What was Prada thinking to launch a racist blackface product?

Ismail Akwei Dec 17, 2018 at 04:00pm

December 17, 2018 at 04:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei | Contributor

December 17, 2018 at 04:00 pm | Opinions & Features

The racist accessory displayed on a Prada bag -- Photo: Chinyere Ezie

No explanation whatsoever can justify Italian luxury fashion brand Prada’s decision to launch a racist blackface product at its SoHo boutique in New York which enraged customers.

Social media complaints of keychain figurines displayed in the store which featured black-faced monkeys with big red lips resembling the racist blackface of the 19th century drove the brand to issue an apology and later withdraw the products from the stores.

The products displayed in the Prada store in New York — Photo: Chinyere Ezie

Dubbed “Pradamalia”, the blackfaced monkey reminded people of performers who entertained white people by painting their faces with burnt cork, greasepaint or shoe polish and exaggerate their lips to depict the black uneducated slaves on plantations as slow and dumb.

Prada quickly went for the big PR guns claiming innocence and taking swift action while riding on the publicity to sell other products.

“The resemblance of the products to blackface was by no means intentional, but we recognise that this does not excuse the damage they have caused … We have listened to the public and have decided to donate proceeds from these products to a New York-based organisation committed to fighting for racial justice,” they said in a statement.

While Prada was posting statements of apology on its Twitter page, in the same breathe, it was advertising other products.

The statement was in response to Chinyere Ezie, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who took the pictures of the racist products launched since October and posted on social media.

“I felt enraged. I felt flabbergasted. I felt confused … I can’t say that I’m a loyal customer of Prada. I don’t think I would have gone into the store had I not been assaulted by the images,” she is quoted by the Washington Post.

This isn’t the first time a big fashion brand has gone the racist way. In January 2018, Swedish fashion brand H&M published photos of a black boy modelling a hoodie with the inscription “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” for its UK stores.

This was described as racist and inappropriate especially when other white models were wearing a similar sweatshirt with inscriptions including “Mangrove Jungle Survival Expert”.

The brand received a lot of backlash forcing them to remove the ad of the black boy who had posed with his hands in his pockets. They only apologized and called it a “mistake” after calls by opinion leaders and celebrities to boycott the brand in the U.S.

They temporarily closed down their stores in South Africa after protests that resulted in violence with the police over the racist “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hoodie.

The history of slavery in America is an unforgettable episode in the history of the United States and it is inappropriate to retrace this dark past through mockery of the race that helped build this great nation.

However, the blackface phenomenon is re-emerging with many people and companies refusing to acknowledge the racism attached to the tradition. Many parents dress their children in blackface including some adults to depict black celebrities without recognizing the ridicule and torture it brought to black people.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch have refused to stop wearing the racist blackface to depict the controversial Dutch Christmas character, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), despite protests against the tradition.

Photo: Reuters

In the Netherlands, the Dutch have refused to stop wearing the racist blackface to depict the controversial Dutch Christmas character, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), despite protests against the tradition.

Black Pete first appeared in an 1850 book by Amsterdam school teacher Jan Schenkman who introduced him as a Moor from Spain. He distributes sweets and presents to children on the eve of December 5 which is the festival of Sinterklaas.

Thousands of Dutch holidaymakers paint their faces black and lips red to parade the streets ahead of Christmas festivities while thousands of activists are arrested, assaulted and jailed annually for interfering with the Black Pete parade.

For the first time this year, the Dutch public broadcaster, NTR, decided not to show Black Pete in blackface on TV. NTR said in a news release that the change was made to respect tradition but also reflect societal changes.

For fashion brands like Prada to keep revisiting the blackface with the depth of knowledge on its cruel history, many critics believe they are deliberately trying to draw undue attention to their brands.

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