Forever 21 back to its old, racist ways

Forever 21 necklace

I remember how much I loved Forever 21 (well, its prices) during my days as a struggling college student, but that romance is long over.  In the past year alone, there have been a few reasons that turned our breakup from amicable to straight out hostile. In August, a leaked memo revealed the slashing of health care and other benefits for retail store associates. In September, they pulled NWA and Compton-inspired t-shirts modeled by thin white women thanks to much controversy after tweeting that they were “straight outta Compton.”

Unfortunately, it does not look like they have learned anything from the Compton line uproar. Once again, Forever 21 is giving us the opportunity to take a piece of “ratchet” culture – all for the low price of $6.80! But wait! Instead of modeling its racist product with thin white women, like it did last year, the company opted for an ethnically ambiguous woman to adorn the gold “ratchet,” as though all non-white communities are interchangeable.

Are there more important issues out there? Sure. But this problem is beyond one necklace. It’s about the systemic appropriation and commodification of Black culture. As Tami Winfrey Harris wrote at Racialicious:

If a dominant culture fancies some random element (a mode of dress, a manner of speaking, a style of music) of my culture interesting or exotic, but otherwise disdains my being and seeks to marginalize me, it is surely an insult.

And to add insult to injury, this makes me think: who is profiting from all of this? Definitely not the people who are being hurt by the racist ratchet stereotype. A recent report from The Atlantic reveals that the workforce is pretty damn racist with Black people constantly having the lowest rate of employment. The recession and housing bubble bust decimated Black American wealth. The median wealth for single black women adds up to a whopping $5.

At the end of the day it comes down to this. It’s frustrating (to say the least) to have parts of Black culture used to put down Black Americans and justify racism while they’re also used to line the pockets of rich, non-Black CEOs and other higher-ups in the company.

Wagatwe's avatar Wagatwe is guest contributor at Feministing. She was once deemed an “exceptionally articulate African-American student” by an Obama administration member.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted November 11, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I can’t stand Forever 21! I will never shop there. They are a horrible franchise. I recently learned about the Forever 21 garement industry strike in 2000′s, and although an agreement was agreed to pay legal wages and provide safe work conditions for the workers I still would feel horrible shopping there, especially when they continue to do crap like this.

  2. Posted November 11, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure I see the racism in this necklace. You make the argument for the commodification of black culture, but there is a significant portion of the Latino community that either embraces or pokes fun at the word too. Asian people and white people also use the word in a vernacular manner. I think at one point point ratchet was restricted to a specific economic sector of the community, but now it’s used universally as a part of pop culture. How do you stop white people from calling other white people ratchet? And does it even mean the same thing anymore? The fact that this necklace is readily available for anyone to purchase gives the prospective buyer the choice to give words new meanings and redefine contexts. What your article is suggesting is that each ethnic and cultural group reserves the right to own and copyright words/language – and anyone else, an outsider, who chooses to use it is being exploitative and racist. I disagree with that. How do you attempt to police slang specific to one cultural group in a diverse city, like Los Angeles for example, where inter-cultural relationships are the norm?

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