Prada Promises To Cut Out The Blackface, Realize It's 2020
Prada got in a bit of pickle in December 2018 when it oh-so-wisely decided to go with a blackface theme for the window of its downtown New York store. The fashion powerhouse was promoting its "Pradamalia" line, which featured -- and I quote -- "clothing, jewelry, key chains, cell phone cases, and leather items, ranging in price from $260 to $860, with imagery or figurines of monkey-like creatures with black faces and large red lips."
Seriously, how much do you have to hate black people to pay $860 for a blackface trinket? The strange blackface robots were what you might've seen in a low-budget film titled The Grand Dragon Conquers the Martians. Chinyere Ezie, a black woman and a civil rights lawyer (a potent combination), posted a photo of the disgraceful scene on Twitter, which went viral. It's unclear if Santa left a lump of coal in Prada's stocking, but if he did, the company might've used it to make another blackface figure.
Why does anyone still blackface? We'll never know what exactly compels them other than, you know, racism. Ezie filed a hella-pissed complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, a law enforcement agency charged with "overseeing the city's human rights laws as they apply to housing, retail establishments and other areas." The commission spent the past year trying to put some sense in Prada's head. A settlement was finally reached Tuesday. This is good timing because it's fashion month and we want to raise enough awareness so that skinny white girls don't show up on runways in blackface. We don't care how "fierce" you think the look is. Don't do it.
Prada won't officially admit it's racist, but the company will commit to trying to appear less racist. It's a suburban soccer mom settlement.
EZIE: When I spoke out about Prada's blackface line one year ago, I feared that racism in fashion was a just bitter pill we collectively had to swallow. Now I know that speaking truth to power can lead to meaningful change.
My usual snark aside, there are some concrete actions included in the settlement. Ezie clearly took Prada to the woodshed and returned with results. Here's what the agreement requires:
Creation of a first-ever scholarship and paid internship program at Prada for racial minorities and other under-represented groups interested in pursuing careers in fashion and design.
Yes! More minorities in fashion is the best way to prevent the spread of blackface turtlenecks. (Yes, that was a thing.)
Racial equity training and training on equal employment opportunity laws for Prada employees, including executives in New York City and Milan on a reoccurring basis for six years;
This is another good move. "How Not To Be Racist" classes might encourage white employees to stop and exclaim, "What in the Al Jolson is this?" when presented with a blackface sweater instead of "Fabulous! Love it! Ship to stores across the country in time for Black History Month." It might also cut down on the lynching-themed casual wear.
A commitment to recruit and retain underrepresented employees, including racial minorities, to positions across the company;
Appointment of a permanent diversity officer, whose duties include strengthening Prada's policies on discrimination, retaliation, and racial equity, and ensuring Prada's business activities and hiring are conducted in a racially equitable manner; and
Mandatory enforcement and reporting to the NYC Human Rights Commission for a period of two years.
They've assigned Prada its own Racism Anonymous sponsor, who'll check in with the company and make sure it doesn't backslide. It only takes one slip up before you're selling backless blackface slip ons.
Prada will also convene a "Diversity Council," which I hope is actually diverse. It will create partnerships with social justice organizations for a period of at least six years. If Prada avoids any further blackface episodes during that time, it's the absolute least it could do, but it's a start.
Well done, Ms. Ezie.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).