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Is This Whiteface?

Think of how much headwrap-wearing black tail whitey-whites with the balls to toss around words like “co-opt” and “blackface” and some ‘African American Studies’ classes under their belt must get…

Jamie Radford’s post, linked through OhWord’s constantly-updated “shared items”, keeps popping back into my head. The post is labeled ‘Is This Blackface?’ and discusses some random-ass L.A fashion line,Fowl Clothing which Radford sees as signifying:

“…a recent trend among middle and upper-class white kids displaying a fashion sense that typifies some of the most obvious signfiers of hip-hop fashion — straight-billed caps, colorful jackets, flashy jewelry — but in such a way as to almost mock hip-hop culture.”

At first glance, it sounds like something I could agree with. Recall this post: ‘The Deadening Effects of Ironic Indie Culture’ but I gotta disagree with Radford, painfully sincere as he seems to be. I take issue with half-formed assertions, invoking “blackface” and racism because they only damage legitimate, more thought-out critiques. It made me think of this post which totally misreads the Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ as being racist. It helps no one to toss-out thoughts about race and appropriation that are half-formed.

On the no-homo tip, ‘Fowl Clothing’ is just plain derivative and boring. An attempt at American Apparel-esque simplicity with some Bachelor’s degree in fashion-level print-making stolen from ‘Mark Ecko’ or ‘BAPE’ who of course, took it from skateboarder, metal, and punk-rock fashion…Also, making patterns out of iconic movie images like ‘The Shining’ is pretty played-out. The models also kill me. They look like girls you make-out with at a college “dance party” and spend the rest of the semester trying to avoid.But Radford has more pressing concerns (as he should); he is responding to the models’ holding of guns and wearing of Slick Rick-thick chains. Yes, the pictures are ironic. Yes, they are stupid. Maybe even sorta kinda racist, but its fashion! It’s always dripping with irony. I’m more frustrated by Fowl Clothing’s inability to do pseudo-subversiveness right than by any ill-informed moves towards disrespecting hip-hop culture.Fashion, in general, has a good grasp of irony as being alienating and harsh rather than cute and funny. Totally motivated by the next-big-thing, controversy, and $$$ as fashion designers often are, the ironic nature of some fashion points towards ugly truths. These Fowl Clothing pictures fall short but, American Apparel’s pervy-polaroids and Calvin Klein’s heroin-chic although “problematic” from a moral perspective, are truly subversive in their ability to make people look gross AND attractive, which is what sex is anyway…

Perhaps the biggest problem with Radford’s post is that it is founded on very-shaky ground. No one will ever agree upon what is true respect for hip-hop culture and what is disrespect. It gets even more complicated when you make assertions as to who is an “outsider” or “insider” in relation to that said culture. On a simple level, I can agree with Radford’s definition because it is pragmatic. The insiders to the culture are “those that really grew up in a neighborhood where they had to tote guns to survive” and the rest of us, are outsiders. But it’s not that simple!

I don’t think Radford (or anybody) accosts middle or upper-class blacks who also never had to “tote guns to survive” (whatever that means) but wear hip-hop clothing. Remember Tony Dungy’s kid? He tragically took his own life but for those few hours when you could look at his myspace you saw a kid, that in terms of hip-hop culture was every bit an outsider as these indie-fashion fucks. He’s allowed to do it simply because he was black?

There’s also the fact that outside of the chains and guns, which are working at a level of irony so thick and muddled that the joke seems to be ironic-white-guys-toting-guns-unironically-to-the-point-that-it-becomes-ironic, these white kids in L.A are wearing the epitome of “white” sub-cultural fashion not conventional hip-hop fashion. These designs comes out of the world of metal, punk-rock, skateboarding, and even, emo culture and have, in recent years, been dare I say- SAMPLED by designers of all races involved in hip-hop culture.

Obviously these Fowl Clothing people are being insincere but for the most part, we can’t really gauge sincerity, so forget about it. Strict rules on sincerity leads to weird grey areas no one wants to fuck with: Is Nigo doing blackface? is Pharrell doing whiteface? Are the Shop Boyz doing anything different in regards to race-mockery than Fowl Clothing? On one level, the Shop Boyz are doing a strange reversal that is primarily absent from the culture and as a result, we can applaud it, as Sach. O. of ‘OhWord’ said, it’s “a taste of their own medicine” while Fowl Clothing is maintaining a super-obvious parody of hip-hop, but really, the two ain’t that different…

Written by Brandon

June 29th, 2007 at 5:54 am

Posted in Indie, Irony, NO HOMO, fashion, woon