enough to take our $1.2 trillion buying power and use it in a way that builds Black businesses and creates more jobs and opportunities for Black people? 

Are we mad enough yet to take our schools back from the corrupt corporate entities that have come in under the guise of reform and replaced education with business models that do not work for poor and black children?

Can we get mad enough to stop giving our votes over and over again to slick-talking politicians—Black, White and other—who make and break promises with the rising of the sun.

It’s time for our community to look beyond the surface. Posturing and “putting on” is getting us nowhere. And neither is demanding other folk to take responsibility for what they have done. 

We appreciate the importance of erasing the signs and symbols of racism from our world. But it’s way more important to attack, challenge and dismantle racism.

Here in New Orleans, we razed Confederate-era monuments. And it was a good thing, but now what?  Yes, we can agree that in the 21st century or any other, they had no place in the public space. Admittedly, We may not have seen the vision when this proposal was pushed a few years ago; still we, too, are glad they are gone. 

But now that they are gone, are our schools any better? Are minimum wage workers in our state earning more than $7.25 an hour? Are we finding our way out of the affordable housing crisis? 

The answer to each of those questions and many others is an emphatic “no”. Those challenges require more than a bulldozer. They require us to roll up our sleeves, strap on our boots and do the heavy and hard work of building, supporting and strengthening our communities with our money, our power, our votes and influence without apology or trepidation. They require us to couple our outrage with the kind of action that brings about concrete change. We have to flip this thing. 

After more than 200 years of American slavery, a century of Jim Crow followed by more decades of conditions dictated by inequities across every area of our society, one thing is certain—NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US! 

We will have to take on this task ourselves.

The truth is Black folk don’t have enough room to hold all the admissions of guilt, acts of contrition, reparations, amends and make-goods that America owes. We can’t even begin to calculate that astronomical figure here at The New Orleans Tribune office. Luckily, we don’t need to. Because whatever it is, we’ll never get it.

So something happens, and we get mad! 

But then what!

The New Orleans Tribune

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