Let’s get something out of the way upfront.
I think Abercrombie & Fitch sucks.
I thought they sucked when they made it clear that minorities didn’t fit their “classic image” to the point that they were accused and ultimately settled a bias case which alleged they “hired a disproportionately white sales force, put minorities in less-visible jobs and cultivated a virtually all-white image in its catalogs and elsewhere.people didn’t fit their ideal.”
And I thought they sucked for their religious intolerence and all of the other examples provided here.
And yes, I thought they sucked when the CEO made all of those stances perfectly clear as described here, by saying:
That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that. In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.
So we’ve covered that A&F doesn’t make me feel superb. But you know what also doesn’t make me feel superb.
That’s right… #FitchTheHomeless.
I get it. I get it. Providing clothing to homeless people while simultaneously making a point to A&F that their stance is all bad. Seems very noble. And seems like a worthy prank to pull on A&F at the same time.
The problem is that the joke is also on the homeless people involved. A very privileged joke in fact. There are so many layers to this, it’s hard to unpack succinctly. But let’s try.
POOR PEOPLE AS PROPS
We start off with the always problematic, but never ceasing to amaze ability of people with privilege using poor people as props to make their point and serve their purpose. It was never right. And it’s not right here. At all. The fact that the stunt depends on homeless people makes it even worse. I think people’s default should be putting themselves front and center in whatever issues they are fighting for. If one can’t do that, then that tells you something. And that something is that you may be the wrong person to lead the fight (more on that to come later) or that you at least need to…
ASK FOR CONSENT!!
Probably one of the largest issues with this stunt (and I’m making a bit of an assumption here) is that it requires no consent from the individuals being used in the video to make the point. I’m sorry, but if Abercrombie’s CEO said that Black people weren’t welcome in his store (which they essentially did say) and the next day, some White dude started handing me a T-Shirt and filming me for some video without me knowing what it was for, I would have a major problem with it. I would feel used. In fact, if said T-Shirt hander-outer told me the reason why they were doing the video, I would tell them to take a hike. And I think many others would as well. Because, as described above, I ain’t your pawn in whatever game you’re trying to accomplish. If T-Shirt hander-outer wanted to include me, ask me my thoughts and listen, while also working to gain my trust and consent, then all of a sudden we have a conversation that can be fruitful.
Speaking of which, what makes this especially difficult is that, given that the folks in the video are homeless, there’s very little chance they will refuse the clothes or the video. This is a sister issue to no consent, but there’s a case to be made that when power dynamics are that far out of whack, consent can become murky. That is not to say that homeless people cannot help themselves. There are many homeless activists and advocates that do so everyday. It’s just that with any relationship where power tips to one side more than the other, (think sexual harassment for instance), consent is not as straightforward
INDAVERTENTLY REINFORCING THE CEO’S POINT
By giving the shirts to homeless people, there is an implicit, if not explicit, acceptance that they are not “cool” or “All-American.” That they are who the CEO was talking about, that they are the scraps of society and therefore provide the perfect counterbalance to the CEO’s desire to have only classic images of people in his catalogues and in his stores. I don’t think that’s particularly empowering to a group of people to know that they’ve been designated at the bottom of the totem pole and even the people that are presumably trying to help them agree with that designation.
WHITE SAVIOR / OUTSIDERNESS
Another problem, though slightly more difficult than the one’s above, but which touches a point made earlier. Truly, the person who “should” be spearheading a campaign like this is someone who feels aggrieved. If others who are “cool” feel like they want to support or help, all the better. If the guy who did the video feels like he’s not a cool kid, again, as stated above, perhaps he should star in the video himself. As it stands, it gives the impression that he’s trying to “save” other uncool kids while clothing homeless people at the same time. It’s like a white savior double whammy.
Now, regardless of everything I wrote, it seems like T-Shirt hander-outer is a nice guy. And he seems to have his heart in the right place. So I’m not knocking him for trying. And the call to action of donating A&F clothing to homeless shelters is not a bad idea. Not at all. More people should donate clothing of all sorts to homeless shelters. But I think there’s a much better, and fairer, way of documenting and inspiring people to do so.
UPDATE: I am starting to explore some thoughts on how we (you, me, us) can check our privilege here. So, if you have any thoughts or ideas, I’d appreciate them. Thanks!