Gucci blackface jumper, Prada monkey keyring, Liam Neeson – are we over-reacting or is the outrage valid?

As we see another major brand name ‘Gucci’ create an item of clothing that resembles blackface, it raises many questions for me. One being how this item ever got from the thought process through the design process to being made available to buy? The amount of people who must have been part of that process who never thought there was an issue is concerning. This also comes not long after Prada released a keyring that again resembled blackface. 5c13caa6404f4d1210586e7e-750-562But, maybe you don’t see a problem with the jumper or the keyring, or with the recent statement made by Liam Neeson. Maybe you think the uproar is completely uncalled for.

Are we over reacting or is the outrage valid? Personally  I can never understand what it feels like to be another race or ethnicity. I can only understand what it feels like to be me, mixed race white & Asian, with a White British mother and a Pakistani father. I can empathise with others, but I can never truly understand. If I can’t understand what it’s like, then I certainly can’t tell people what they should be offended by!

We know we have a narrative in our society that paints certain races and ethnicities in certain ways. That history taught us that people like Christopher Columbus or Winston Churchill were great men, and maybe they were, maybe they did achieve greatness, but I know my history lessons did not tell me the whole truth. It’s only now as an adult that I know and understand that they were not as great as I had been taught that they were, click their names to read more about them if you don’t believe me. I know that the media and government tells us how to think and that sinks into our subconscious. This then becomes the narrative that shapes and forms our opinions.

I believe that racism is learned behaviour, that its basis lies in ignorance and that it can be unlearned. I know that I have experienced racism myself from people of different races including white and Pakistani. Maybe you have experienced if yourself? I am sure that all of us at some point in our life have thought or said something which was based on race and could be deemed racist. But more than likely this is because we have been taught to think these things based on stereotypes, a media agenda and being ignorant of all the facts.

For me, trying to tell a person how to feel about something they feel is racist, when you are not the same race or ethnicity as them, just doesn’t make sense. You have no idea what they have experienced, you have no idea how racism affects them on a daily basis, you can empathise but please don’t tell people how they should feel. Be aware of what is taking place in the world, that institutionalised racism exists and is very real, that white privilege is alive and kicking. I know that’s hard to take in for some, especially for those who don’t experience it but don’t tell those that do experience it that it’s not real. It’s real and its everywhere you look – its in our history books, it’s in our fashion industry, it’s in our business board rooms, it’s in our houses of parliament, it’s in our streets, it’s in our schools.

No person living in 2019 should be at a disadvantage because of the colour of their skin, beaten up because of their race or ethnicity or be deemed not suitable for a job opportunity because of their skin colour. It still blows my mind that anyone ever thought they were better than anyone because of the colour of their skin. I can never get my head around it and I know that I have my mum to thank for bringing me up in a way to accept all people. I am grateful that I grew up in a multi-cultural area and was taught to stand up against racism. I was taught to be loving and accepting of others. I am teaching my own children the same thing while having to unlearn some of the racial narrative I have grown up with from school and the media.

So you may feel that Gucci, Prada, Liam Neeson’s past confession never meant any harm, that they never intended to be racist BUT you cannot make that sweeping statement for everyone. Ask yourself how so many people in Gucci and Prada never questioned their design?  There are people who are offended by these things and there are people who agree that they have been discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity.

I have seen some really good explanations about Liam Neeson and do think we need to give him credit for admitting he was wrong for what he thought and did. I think people are being too hard on him for how he used to think but again this is an example of what I am saying – that racism can be unlearned!

What do you have to unlearn or learn today to know that racism exists, racism is wrong & we should all be doing our bit to stand up against it? Maybe it’s time to stop keeping quiet about things and actually using our voices to speak up for those who feel discriminated against on a daily basis.

For me, I want to keep pushing on to be who God created me to be and I am sure that includes loving and accepting people no matter what.

Love, Amber xx

 

4 thoughts on “Gucci blackface jumper, Prada monkey keyring, Liam Neeson – are we over-reacting or is the outrage valid?

  1. You’re right in saying that we can’t speak for others in terms of what they find offensive or upsetting. However, I’m not sure that offence should always be in the eye of the beholder. In the case of the jumper I can see the issue with resemblance to black face acts of yesteryear. I can see it. BUT … if it is JUST a jumper which the designer thought would look cool if it was black, and if lips are generally red, and if they thought wouldn’t it be cool if we put a hole here and some lips round it so people could pull it up over their face … then it’s really just a jumper with red lips and a hole.
    Meanwhile if I climb onto a stage with a cane, a straw boater, put boot polish on my face and make my lips look red and exaggerated … THEN I am doing something deeply offensive.
    A jumper is just a jumper. A deliberate intent to cause offence is something else.
    for me the place where we should look to for working out whether offence should be caused is not in what I think, or what someone else thinks, but in what the original creator of the thing was thinking. What’s their intention? Did they wish to ridicule? Did they wish to cause harm? Or did they just mean to make a jumper? Or a keyring?
    Sometimes similar things can be very different things in reality. The swastika for example is a symbol first used across eastern religions and then later used by the nazis. The intention of the use really suggests whether I should be offended by it. If I walk into a Hindu temple and see one on the wall I should not be shocked. If I walk into a meeting of the British National Party and see one on the wall then I should.

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    • Thanks for your insight Evan. I have read an apology from the designer at Gucci and of course he was not intending to cause offence and is very sorry. I’ve also read some comments that have disregarded the apology. Again highlights that one’s reality is different to someone else’s. Sometimes it’s the subconscious of our thoughts that we don’t even recognize from the social conditioning we have had. So without knowing the designer I wouldn’t know what his subconscious narrative is

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  2. Well written Amber, I can’t tell people what to be offended by as like you say I’ve not been walked in their shoes. When I looked at the jumper I thought it was a strange thing to want to wear but didn’t think anything of it as being a weird jumper until I saw other people talking about it being offensive- it just didn’t enter my head. Just goes to show doesn’t it that we can all perceive things differently dependent on their world view. I am not black, don’t have darker skin and have never experienced abuse due to my cultural heritage or ethnicity (plenty of other bullying though) yet when it was pointed out to me I can totally see why someone would feel that way. I don’t think any of us are in a position to lecture others on what we should not and should be offended by. I grew up in a very white area although have always been taught to judge others on their own merit and not by their ethnicity or culture. As you know went to school in a very multicultural area which I think makes a massive difference but still my eyes can continue to be opened.

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