the experience of race for people of color is something white people really don’t like to talk about. we get uncomfortable. we visibly squirm and stiffen because it forces us to confront truths about ourselves and our history that don’t always sit well in the gut. there’s a swampy weight attached to facing verity like that. so we avoid it, because the absence of acknowledgment must also mean the absence of existence, right?
in the leadup to the 2018 midterm elections, i started listening to and reading the ideas of a young woman of color named brittany packnett cunningham. i’d seen her as a contributor on an hbo special for one of my favorite podcasts, pod save america, and her mind lit mine on fire. fom the first word, brittany spoke intelligence, reason, and sense into politics at a time when that seemed impossible (phenomenally, she still has the ability to do this - how, i will never know). and in the process of being totally captivated by her oration, she’d called me out.
pod save america is a political podcast hosted by a handful of former obama administration staff members. their conversation pivoted to women’s rights, gender equality, and the fact that 53% of white women voted for donald trump to become president in 2016. turning from her male counterparts, brittany looked straight into the camera, pointed her finger (it felt like directly at me), and said, “let me talk to my white sisters for a second. i just want to issue a warning, and i hope that you are listening closely.”
i sat up straighter.
“i want you to tell your mamas and your aunties and your grandmothers from me, to stop selling us out. i know it’s really hard but your whiteness will actually not save you from what patriarchy has for you. so yeah, i’m asking the 47% to talk to the 53% and tell them to stay woke and get on the right side of history.”
HOLD THE DAMN PHONE, and forget the patriarchy part for a second. i felt so exposed. i must have stopped the recording and replayed her words ten times. this was a woman i didn't know holding me accountable for my part in being better and doing better, even when i already thought i was pretty good. you know the discomfort that comes with the button on your jeans biting into just the right (wrong) part of mid section? i felt that, but i was wearing sweatpants.
i’m a part of the 47%, and it’s not as though i hadn’t talked about my beliefs with other white people before, right? in fact, i was, and sometimes still am, regularly the person that other adults avoid at the cookouts and kids’ birthday parties. i see it in their eyes, “steer clear of that one, she’s a lib and always brings up politics. her husband seems really nice, though.” i’m comfortable in my value system, not afraid to share it, and i’ve got the lack of choo-choo train birthday invitations to show for it these days. but is just voting well and speaking out really enough?
brittany’s message rang crystal clear to me. it is not enough to simply be a progessive white woman. we must be conscientious, intentional, engaged progressive white women who are willing to learn and grow and re-educate ourselves. we must be progressive white women who talk to our white brothers and sisters about unconscious bias, racism versus anti-racism, and systemic oppression, regardless of the societal consequences to ourselves. we must be progressive white women who digest hard truths and shortcomings that still exist in our own hearts and minds and be willing to confront them.
and, maybe most importantly of all, we must also be progessive white women who get TF out of the way for black people and black voices.
so, to my fellow individuals of the caucasian persuasion, while our natural instinct may be to speak up, it’s time to listen up.
a few weeks ago, we invited fifteen of our coworkers, friends, and customers to come to the store to model our clothes on a sunday afternoon. every person invited was brown or black. we popped champagne and ate snacks and blared lizzo and took a couple hundred pictures in front of loud, bold backdrops. there was laughter, friendship, and big, gooey happy. we spent one afternoon honoring some people we admire and adore, and it was likely the most joyful two hours i’ve had inside our shop yet. it gave me life.
february is dedicated to celebrating and commemorating the long, complicated history of black america. at basic., we own and embrace our responsibility to do better and be better. brittany cunningham rightly encouraged us to stay woke and spend our time on the right side of history, so we’d like to do that by walking the walk of the words we talk. in an effort to elevate and support underrepresented, marginalized voices, we’ll be highlighting only people of color this month. you’ll get to see the photos from our sunday funday, and we’ll introduce you to the people reflected in them. we will not paraphrase their words, and we will not share opinions on their stories. we’re just going to let you guys get to know some beautiful people (inside and out) that we are so proud to love.
thank you to every person involved in this project. it would be impossible to overstate how much we appreciate your bravery, candor, and willingness to put yourselves out there. we are honored to know each of you.
photography by laura jett walker. concept and styling by basic.