Monday, February 16, 2009

Black History Month....Fashion and the Black Woman.

With the election of our nation's first African American President, and with that the first black First Lady and family, I've decided to do a series during Black History Month about influential black women. It bears mentioning that I, growing up in the 70s and 80s as an upper middle class white girl and now woman, cannot and would never attempt to try to understand the position that these women found themselves in over the last century (and prior). I can't even claim to have ever been oppressed as a woman, as the fight for women's rights pre-dated my existence...I can vote, I am free to raise a child as a single woman without reproach, I can work, I can wear jeans and skip the restrictive underpinnings. I own my own business and I dare say that a man doing what I do would not necessarily make more than what I make simply because he is a man. I am damn lucky, and grateful to the women of all colour who came before me to fight those hard battles.

But as a Mom with a small child during this last election, and now during this month of Black History, it has been very much at the forefront of my attention to be mindful of the struggles of the African American. Kids say weird things, and are very daughter has had a myriad of questions in light of all the news-talk about the first "black" president (though she calls him brown, and she's right, but hence the quotes on black) and now the focus on Black History Month at school. Bless her, she has black/brown/yellow friends and literally does not get what the big deal is. Leaving me forced to explain some ugly truths to her about the history of our great country. Try it yourself sometime, and despite your utter lack of contribution to the ugliness, you too will find yourself embarassed and at a loss for words to try to explain what the white people did to African Americans back then (nevermind what they continue to do. If you don't believe me, check out THIS STORY about some racist arsehats objecting to having our commander-in-chief's picture being used at an Air Force Base commisary, and succeeding in getting it removed, with quotes like "He said they're not going to have no black man on the window where he shops,"). Thats the world I'm bringing up a child in, and it makes me sad.

So with that, I give you the woman credited with being the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement in this country (and try explaining to a child why it took nearly 100 years after Abraham Lincoln's EMANCAPATION PROCLOMATION for there to even be a recognized movement for African Americans to even be recognized as equals. Good luck trying to make THAT make sense.).....ROSA PARKS.

Rosa was a seamstress, remarkably apt for the tone of my trying-to-stay-on-message-vintage-fashion-blog theme. She was born in 1913, and by 1955 at age 42 she became the poster child for the Civil Rights Movement simply by being tired, fed up and over it. She refused to give her seat to the white man (the younger, able bodied white man). And a fire-storm ensued. Quoting Rosa "Back then," Mrs. Parks recalled in an interview, "we didn't have any civil rights. It was just a matter of survival, of existing from one day to the next. I remember going to sleep as a girl hearing the Klan ride at night and hearing a lynching and being afraid the house would burn down." In the same interview, she cited her lifelong acquaintance with fear as the reason for her relative fearlessness in deciding to appeal her conviction during the bus boycott. "I didn't have any special fear," she said. "It was more of a relief to know that I wasn't alone."

Rosa with Martin Luther King, Jr, in a classic white silk dress and pearls....

Her mugshot, as chic as can be despite the weight of a nation....

Rosa being fingerprinted (in what I think looks very like a LILLI ANN 50s suit of ottman slubbed silk, very smart) ....

Watch for more posts on African-American woman in history and a bit about fashion over the next couple weeks!


1 comment:

TweenStylist said...

Great piece, and very relevant. I feel your frustration in trying to explain these things to our children, and often wonder how much to disclose and at what age. Think you're having a hard time, try explaining why your Great-grandmother only has a 6th grade education (and just turned 75 last month) because she had to pick cotton. I think people forget that there are millions of people alive today who experienced some of these things especially here in Georgia. Anywho, I love my grandmothers story of how she would lounge at home in her lingerie, sipping wine and reading Shakes Spear in comparison to standing at her front door with a shot gun (kids under the bed) as the kkk marched through Zebulon, GA. My grandmother who is probably a master seamstress loves interior seamstress work best, but made me so many beautiful clothes over the years including a piece from a Issey Miake pattern in the 80's. She’s done work for The White House (Carter), Elton John’s condo in Atl., and the luxury suite at the Ritz Carlton under design firms over the years. When we take her shopping, she laughs and can't believe how the people make money with such, "awful sewing" on the garments. I could go on forever, but luckily our kids see such a different world today.

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