Here we are, on the cusp of 2019, and major retailers are still playing dumb about racial stereotypes and caricatures. This, just shy of a year since the British royal family admonished one of its own for wearing a “Blackamoor” brooch to meet then-future duchess Meghan Markle, and H&M coming under significant fire (triggering seismic intra-organizational changes) for dressing a black child model in a shirt that signified he was the “coolest monkey in the jungle.”
The latest perpetrator? Italian luxury label Prada, whose “Pradamalia” collection featured some animal-themed imagery that looked suspiciously like blackface.
The most offending items in question were keychains and purse trinkets modeled after monkeys, called “Otto Toto.” The products are now conspicuously absent from Prada’s online store, but as recently as Thursday, they were featured in the windows of their Soho flagship alongside larger display versions, which is where lawyer and activist Chinyere Ezie spotted them, as she and a friend passed by.
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Posting about her discovery on Facebook, Ezie revealed that she’d entered the store to inquire about the offensive imagery, only to be bombarded with more. And that’s where the story took an even more disturbing turn:
I don’t make a lot of public posts, but right now I’m shaking with anger.
Today after returning to NYC after a very emotional visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, including an exhibit on blackface, I walked past Prada’s Soho storefront only to be confronted with the very same racist and denigrating #blackface imagery.
I entered the store with a coworker, only to be assaulted with more and more bewildering examples of their Sambo like imagery.
When I asked a Prada employee whether they knew they had plastered blackface imagery throughout their store, in a moment of surprising candor I was told that *a black employee had previously complained about blackface at Prada, but he didn’t work there anymore.*
Just so we’re clear: A black employee of the store purportedly raised this issue ahead of Ezie’s complaint and was either dismissed or chose to leave, due to Prada’s refusal to remove them.
Okay, good to know.
Ezie, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, quickly encouraged those concerned to repost, retweet and call out Prada for this egregious display of racial insensitivity, using the hashtags #StopBlackface, #BoycottPrada, and #EndRacismNow.
“History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better,” she wrote.
Apparently, Ezie’s now-viral complaints were more effective than internal critique. On Friday, Prada—which ironically currently features black model Anok Yai as its campaign star—tweeted that it would be removing the “fantasy charms” of “imaginary creatures” from stores and displays.
Seriously, though? We’re supposed to believe Italy is so ignorant of blackface and racist caricatures (not so much) that no one at Prada looked at these products and said, “Shit. These look hella racist”? (How do you say that in Italian?)
Oh wait, someone did—but he doesn’t work there anymore.
They tried it, though.