If you’re white (I am white), don’t use the N-word. I wish I’d published that line alone last week in response to the controversy wherein Miroslava Duma, co-founder of Buro 24/7, shared a note from couture designer Ulyana Sergeenko to Instagram Stories that read: “To my n*ggas in Paris.” Because really, when someone uses the N-word — yes, even casually — in 2018 especially, what else is there to say?
Something. There is a responsibility to say something.
When exchanged between white people, the N-word is, as Dr. Maya Angelou said, poison. It is not ours to speak, not ours to write, not ours with which to joke. The word is a heavy fossil packed with layers of violent history, exclusion and oppression. It is not a pebble to be picked up and tossed casually. As for Miroslava Duma’s transphobic, homophobic remarks that resurfaced from 2012 last week, those words are poisonous, too.
If you’ve not been following, there was swift and immediate backlash. Miroslava Duma and Ulyana Sergeenko’s initial non-apologies further fueled the fire. Dumas’ response was curt; Sergenko’s has since been taken down and replaced with another. Duma responded again, this time in a full statement to Business of Fashion. Elle.com’s Nikki Ogunnaike wrote why this controversy is “not just a niche fashion story.” For Glamour.com, Candace McDuffie wrote how this “casual racism highlights fashion’s need for diversity.” Yesterday, the headline of Connie Wang’s Refinery29 piece asked, “Is wokeness in fashion just another illusion?”
We can chant the old rhyme about sticks and stones not breaking bones, but words with deep meanings hurt. These words hurt. I am a part of this industry, and the industry is hurting. This gaffe in particular rocked me, and I wish I spoke up sooner. I realized, after sitting on it for so long, talking about it to myself for so long, and then especially after reading a piece by Anja Tyson for All the Pretty Birds on “how to be an ally,” that by not doing anything, I was part of the problem.
I want to be the kind of person who speaks up about issues that matter to me, about issues that have greater reverberations beyond their isolated incidents. I want to be the kind of person who lends a hand toward change. I want to help in ways that are productive rather than performative, even if the way to do that isn’t always clear. It’s a confusing time, but I do know silence is never the answer.
We have messed up before at Man Repeller. You have demanded we do better. We agree. As Head of Creative at Man Repeller, as a writer, as someone invested in a community I love, I need Man Repeller to genuinely feel as welcoming of a place as we intend it to be. Part of that means, as a site borne of the first-person narrative, valuing and sharing work from people of varied of backgrounds with unique voices — people of color in particular — and seeing that reflected in the new contributors we bring on to the site, the stories we tell and the people we hire on staff. (Ed note: we have five open positions!) The other part of that means speaking up for what we believe in.
Yes, it can be hard when we can’t seem to find the right words, or when we feel hypocritical for past mistakes, but when words escape and fears arise, maybe a return to honesty — a return to our reason for wanting to speak — can help us find our voices. We have to hold ourselves accountable for how our actions impact one another. The same is true for our words — what we say, and what we don’t. While the internet can reinforce our familiar, insular bubbles, it also makes it easier than ever to pierce them. My hope is that, as a result, we become better. Better organizations, better groups, better people.
Edited by Kate Barnett
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.