The Obamas (And No Other Black People) Are Fashion Icons Because White People Say So

by Finn Nightley

Twitter: @finnspen

I am becoming quite fed up with all of these public figures putting in their two cents about what black people should do with their lives. Most likely because election season is right on our coattails, there has been a lot of opinions, by various white people, about blacks. First there was the Forbes columnist Gene Marks and his op-ed, “If I were a Poor Black Kid,” detailing how hard he would work in order to achieve white middle-class success as a disadvantaged black youth. Then there was GOP candidate Newt Gingrich suggesting that black people should demand paychecks from their government instead of food stamps. Now there is a new opinion in town that insinuates that all black people except Barack and Michelle Obama supposedly dress in the dark. I read a piece on The Gloss reporting that Nathalie Dolivo, a writer for French Elle expressed her ‘joy’ that the Obamas are here to be a fashion example for blacks everywhere. The Gloss deciphers Dolivo’s words for us common folk.

French Elle writer Nathalie Dolivo is so happy about black people! She’s thrilled that they’ve finally learned to dress well! Yes, after generations mired in baggy pants and rap music and such, they finally have Barack and Michelle Obama to look to. Thanks, Obamas! You’re stylish black people and now other black people can be stylish, too.

I am so beyond these people and their incessant need to prove that black people are sub par and need of spoon fed instructions to life. At first, I was simply going to respond on the blog and leave it at that. But when I began to see the other comments, some of which suggest the opinion has been dubbed racist only because it was said by a white person in reference to blacks, I knew I had to expand my own opinion.

It is bad enough that people on our own American soil still find it okay to degrade black people in such a manner. But when people of other nationalities feel it is okay as well, there is a real problem. We can only assume that since the author used an American couple as her reference that she is referring to black Americans supposed lack of style and fashion sense. If that is the case, what in the hell does black American fashion have to do with France? If foreigners are really going to come in on their horses and try to school Americans on how to live (and I would not even say it wouldn’t be well deserved payback), do you really want to start with black people? Our fashion sense, or lack there of, is the least of America’s problems.

Never mind that there are black people in France. I would assume that France would have such a sense of national pride; that there would be a clear distinction between black American and black French. There is in fact no distinction at all except for the assumed. Therefore the verdict must be, where ever there are black people, they must have no clue about fashion.

Does it matter that few people in the world can even afford the type of couture that the Obama’s often wear. For example, The Gloss accompanied its piece with a photo of Barack and Michelle at the 2010 state dinner where Michelle wore the sparkly, blue, one shoulder gown designed by Peter Soronen. It can also be assumed that Mrs. Obama did not pay for the dress, but blacks are supposed to shell out tooth and nail to be considered the “black-geoisie” in their style of dress, as coined by Dolivo.

Trend of the sagging pants, which was once localized to black American youth, has now expanded across not only color and socio-economic lines but also national and cultural lines. It is not uncommon to walk down Fifth Avenue, see a young white male (perhaps he’s on his way to the Apple Store) and know the color of his boxers but not his name. France is especially known for embracing American rap culture and many aspects that come with it, including the sagging pants trend. I am not a fan of sagging pants myself, but rap culture in any nation is but a microcosm of black culture as a whole, and sagging pants are the only seemingly negative fashion trend that can be attributed to blacks. On an average day, one can go out and see black people donning various degrees of style, but our dress is no different than any other race walking among us. We wear the standard jeans and t-shirt, dresses, skirts, slacks, button-up shirts, heels, flats and sneakers just like anyone else. If we were to be invited to the state dinner, I am certain that a black person would be more than willing to present their Sunday best, just like anyone else.

Where does Ms. Dolivo get off insinuating that the Obamas are the sole positive example for black fashion? Dare I say do we not have Beyonce? Was Octavia Spencer not just hailed as one of the best dressed at the Golden Globes? There has been a steady back track in the audacity of many white people in their attitudes toward blacks. With each day that passes, I feel like we are regressing back to the 1950′s rather than awaiting the end of the world in 2012. I’d like to point out, if the world did end, black and white, rich and poor, fashionable and unfashionable would bleed and die just the same. But why is Britney Spears allowed to walk around practically half naked on an average day and is still considered one of the most stylish fashion icons, but Rihanna gets called a “N*gga B*tch” in reference to her personal style.

People out there seem to be extremely bored in this failing global economy (last I heard, the European Union wasn’t doing that well either) and are relying on – things are bad, but at least I’m not … in this case things are bad, but at least I’m not a poor, undereducated black person who is living on food stamps and cannot dress.

As I do my best to surround myself around many progressive black people from several different backgrounds, it strikes me as very strange that people continue to go out of their way to fish out negatives about blacks. Fashion? Really? There are starving children in Africa and people are worried about how blacks dress? How about shipping some of that couture to Cambodia?

I am suddenly reminded about an episode from the 2003 MTV reality show Rich Girls, where Ally Hilfiger and Jaime Gleiche documented their lives as trust fund babies and socialites. I remember one episode where the girls were discussing how unfortunate it was that ‘regular people’ did not know the fashion value of various articles of clothing. How an average person would probably wear a pair of cargo pants because they needed the pockets to carry their cargo, instead of wearing it because it was stylish. Despite the fact that many years prior Ally’s father Tommy was quoted as saying his clothes were not made for black people, there was no racial reference in their dialogue.

Even with all their fashion sense, Hilfiger, Gleiche and Dolivo alike show the disadvantage in their privilege and I honestly pity them a lot more than they pity me or any other black people. When I step out in my most fashionable clothing, which may not be couture, but is fashionable none the less, I know that I have not only earned it through my own hard work and merit, but that I have decided that what I am wearing is fashionable, not Elle magazine.

More importantly, why should anyone make such a fuss about how black people dress when more than likely, if a black person were to walk into a couture boutique in France, the shop owners, workers and anyone else in the store would most likely be wondering … why is this black person even in here and what are they going to steal?

Finally, I leave you with the comment I left at The Gloss.


I’m not quite sure why in 2012, people still insist on hanging on to ignorant stereotypes of black people and won’t just allow us to be people, like anyone else. Every other day I read another article about some person trying to direct black people onto some virtuous path. Please don’t act like there are not trailer trash whites, ghetto Asians and hood whatever the else; exactly why is there this spotlight on blacks supposedly needing to be taught how to be human beings. That’s what makes it racist. The writer mentioned something about Turbans, which are not even apart of any black culture, unless perhaps the person is Muslim. But no one is insinuating that Middle Eastern people need to be taught by whites how to dress. Today’s society is so insistent on portraying the negative about black people when there are millions of us, all over the world striving to have the best in life, just like anyone else. Outside of what is portrayed on television and magazines, some of the most fashionable people I know are black. And just because Obama is dressed in a suit and tie does not make him better or more fashionable than any other person of black heritage. In fact, it is well known that French youth regularly emulate the so-called black culture of style and dress. I say sarcastically, what could be so wrong about it if white people want to do it as well?

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