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Paternalism

Check Your Privilege Alert: #FitchTheHomeless

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.

This.

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.

POWER DYNAMICS
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! 

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Discussion

20 thoughts on “Check Your Privilege Alert: #FitchTheHomeless

  1. My idea is for all of us slightly pudgier than we’d like moms to stuff ourselves into AF baby tees and take pictures of ourselves being cool. Because really…what’s uncooler to a teenager than their moms trying to be cool? I’m so down to do it.

    Posted by heather | May 15, 2013, 5:14 pm
  2. I agree! I thought the same thing when I watched this video

    Posted by Anonymous | May 15, 2013, 5:34 pm
  3. The whole point was that A&F burns clothes so homeless don’t get to sport them. This changes that entirely. You missed the point.

    Posted by missed the point | May 15, 2013, 5:49 pm
    • I know this is the point. I acknowledge it upfront. If homeless people and advocates decided that this is how they wanted to protest that awful stance, it would be all good. Without agency and consent though, I don’t think it is.

      Posted by chico | May 15, 2013, 5:56 pm
      • Well, but you did say that the problem is this guy deciding that the homeless people qualify as the “uncool” that the CEO is talking about. That’s not what’s going on – he’s handing out the clothing to the homeless because AF chooses to burn clothes rather than give them to the homeless. In other words, it’s not the classification of who is uncool, but the choice to undermine AF’s policies regarding the homeless. I think you have other very valid concerns, but I’m not sure you were actually clear on this point.

        Posted by emily | May 16, 2013, 12:43 pm
  4. The author of the video is making a point against a brand with a wrong stance, while also raising awareness about the poor. For example, I didn’t even know Skid Row existed, and I am kind of surprised to see all these poor people. He may not be saving them from poverty for good, but he put them in the spotlight. Besides, you talk about agency and consent, which are important, but these are homeless and poor people – they have much bigger problems than that.

    Posted by Elena | May 15, 2013, 6:14 pm
    • I wholeheartedly agree with Elena that it makes a point about a wrong-headed brand, and raises awareness of homelessness. The opinion of this blog seems to be that only the homeless have the right to be offended, and only a homeless person should be “allowed” to make this kind of video. That’s silly. As a straight, white girl I can (and am) offended by all kinds of bigotry–none of my gay friends minded when I publicly protested Chick-fil-A.

      Posted by Heather | May 15, 2013, 6:50 pm
      • The opinion of this blog is not that only a homeless person should be allowed to make this video nor that you shouldn’t be outraged at bigotry as a white woman. The opinion of this blog is that to truly empower communities, groups and individuals, those that are directly affected should lead efforts and those that are not should listen to their needs, support them, remove obstacles and look in the mirror and challenge their own actions first to see how they may be contributing to the situation at hand (ie bigotry as you put it). Im sure your gay friends appreciated your public support re chick fil a. But that issue was led by the gay community and did not encompasses some straight guy thinking it would be cute to give starving gay people sandwiches…precisely because it was led by the community being directly affected. I hope that clarifies my stance…

        Posted by chico | May 16, 2013, 12:10 am
    • “Agency” and “consent” are not “problems”. Thinking about them as such makes the act of taking them away in the name of charity more justifiable.

      Posted by Maggie | May 15, 2013, 7:18 pm
    • The mindset that poor and homeless people have “much bigger problems” than being used as a prop for anyone is pretty naïve. People need to have their basic needs met, and that includes being treated with respect and dignity. Those lines were crossed here. I agree that it was not malicious, but it is blatant.

      Posted by Quill | May 15, 2013, 8:31 pm
    • Would you feel the same way if instead of targeting homeless people, he re-sewed the clothes and handed them out to random plus-sized women on the street? Homeless people are not props. Full stop. Of course they have bigger problems, and that is precisely why exploiting them in this way gives implicit permission to continue to see homeless people as less than other people.

      Posted by Nathan Mitchell | May 15, 2013, 11:06 pm
  5. I agree with your points on the issues of agency and consent, but I guess I’m failing to see where this would reinforce the CEO’s words in the eyes of any functional person. As someone who relied on Goodwill donations most of her life, the way I personally read into this wasn’t “Look, Jeffries- we put your clothes on gross people to spite you”, but “Look, Jeffries- we’re going to destroy your intended image of who belongs in your clothes by giving them to people that fit our ideal of real Americans”.

    By saying he’d rather burn his brand than donate, Jeffries himself was the one who singled out the poor and ethnic minorities as not belonging. It’s not as though the donaters heard “ugly” and cast the role themselves, which -would- be reinforcement.

    Posted by Miranda | May 15, 2013, 9:10 pm
  6. I agree with you. Great job of articulating the dirty feeling I couldn’t quite put into words.

    Posted by wtl0715 | May 15, 2013, 10:32 pm
  7. Thank you. You have beautifully articulated what I have been stammering about all day as I’ve seen my friends post this video on FB.

    Posted by Nathan Mitchell | May 15, 2013, 11:09 pm
  8. Well said. This video plays as a remake of Seinfeld’s “puffy shirt” episode. If the homeless people in the video were let in on the joke, then they might have — one hopes, literally — had a voice!

    Posted by TJ Johnston | May 16, 2013, 8:26 pm
  9. Many believe that the whole idea of #fitchthehomeless is degrading because the homeless people are being used to contrast the idea of cool. The attempt to #fitchthehomeless looks down upon homeless people as “unworthy,” or lesser human beings. And it’s not clear how or whether, from the homeless perspective, this stunt is actually helping anything.
    P1124 is another company in contention for the title of no. 1 brand of the homeless. P1124 has started a “Wear One, Share One” campaign to clothe the same group homeless people on Skid Row. But unlike the #fitchthehomeless movement, whose goal is to shame Abercrombie without regard to the wellbeing of the homeless, P1124’s goal is to uplift and bless the homeless. The “Wear One, Share One” Campaign is simple; buy one shirt, get two, one to wear, one to share. The goal is to #uplifthehomeless, and show them that they are worthy of receiving the same new clothes that we purchase for ourselves.
    Very interesting… P1124 is currently raising funds on indegogo, check it out: igg.me/at/p1124

    Posted by sumosun | May 17, 2013, 3:09 am
  10. #Fitchthehomeless is a viral movement to spite A&F and make them the no. 1 brand of the homeless. Many believe that the whole idea is degrading because the homeless people are being used to contrast the idea of cool by positioning them as “unworthy,” or lesser human beings. And it’s not clear whether, from the homeless perspective, this stunt is actually helping anything.

    In response, P1124 has started a “Wear One, Share One” campaign to clothe the same homeless people on Skid Row. But unlike the #fitchthehomeless movement, whose goal is to shame Abercrombie without regard to the wellbeing of the homeless, P1124’s sole goal is to uplift and bless the homeless. The “Wear One, Share One” Campaign is simple; buy one shirt, get two, one to wear, one to share. Lets #uplifthehomeless, and show them that they are worthy of receiving the same new clothes that we purchase for ourselves. Make P1124 the title of no. 1 brand of the homeless.

    Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T-6sLb8qWg

    Learn more about the movement: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/p1124-the-number-one-brand-of-the-homeless/x/3113340

    Posted by sumosun | May 21, 2013, 10:01 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Check Your Privilege Alert: #FitchTheHomeless | erin hachtel - May 15, 2013

  2. Pingback: Check Your Privilege Alert: 10 Ways To Check Your Privilege | beautyful ones - May 16, 2013

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