Ottawa Needs Black Fashion

Within mainstream white media and society, black individuals are being erased from traditionally black spaces. From the renaming of cornrows to boxer braids, and the highly sought after plum lips, black culture and black bodies, have been made consumable and/or turned into pieces of ‘art’ for white entertainment. Music videos of white artists feature female black dancers, twerking as they “shake it off.” The terrifying attempt to erase black individuals from what is inherently ours, profiting on this erasure, praising these aspects of blackness on white individuals, while simultaneously degrading, subordinating, and exterminating black individuals, is the real trend occurring in 2016. The presence of black individuals, within the sphere of art, and especially fashion and black culture, is the key towards reclamation. In Ottawa, a city packed with unique fashion and fashionistas, the presence of black individuals is dire in the maintenance, advancement, and protection, of black lives and black culture.

The fascination of black features on white individuals is nothing new and ties back centuries to the early beginnings of post colonialism (and arguably earlier). It would be easy to pin point the list of celebrities that perpetuate this cultural and body appropriation of blackness and black features, but as avid consumers, non-celebrities are part of the problem. Within local communities, spaces traditionally meant for black individuals have been removed and replaced with non-black individuals. From Sophie Trudeau singing at a Black History Month event, to practical spaces like jobs. Last year Ottawa saw an additional example of this within the Bluesfest Music Festival. Ottawa Citizen assigned a white journalist to review Kanye West’s impeccable performance. Based on the journalist’s outside perception and understanding of black culture and Kanye West, the review was bland at best and tragically insulting at worst. There needs to be a presence of blackness.

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Ottawa hosts multiple fashion and art events throughout the year. I have had the honour of attending a few and from attendance have seen a thirst for impeccable grace, talent, and glamour. The Nordstrom Winterlude Fashion Show, FLAUNT Ottawa, The Loft Gala, and the AMTI Showcase, are a few of the cities best events in fashion. Individuals come, laugh, drink, and ‘flaunt’ what they got. Ottawa is a city that loves fashion and glamour. The world thrives off of fashion and glamour as part of its pro consumer/capitalist mandate. A mandate created and cultivated for the benefit of white individuals, particularly male. Seeing as how Canada deals with covert racism and America deals with overt racism, it is easy for those non people of colour to state that a city like Ottawa has enough blackness and everyone lives in harmony. The need and out cry for a reclamation of black culture and spaces, is proof that this belief, is false. Ottawa deals with covert racism daily; an experience, and daily reality, non people of colour [white people] do not face. Ottawa needs more opportunities and more open arms, for blackness. Ottawa needs more blackness to be heard and in essence, demanded.

The more individuals value black lives, as much as they do black culture, the more secure black lives become. The more black individuals are present within all spheres of life, especially spheres traditionally ours, the more secure black lives become, and the greater chance black individuals have at that “Glory.”

From the classic suit and tie of the “Classic Man,” to the elegant gowns of Lupita Nyong’o, black fashion, as well as its art, have been making headlines both nationally and internationally. Zendaya Coleman’s presence, and that of other black celebrities, consistently display the importance of representation. The growth and admiration of black celebrities, especially that of black art, inspired such innovators as Kyemah Mcentyre, the eighteen-year-old black designer who curated her own African themed prom dress. The growth and admiration of black celebrities, culture, and art, inspired other innovators like Egypt Ufele, a 10-year-old black girl who started her own plus-size clothing line after being bullied at school for her weight.

The reclamation of black fashion is tied directly to the reclamation of black culture as it simultaneously declares that black lives truly do matter. The dominant presence of black individuals, cloaked in what is traditionally and inherently ours, alerts the world of our historic and current excellence.

Ottawa is a city of fashion but within its fashion sphere, we need a more listening and understanding ear from our fellow fashionistas, as the spaces originally owned and curated by black people, are reclaimed. Reclamation does not equal segregation. Reclamation would equal proper representation, as well as consistent reminders of the importance, elegance, and necessity of black lives. The presence of black individuals in Ottawa through fashion is possible. In 2016, it should be the greatest trend.

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