Recurring Brutality and Fashion as Activism
Fashion is not meaningless fabric, design, or solely art for art’s sake. There have been pivotal moments in history where fashion statements have served as a mode of resistance, a medium for social change.
Political opinions are no longer saved for personal reflection or sprinkled into late-night conversations, they are posted, exhibited, and ingrained into our fashion choices. Wearing a statement, promoting a specific brand, or highlighting culture through a fashion choice are all examples of political activism that can literally be worn: there’s a sort of performativity and boldness to political fashion that cannot be denied.
The recent murder of George Floyd has highlighted how deeply issues of racism have pervaded institutionalized systems in the United States. People are angry, hurting, and openly challenging unjust systems; there have been too many black men and women beaten, killed, and discriminated against without any repercussions. With fire and momentum building, many creatives are attempting to understand how to take their activism further - and this has manifested into activism through fashion.
However, a fashion statement from a few years ago proves how little things have changed in regards to police brutality and prejudiced acts of violence against the black community. In 2014, NBA players such as Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Derrick Rose sported shirts with the slogan “I can’t breathe” during their warmups. Players wanted to show their solidarity and start a political conversation in a clear, concise, and overt form.
The shirts were an homage to Eric Garner's final words after being held in a chokehold and murdered by a white officer - the same final words George Floyd cried out while a police officer knelt on his neck in 2020.
This fashion choice and social commentary is indicative of a much deeper, gaping issue in society. “I can’t breathe” is not a surface level statement - it is a reminder of the black community constantly holding their breath in fear of another attack, rightful anger rising in the chests of thousands, the life being choked out of innocent black men, and voices shouting into an abyss of layered oppression and discrimination.
These incidents of overt racism are similar to a sickening extent. Fashion as activism has allowed us to trace and compare these two incidents, and save them into our cultural psyche. Though little concrete change has been made, political fashion statements allow individuals to perceive a political opinion quickly and through a creative medium, with the potential to start longer and more meaningful conversations. The irony of the same statement being worn in 2014 and painted on signs at protests in 2020 is clear and deeply upsetting - and the awareness of these similarities is necessary when considering creative activism through fashion moving forward.
Byline: Alysha Mohamed