(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Last month, two separate, high-profile incidents sparked an online discussion about cultural appropriation, racial insensitivity and the appropriateness of fashion products.
First, the luxury brand Gucci stopped selling a sweater that many social media users decried as insensitive or racist, because it appeared to evoke blackface.
Then a few days later, Katy Perry and her partner Global Brands Group pulled two styles of shoes from store shelves following similar criticism.
“I think companies should be mindful of the products they put out and how they may affect the public,” said Dr. Nathaniel Frederick, associate professor of mass communication and director of African American studies at Winthrop University.
“We’re living in an age of social media where we have this sort of hyper-outrage culture and people are able to voice their opinion or their displeasure, of whatever is going on, in the culture much faster through social media.”
Ultimately, Gucci apologized for “the offense caused” and Perry said she was “saddened” by the response, because there wasn’t any intent to “inflict any pain.”
However, Frederick said only the results matter.
“It’s hard to figure out what someone’s intent is when you see images like that or products like that, but I will say that intent doesn’t always matter. Sometimes only the outcome matters and if someone is offended then you need to deal with the outcome,” said Frederick.
Regardless, the response got a number of people talking about what actually constitutes cultural appropriation.
“When I first saw it, I didn’t think blackface. I just thought it was a turtleneck,” said Brooke Frierson, president of the Winthrop Association of Black Journalists.
“Not everything is racist, but at the same time, in a race conscious society, designers, entertainers and others need to be aware of what they are producing and putting out to the masses. They have an influence and should be aware of their products and ensure that nothing is offensive,” she said.