Woke up in Paris this morning to a bunch of messages about Jesse Williams’ BET acceptance speech last night. It was amazing.
With everything that's been happening here the past month - xenophobia in the UK, Islamophobia in and around France, speech after speech with anti-immigration rhetoric, "how is the best way for us to live together?" has been a lot on my mind.
Paris Men's Fashion Week just wrapped, and while it was a new and very cool experience for me, it raised a lot of questions about identity, inclusion, culture, and influence. On so many of the runways, I couldn't help but notice the sheer whiteness of the models. And yet, so many of the brands cite their influences in 'hip hop' and 'urban culture': essentially hijacking and stylizing black culture, while excluding black people.
In Paris, I live with a white, upper-middle class, extremely privileged and well-educated family. And yet, despite their education and their wealth, they have not, as Jesse Williams stated yesterday, perhaps emphasized comprehension over career.
When I drive with the youngest one N-, a boy of 13, I let him choose the music we play. Typically, it's the latest rap song or new hit. And every single time I watch this privileged white boy sing along, I get pangs of annoyance. It's just become such a common sight. Hip-hop and rap are 'cool'. Urban style and music have become a 'fashion'. Safe in the suburbs, white children play at being 'hood'. It's a game: girls throw up gang signs for Facebook photos. N- pretends to rap and says he's from the Paris projects.
And yet, N- would never be allowed to venture close to the projects, nor would he dare to. His idols who rap about drug deals and gun violence are 'cool' and 'thugs', but the men and women living this reality are seen as criminals, poor, uneducated, violent. He makes no attempt to empathize with or understand them. They - this diverse, beautiful, strong block - are simply a threat that must be kept away.
'Freedom' has become the exclusive property of whites: a 'privilege' that might be given out in increments to minorities, if they 'prove themselves', if they 'earn it', if they 'behave'. But white people never have to prove themselves, earn it, or behave before demanding their rights.
A white person does not have to question their right to be standing in a public space, to be saying certain words, or wearing certain clothes.
Last night, Jessie said: a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. And I do believe that. But we must demand something different.
It’s late here, and I know there’s more to say but not sure if I’m able to find the right words, just now.
Goodnight all -