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Forever 21 shouldn’t have issued that apology for choosing a white model to wear a Wakanda Forever sweater. Here’s why | Elizabeth Wellington

This isn't cultural appropriation

Retailers such as Forever 21, in the 1700 block of Chestnut Street, are drawn by the street's lower rents and bigger lots.
Retailers such as Forever 21, in the 1700 block of Chestnut Street, are drawn by the street's lower rents and bigger lots.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Earlier this week, Forever 21 was lambasted for a Twitter ad that showed a pale white kid wearing black Converse, black joggers and an ugly Christmas-style sweater that said Wakanda Forever.

You would think the outcry would be over the print of the Fair Isle sweater — tacky!

But no, that’s too much like right. The internet — namely Black Twitter — lost its ever-loving mind because the model was white.

By the end of the day Forever 21 removed the Tweet and issued an apology.

But, should it have had to?

Black Panther, directed by African American director Ryan Coogler, has earned $1.3 billion worldwide at the box office. And trust, I’m sure some of those people who went to see Black Panther, probably more than one time, were white. White people liked Wakanda. They respected Wakanda. Darn it, the late Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are white and they dreamed up Wakanda. If white people want to wear a shirt that says Wakanda Forever I’m all for it. The boy wasn’t in black face, nor was he eating watermelon. That, for obvious reasons would be offensive. He was just being. And there is no law against that.

But isn’t this cultural appropriation?


One of the reasons we are stuck in this endless cycle of racism is because folks have a hard time seeing the humanity in people that don’t look like them. In America, white culture is the dominant culture and black culture is perceived as just for blacks. That makes white people afraid to venture into black culture and blacks judgmental about those who do with an open heart. But see, black culture is American culture. We aren’t foreigners. We aren’t vacationing in this land. We aren’t a part of it. We are it. And the more people that authentically embrace our world and all of it’s beautiful blackness, the better our world is.

That doesn’t mean, however, that cultural appropriation isn’t real. It exists — especially in the world of fashion — and I despise it. Every time a Kardashian is given props for not just wearing, but discovering, cornrows or plump lips or ample backsides or any other bit of blackness that white people once turned their noses up at, I want to scream. That’s because cultural appropriation, at its core, lets the dominant, oppressive culture profit off the very part of the culture they not only belittled, but used as a reason to separate. It’s disgusting.

The latest example of this is blackfishing ― white women changing their appearance to look “more ethnic" on Instagram to get more followers and probably snag a black man. (Yes, it’s real.) Some even go so far as to darken their skin. Now, that’s offensive.

So are the $550 black-faced tchotchkes Prada put on display in its SoHo boutique that the internet shamed them into taking down this weekend. Yep that’s offensive, too. And who knows what Dolce & Gabbana were thinking with it allegedly released an online campaign that played into stereotypes of Asian women — one showed a Chinese women eating spaghetti with chopsticks. Dolce & Gabbana were forced to cancel a fashion show in China.

And what about all of the little black boys and girls who wear Iron Man and Superman T-shirts? Should they not because they are black and those characters are traditionally white? They shouldn’t because they are black? I tell you what, I’ll be damned if someone told me I had to give up my Wonder Woman T because I’m black. It will never happen.

There is nothing offensive about a kid ― or a grown person, for that matter ― wearing a T-shirt, a sweater, a baseball cap paying homage to their favorite superhero of another race. That’s called inclusion. That’s called living your best life. That’s called a celebration. And that’s nothing to waste righteous indignation on.