The Cotton-Deep Rebel Era
The black hipster: a sneaker pimp wearing nothing other than Levi skinnies below the waist and a vintage Public Enemy snap back above the forehead, selects weapons of change from an arsenal of flannels and graphic tees. In the local boutique shelves, such as Leaders 1354 in Chicago, lie images of Huey P. Newton, Rosa Parks, Malcolm Little (Malcom X) and Martin Luther King Jr. on pieces on cotton. The people that rock these shirts continue to enunciate our message to the world, the world that only wants us to conform within the ideals of whiteness quietly. Although our struggle survives through style, it sounds like gibberish if it stays cotton-deep.
Yesterday America did everything it could to make black leaders like Angela Davis suffer, but today she’s all over the place in commercial retail. Who she was and what she fought for doesn’t go beyond her portrait as a fashion statement. This country, profiting from the sale of things people are conditioned to buy, converts Angela Davis’ vicious face into a nameless design that’s too cool for revolution. Surprised by a young woman wearing a Shepard Fairey print of Davis, I ask if she knows who is on her chest. She says “no, I just bought it because I liked the shirt.” Damn, another black intellectual killed by the science of coin exchange. This can’t be the situation with black hipsters, youth of a culture that only exists through the banned books list, narratives and imagery.
Local boutiques raising our fashion geek children from city to city stand in positions, responsible for maintaining the contradiction essential to black thought. The artist behind the couture has already seduced our eyes. We come to the store front wanting to internalize the beauty that is ours, but we have forgotten is ours by living through Eurocentric culture. As a standard American, our understanding of history is limited; the rules of life, so we are told, have only been written by Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Immanuel Kant, etc. If I have a shirt with Dubois over my shoulder, better believe that I’m going to remind these historians that Dubois taught America how to be a trans-civilization. Dr. Maulana Karenga created seven principles for a strong family and Frantz Fanon exposed America’s culture of racism. The boutique establishes black pride when the education system fails to do so.
Big ups to Leaders 1354, they had the right concepts in mind: being a leader to its patrons through clothing art and cultivating leaders. The formula is widespread, going even further combining retail and formal history lessons. Online boutiques, such as Tano Design, dedicate all of its merchandise to the greats of Black and Hispanic culture. As you proceed to checkout and payment, Tano hits you with biographies so that you learn well about the contradiction you shall embody. What I would like to see spots like Leaders 1354 do is to start conversations about the people and the ideas they are keeping alive in their space. Maybe then will black hipsters continue to remove the tape from the Black mouth.