“We Gonna Die Black, Are You?”
To think, even when you have a seat at the table; the table you fight for; the table you helped build; the table you engage in critique to make better… to think that tired metaphor could also be smoke and mirrors to those who have earned that same seat.
Kerby Jean-Raymond fought for his seat; he put in the years in the industry and the labored hours as a designer. One could argue he had one of the nicest seats! Reebok Studies_ and Pyer Moss; both platforms of his own to promote and make opportunities for his own. He had the ears and eyes of fashion’s very complexed and biased face. And yet.
On Tuesday, Raymond renounced his seat from the Business of Fashion (BoF) 500 list of influencers and game changers via Medium. Raymond recounted his experience in being professionally manipulated, exploited, and watching his culture be appropriated in the name of “diversity and inclusion.”
Raymond’s piece is a sobering reminder of the smoke screen that can take many forms in diversity, inclusion, and “representation” in the fashion industry. It can be a seat at the table, a seat on the panel, the cover of a magazine, and still right before our very eyes we can become bait, a costume, or an inspiration for appropriation. Our demeanor, style and culture becomes replicated for the sake of monetization while the industry is still audacious enough to be exclusionary to the same culture influencing them. As Raymond stated, “…we gonna die Black, are you?”
Raymond is not the first person to take a stand and speak on his experience, risking his career, partnerships, and future opportunities. However, what makes Raymond’s account so powerful is that those cannot simply throw his experience away as the “angry Black man” with the chip on his shoulder because things didn’t go his way. He eloquently enlisted his experiences, step by step, and what led him to believe and stand by his statement that, “… I’m not with the explicit exploitation of our plight, culture and struggles for the benefit of your bottom line…I understand that you have to make money, we all are selling something, but dawg, not your soul. And not ours.”
Raymond’s response to exploitation and disrespect kept his integrity in tact and left nothing but the ugly game that can be the fashion industry. So, how many times did Raymond compromise and negotiate with his values to accommodate long standing relationships against his better judgement? How many times did Raymond trust this industry only to be proven that he was not being treated with the same respect as his White counterparts? His motion to remove himself from the BoF 500 list is a reminder that even when the doors are open and the opportunities are afforded to us seemingly in an equitable space, we will always continue to have a choice on whether or not we want to leave or stay.