Black Lives Matter More Than a Store or Handbag
If you're more concerned about looted storefronts than the brutal loss of life that spurred these protests, please re-evaluate.
Peaceful demonstrations all over the U.S. honoring George Floyd and demanding justice for his murder have descended into chaos, as police officers shot teargas and rubber bullets, and drove cars into crowds of protesters. What first looked like any other Black Lives Matter march — an emotional rally against racism and brutality — became violent; protestors were corralled onto New York’s Manhattan bridge and held hostage there for an hour; stores were looted as piles of bricks mysteriously appeared on street corners.
While the protests are a reaction to inequities built into the fabric of America, reinforced by white privilege and compounded by a deadly pandemic that has taken over 100,000 American lives (disproportionately Black ones), much of the mainstream media coverage of it centers on the loss of property not the loss of Black lives.
Black Americans make up 13% of the population and are three times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. And yet, many observers of this moment are focused on the stolen Chanel bags, or the handful of people making off with surfboards in Soho.
A screenshot of a Philadelphia Inquirer cover with the headline "Buildings Matter Too" is quickly going viral on Twitter, for literally putting property on the same tier as people — at a time when we are trying to talk about the pain experienced by a people who were, let's not forget, once treated as property in this country in the first place.
“If you felt unease watching a Target get looted, try to imagine how it must feel for Black Americans to watch themselves being looted every single day,” Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, wrote on Instagram. “Police are looting Black bodies.”
From Los Angeles to New York, many storefronts have been affected by vandalism, and despite what concerned citizens seem to think, the brand’s actual owners are saying, more or less, that's actually fine. “A life cannot be replaced,” Marc Jacobs wrote in an Instagram post in response to vandalism at his Los Angeles boutique that found his name crossed out and replaced with Sandra Bland and George Floyd – two Black lives lost to police brutality. In other words, his silver signage can be replaced, and is immeasurably less valuable anyway.
The shadow of the coronavirus pandemic has created a strain on small businesses and the general public. With over 20% percent of Americans unemployed, everyone is facing the economic burden of a global health crisis. The difference, however, is that businesses have insurance to replace their windows and merchandise whereas human life cannot be replaced. Vandalism and looted storefronts are unfortunate and unproductive for the community they serve, however inconsequential compared to the loss faced by Black Americans for the past 400 years. Thankfully, some leaders in the fashion community are speaking out to make clear that they are not more worried about a busted-out window than the people in their communities who are hurting.
Jide Zeitlin, CEO of Tapestry, the holding company of Coach, posted on LinkedIn, “Together, we stand with my fellow Black employees, customers, partners and the Black community as a whole. The time is now for meaningful action and we are in the process of partnering with a number of social justice, legal, and corporate entities to formulate a longer-term plan for addressing systemic inequality.”
After donating $5 million to COVID-19 efforts in March, Rihanna stepped up again to show solidarity for Black lives by halting production and profits of her three Fenty brands for #BlackoutTuesday on June 2. Immediately following that announcement, Rihanna encouraged her 83 million Instagram followers to vote as a form of protest: “Stop believing that your vote and voice don’t matter! This the illest way to protest...vote for the change you want!!!”
The idea of the “right way” to protest is controversial and while the resounding majority believe that non-violent methods are the most powerful and effective, unfortunately, American culture places more value on corporate interests and belongings than it does basic humanity — and it can take forceful methods to communicate just how wrong that is.
It is still unclear exactly who is doing the looting – though looters do represent a very small percentage of protest attendees — and many speculate that groups outside of city hot spots, people who aren’t part of the protests or have a vested interest in Black lives are seizing the opportunity to loot, as well as doing so to seed civil unrest. Importantly, it doesn't really matter “who done it” if we are more outraged by the way people are protesting than WHY they are protesting. As a reminder why: It’s because 90% of killings by police from 2013-2019 have not resulted in charges against an officer. We must reevaluate our priorities and values.
Kerby Jean-Raymond, fashion designer behind Pyer Moss, says fashion must be held accountable to go beyond the aesthetic of inclusion, and to say point blank that the loss of profit is not as important as loss of life. Calling out companies who’ve posted black-out squares on Tuesday, or other performative allyship, he wrote on Twitter, “Not one of these companies have committed to any action, just a bunch of bullshit ‘we’re with u’ posts. Commit to no longer working with the police. Commit to lending your in-house legal teams to reform these laws that cost us Black lives,” he wrote. And that goes for shoppers, too.