Black Lives Matter has been a solid campaign pillar since July 2013, when the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter started trending on social media. This was shortly after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen, Trayvon Martin. This decentralised network of people, disenchanted by the systemic racism in their society, has only grew and grew with more black Americans suffering from police brutality.
Any intelligent activist looks for inspiring and creative ways to provoke thought among citizens to help breakdown the mainstream political discourses being fed to them. People considered as ‘ethnic miniorities’ have been fighting with sweat, blood and tears for their basic rights for centuries. However this day and age calls for a more ideological fight, full of research, evidence and intellectual insights. The fist is just not enough against the weapon that can be the brutal American police force.
Fashion has always been a present way of portraying a message discretely, but effectively, reaching a wide perceptive audience. Fashion designers, such as Kerby Jean-Raymond of the Pyer Moss label, have took to the runway to get under the wings of the Black Lives Matter movement. His Fall 2016 show, in New York, tackled themes such as fame, anxiety and depression, as well as dehumanisation of black Americans. To close the show, one model held a sign which read, “My demons won today, I’m sorry,” a reference to MarShawn McCarrel, a Black Lives Matter activist who had recently committed suicide.
In his previous season collection, Spring/Summer 2016, Raymond presented the catwalk with blood-splattered boots which read, “I can’t breathe”, the last words of 43 year-old father, Eric Garner. Garner repeatedly muttered this, gasping for air, as a NYPD officer held him in a chokehold leading to his death in 2014. The show even opened with video footage of Garner’s death to show the reality of the message. This is just one of many examples of cases where the officer responsible failed to be indicted. The Black Lives Matter campaign continues to fight for justice for these victims and their families who are forever haunted by these tragedies.
According The Guardian, Raymond even considered not exhibiting his designs during the show, “I was making a collection. I didn’t know I was actually gonna show it,” he said. He also reported that a number of his show regulars didn’t turn up because of the circumstances. They couldn’t be seen to be congratulating Raymond on his work as it could be interpreted as support for the Black Lives Matter campaign and it’s surrounding issues; how ridiculous.
Jean-Raymond said he wanted the show to be all about defying stereotypes and redefining the black narrative in America. “I’m black, I’m a designer, I’m living in a time when this is happening,” Raymond added, “You’re 28 years old, you’re watching kids younger than you who are being killed by grown men who claim fear as an excuse.”
Raymond appeared at the end of his fashion show in 2015 wearing a ‘They have names:’ t-shirt which he had designed; making a necessary statement of social and racial injustice. Listed are the names of victims who were targeted by police because of the colour of their skin. It was also seen on Cosmopolitan Fashion Market Director, Shiona Turini, at the En Noir runway show in September 2014. These brave, bold moves by public figures help to spread the awareness of police brutality against black Americans.
“For as long as I have this platform and for as long as people are going to listen to me — I’m going to take a stand on something and this is something that is important to me.” Jean-Raymond told The Huffington Post.
Now that Trump has been empowered with the title of President of the aching United States of America, I only think these types of underlying political demonstrations will increase. I think that the impact and reach that fashion can achieve is outstanding. It can be the societal sledgehammer, breaking down the wall between the powerful and the ordinary. Creativity is what makes the world go round; it is a thought generator, we can use it to make people politically aware. It is our tool to inspire all generations, nations and races of people.
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By Ella Bowers
BA Print Journalism