…and so does Shala Monroque’s response to ELLE France’s staggeringly misguided and misaligned article on “Black Power Fashion” begin. I urge you all to read it, as Shala’s passion for this subject is palpable–although generally, she, herself, has a total aversion to injustice of any kind. She stands in opposition to the failure to enlighten ourselves, which is something I always seem to gather from our conversations, and what I take away the most from her: the refusal to stand for less.
Hence Monroque’s sheer bafflement at the magazine’s sloppy conclusions towards the advent of Black Style; how at the stylish appointment of First Lady Michelle Obama, that an interest in fashion for Black women world-wide has seemingly been sparked. The editor’s limited conjecture instead espouses that nowhere in history or time have we had the fashion acumen worthy of attention or icon status. Collecting a hodepodge of imagery of Black stylish folks across time, Monroque has arranged a beautiful “family album” of sorts, showcasing our “inherited legacy of chic-ness.” It warmed my soul to go over them all, from Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandrige, Grace Jones, stoic Black women–nameless, but ne’er forgotten–at the turn of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, to Jimmy Hendrix.
Highlighting the work of Chimamanda Adichie’s speech for Ted Talks titled, “A Singe Story”, Shala intimates that limiting anyone’s struggle, anyone’s story to a single idea, story, or misnomer, will never offer a full truth. That ELLE France’s editors pulled from one woman’s narrative to describe an entire culture, because quite frankly, they had never cared to acknowledge the many stories that had come before Mrs. Obama’s; that we even had a style history to speak of.
I am so glad that Shala took the time to retort and in essence do the “homework” for ELLE France. It was thoughtful and necessary, and when Ms. Monroque speaks, people listen. But I will admit that I wish she didn’t have to. I personally am tired of having to explain my history, my culture, the sway in my step, the kink in my hair, the reason I sound like a “Valley Girl”, and the origin of my name. I’ve been doing it all my life, me this purported “anomaly” occupying an otherwise racially “neutral” space (read: White).
I love telling my story, to be sure, and I think that is so much apart of the project: presenting and reworking narratives about the lives of Black peoples in the Americas and beyond. But likewise, my parents spent an inordinate amount of money on my British-leaning/Ivy League education for me to, yes, move fluidly in a Western mainstream society that does not take so kindly to people who look like me, and I have in turn learned so much about a history that does not seemingly concern me. The least the mainstream can do is dare to read up on me, a brown girl, and get the story right.
**Many thanks to Shala for siting my piece, “The Styles of Black Folks…” as one of the “more articulate [readings] on Black style & culture.” My article was mentioned alongside the touching work of Adiche and Lilian Roxon, and I am again truly humbled.