So, you may or may not have noticed that over the summer there was a crazy surge in Cherub tees. Cherubs, for those who don’t know, are the winged, chubby, rosy, and innocent looking baby angels that adorn the likes of many European paintings.
Now, as much as I love these cute and aesthetic little creatures, I have never had the privilege partaking in the print because there are no cherubs, among a plethora of other pop culture figures, who don’t look like me, that I would ever feel comfortable wearing.
Now ask yourself, when is the last time you saw a little white girl dressed up as Princess Tiana? Or an Asian teenager wearing a Summer Walker hoodie? The answer is slim to never. When I was a little girl, my mom was on top of representation before it was a trending subject.
My barbies looked like me, as well as my book, TV, and movie characters. She ensured that I saw myself throughout my entire childhood, constantly re-enforcing my own beauty. And it breaks my heart that in my adulthood I must break my back. when it comes to fashion iconography, to continue doing the same thing.
During doing some online window shopping via Urban Outfitters, I came across a cherub t-shirt. Now my refusal to buy any graphic clothing that depict non-black counterparts told me to pass up yet another white angel t-shirt, but my intuition told me to look a little closer. And when I did, I saw it. In the bottom left corner there was a little chocolate angel in his shining glory.
Now imagine a different t-shirt, with the same energy, the same little black angel stenciled in as the sole motif for a full stream of angels, or just him standing alone. At first, I thought, maybe retailers are simply trying to stay true to the narrative of Italian Renaissance art. But that same energy wasn’t kept when a white woman was cast as Cleopatra in the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name. and specifically, after seeing this shirt is when I knew. It was never a matter of retailers not being able to, but a matter of them not wanting to.
Black people are the number one consumer in this country alone. We consume outside of our own communities more than 100% the amount as other communities. The lack of black owned businesses combined with the lack of financial means to support them accounts for those figures. Considering such, I am so disappointed to see that retailers continue to have total disregard for our buying power, based on the lack of graphic images that depict dark skinned black women.
We see plenty of “Poetic Justice” hoodies and tees with Tupac, but rarely any with Janet Jackson. Hundreds upon hundreds of Marilyn Monroe graphics but none of Joyce Bryant who was a prominent jazz singer in the fifties often referred to as “the bronze goddess.” And they got it right paying homage to my girl Aaliyah, who is one of my all-time favorite celebrities, however a light skinned R&B talent is not representative of the chocolate goddess that I was blessed to be. Yet Normani’s website is the only place I can buy her t-shirt (which I will be buying), why is that?
Well I know why. In a word: complacency. There have been no complaints, and if they have, they’ve not been enough to constitute any real change, about the type of, or lack thereof representation for black women in clothing graphics. So, why not cater solely to the racial majority if it’s pleasing enough to the minority anyway? It’s a simple kill two birds with one stone strategy. But what they fail to understand is that the black dollar would be even stronger if we were delivered clothing specifically for us.
Look at the success of “Black Panther.” It became one of the highest grossing movies of all time, rivaling “Gone with the Wind.” And the success of its’ merchandising soon followed, why? Because that movie and its predeceasing goods were done for us and by us. This alone caused the film to be more profitable from the pockets of black people than an Avengers movie with the token black superhero could ever be. I challenge the Urban Outfitters, Charlotte Rousse’s, and Forever 21s of the fashion industry to push the envelope and produce graphics that represent black women’s interest just as well as our dollars represent theirs. And if done and done correctly it’ll be well worth the necessary effort.
Princess-Zenita is an aspiring writer and lover of fashion, nature, African-American literature, TV, books and movies. When she's not writing for DDS you can find more of her adventures on her personal blog The Princess is Pauping.