When I’m getting ready for work in the morning, I like to listen to tv. Doesn’t really matter what’s on, not that there’s much on offer at 6am beyond news programming. I just like the noise, I guess. One morning last week, I ended up listening to a Lifetime show called “New Attitudes”, a series which aired in the 90s and focused on stories important to women. <insert eye roll here>
The second segment was called “African American style” and showcased black designers who focused solely on designing for black women and kept referring to “African American style”. The narrator informed us several retailers, i.e. Sears – paragon of fashion, large kitchen appliances, lawn tools and automotive services, were beginning to carry lines targeting “the African American woman”. There were woman-on-the-street interviews to bolster the supposition that all black women dress in this same style. One of these women said “I like to wear clothes designed for my body because African American women are large women”. (What? All of us?) Finally, they showed examples of the clothing designed to appeal to us black girls: shapeless, cheap-looking, garishly colored, “African-themed” garb and shell jewelry. Shell. Jewelry. And that’s when I really got riled up.
We all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, geographic location or political affiliation, have our own style (or lack thereof). There are black girls who dress retro, western, grunge, preppy, glam, hip hop, hoochie, goth (I’ve never seen a goth black girl, but I just know they exist), boho and just plain ol’ girl-next-door. Just as not all black people know each other and not all black people vote Democratic and not all black people like fried chicken and watermelon, not all black people choose to dress as if they work in an African-themed amusement park.
I was ready to write the network, the producers, the host – all of them! – to express my offense when I realized that ridiculous show isn’t even in production any more. I flipped channels, slipped on a daishiki and went about my African American day.