Gucci and the Commodification of Racism and Black Trauma

By Jasmine Adams

A February 7th screenshot of Gucci selling a black sweater that pulls up over the lips has caused a fierce social backlash in America amongst it’s Black citizens. The material around the lips is red and full, closely resembling clowns and awfully close to resembling blackface. Since then, Gucci has pulled the sweater from their online store and has issued an official apology, offering to“redouble the luxury fashion brand’s cultural-sensitivity training for employees.”

Blackface (in America) dates back to the 1820’s when T.D Rice, a white man, began travelling the country performing in blackface. His main character, Jim Crow, became the official symbol of segregated America. By the 1840’s, this form of entertainment officially came to be known as minstrel shows and was America’s first form of national popular entertainment. For many Whites, particularly those in the North and Midwest, this was their only exposure to Blacks and thus, the portrayal of Blacks to them was accurate. It could be very possible that the French billionaire who controls Gucci does not know nor understand the history of blackface and its contribution to the violence and marginalization of Blacks by Whites. This however does not excuse the behavior nor relinquish Gucci of accountability. As social tides continue to come and go, the current momentum of a growing force that calls for a more socially aware and progressive society  

The response, especially among Black Americans has been that of disgust and disappointment. However, the average Black American is not spending their money at Gucci. It is Black celebrities that have the financial power to hold Gucci responsible. Artists such as T.I, Soulja Boy, and 50 Cent have all responded publicly, calling for the boycott of the brand, with 50 Cent sharing a video of him burning some of the brand’s clothing. Naturally, there are others who do not see the point in the outrage. Artist Kodak Black stated that “Black people be reaching sometimes”, and boxer Floyd Mayweather was approached outside of a Gucci store days after the sweater surfaced stating, “I’m not no follower, I do what the f**k I wanna do.”

Gucci president and CEO, Marco Bizzarri and Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele have both issued official apologies. Michele, though stating that they were taking full accountability, still let the public know that his intentions with the sweater was to give tribute to the late artist Leigh Bowery. When asked “How could this have happened?”, Bizzarri responded, “This is due to the ignorance of this matter. Certainly, it was not intentional but this is not an excuse. We make mistakes, and certain are worse than others because they offend people. The lack of knowledge of diversity and the consequent understanding are not at the level we expected, despite all the efforts we did inside the company in the last four years.”

In such a racially tense time in history, the culturally insensitive “slip-ups’ are beginning to be reminiscent of the boy who cried wolf. Many speculate that these infractions, followed by outrage, followed by an apology, is an all too familiar formula.

If this was a marketing ploy by Gucci to boost it’s consumer engagement and brand popularity, they should be cancelled. If the designers, creators, advisors, and decision-makers at Gucci truly unintentionally allowed for the release of a garment that mirrored blackface, they should still be cancelled. Companies may not necessarily have an obligation to be sensitive to marginalized groups, but this will not stop the consequences that come with not conducting the correct research necessary to create a better buying experience for its’ consumers.