NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN, ALMOST.
Text by Diletta Accorroni
On the 14th January, 1970, Felicia Montealegre, wife of the famous American conductor Leonard (Lenny) Bernstein, threw a party with many celebrities and artists as guests, to raise funds for the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist group Black Panthers.
Some of the most popular members of the movement, despite the smell of jail was in the air, participated willingly… exactly what you call “a touch of colour”.
The famous journalist Tom Wolfe joined the guests too, on the occasion of the party at Bernstein’s place, a thirteen-bedroom penthouse on Park Avenue overlooking Manhattan.
Wolfe was a very curious character, essentially a dandy, who later on wrote a detailed report about that specific evening, describing in a very critical way all those guests, members of the New York high society.
It’s exactly on that memorable evening that the book The Bonfire of the Vanities was conceived and the expression radical chic (“la Gauche caviar“, in French) was invented.
There is a sort of analogy with what it is happening during these weeks, after the homicide of George Floyd, the 46years-old black man, killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
George Floyd was neither a martyr nor a hero, and there is no justification for his wrong conduct, but neither for the illegitimate way the situation was handled by the police. George Floyd’s does not represent an isolated case, but due to the diffuse, general rage and discontent linked to the current period, everybody seems now to stand with the powerless people, the oppressed and all the minority groups.
In this regard, a famous Cosmetic company, which now “stands in solidarity with the Black Community”, was the same one that in 2017 dismissed a Black transgender model from her position as one of the faces of a makeup campaign, after she did a post on Facebook talking against the white supremacy. Something similar happened with a famous sustainable fashion brand based in LA. As other companies, they posted a BLM solidarity message which turned out to be hypocrite and fake, as soon as a former employee spoke out about her awful story of racism, experienced with the company. The fashion industry is one of the most influential ones, therefore it must use its platform responsibly, keeping in mind that a black box and a mea culpa have no meaning when the activism is not carried out offline. The fashion companies’ workforce needs to be more diverse and we all need to acknowledge that white privilege exists, and act accordingly.
Moreover, celebrities should not use black bodies as props – whether they are friends, family members or people they have worked with – as a result of their innocence and philanthropist feelings, when we actually know they have never shared on social medias certain elements before. The preference for light complexion (which historically has always denoted a superior status) and all the prejudices linked to the dark skin, have always been one of the most serious problems within the fashion industry (but not only)…nevertheless what it is shown through runways and editorials, inclusion is just a “must do” thing related to the politically correct.
Today, in fact, what is happening is that the right demands of the black movement Black Lives Matter are often obscured by the noisy and unusual mass consensus towards the initiatives of the movement itself. Fashion Houses, Designers, Groups, Stylists, Journalists, Experts and so on… seem now to be all together, allied with the black movement. With words, so far.
We are experiencing something similar to a re-edition of the famous Bernstein’ party described by Tom Wolfe’s sharp tongue, with a discrepancy: Bernstein’s penthouse has become as big as the Planet Earth. This is due to the huge echo of social media, which flaunts the Black Lives Matter topic as a mantra, proving the ideological purity to those who are adopting it.
However, sometimes, might occur that these individuals are the same ones who used to claim to be white, rich and “different from them”, when immigrants or refugees asked for equal rights and treatments near their own homeland. This time is different though, and looks like everybody is now opting for the politically correct, while some deaths are more important than others.
At the same time, it is also true that some influencers, models and celebrities are doing their best to raise awareness through their personal social media accounts, informing their followers about platform which can be used for donations, businesses to support, or how to help and protest. Actually, building a conversation around this is fundamental, if our aim is to educate our communities and friends and eradicate a toxic system.
Nobody should ban the word “race”, because the mental processes of those who keep certain thoughts would remain unchanged; but rather, it would be good to control the racist impulses of some people, and this is possible only through experience and education. The question is humanitarian, as black people are killed due to their skin color. It is not about candidates nor votes, it is about saving human beings.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” said Martin Luther King. Indignation and awareness should remain a constant, we must be permanently active in fighting injustice, in opposition with indifference and intolerance spreading in these dark times. Sitting in silence is letting people dying, while everyone can have a role in social change.