Sunday night, former Fly Girl and original Kim KardASShian, Jennifer Lopez took to the American Music Awards stage, impressing with her boss moves and fierce form. But it’s JLo’s couture that really left us stunned and scratching our heads. Proving her judgment in fashion is about as questionable as her judgment in movie scripts, it was in a heavy coat that looked hauntingly familiar, “a graphic pattern injects a folkloristic feel into a hooded fur intarsia coat” with “geometric motifs with an indigenous flair.”
That showpiece from Canadian designers Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared2’s notorious, controversial and profoundly racist ‘#DSquaw’ collection which sent tongues wagging earlier this year.
Though custom-made for Lopez, Jenny from the Block *actually* chose to take to the stage wearing garb inspired by a collection that celebrates “the enchantment of Canadian Indian tribes” with the “confident attitude of the British aristocracy.” As Elle Beaver’s Shelagh Hartford wrote in her post when the collection first came out last March, “As Canadians, they [DSquared2] should be especially aware of Canada’s atrocious past – and present – relationship with the Aboriginal peoples whom we took advantage of, attempted to kill off or culturally wipe out, forcibly took children away from, sexually abused – and on, and on. (That would be that good old “confident attitude of the British aristocracy” they are also claiming to try to evoke.)”
It’s not just Dean and Dan Caten who should have known better. Jennifer Lopez should know better. Particularly given the recent history of stars who have made headlines for wearing culturally insensitive couture, from Karlie Kloss for Victoria’s Secret, Pharell on the cover of Elle Magazine, Gwen Stefani in her Looking Hot video, Karl Lagerfeld’s douchey Texas collection for Chanel, and Every. Single. Moron. who has ever attended Coachella and the like in a Plains headdress. AD NAUSEUM.
And beyond these nasty headlines, Jenny must have reveled in the positive media coverage she generated when she doned an uber glam, uber want-worthy ensemble from Valentino’s 2016 Resort Collection, a stunning piece that was part of a collaboration between the designer and Métis artist Christi Belcourt. A collaboration that moved the fashion community a step beyond ‘Native-inspired’ to ‘Native-designed.’
But more to the point, the more profoundly troubling problem with Lopez’s costume goes beyond its culturally appropriative nature and lies in the #DSquaw hashtag that accompanied the release of the collection. DSquared *actually* used “Squaw,” that gobsmacking racial slur – which was, once upon a time, simply an Algonquian word that meant “the totality of being female” – a term used to disparage Indigenous women. We cannot pretend in 2015 that to the gendered slur doesn’t raise the ghostly spectre of Canada and the United States’ deeply troubling history of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
As Elle Beaver wrote last March, “At a time when Aboriginal women represent only 4.3% of Canada’s female population, but 16% of the female homicides and 11.3% of the cases of missing women, when the UN is calling Canada out, telling us that our First Nations peoples are experiencing human-rights violations of “crisis proportions,” naming your fashion line after a slur against Native women is bringing the racism of the fashion industry to a new and violent level.”
And if naming your fashion line after a slur brings the industry to a new and violent level, wearing that very collection which is mired in the blood of Indigenous women in a problem.
As Beyond Buckskin’s Jessica Metcalfe made clear on Facebook, “Whyyyyy?! Why do celebrities continue to be ignorant when it comes to these issues? They are role models, they have a responsibility – so many people look up to them and cheer them on, yet they can’t even do the tiniest Google search when it comes to big decisions like wearing the Dsquaw collection for the opening of the AMAs?! Promoting a designer who openly used a derogatory term for Native women, when you are a woman, is unacceptable.”
We cannot glamourize or stylize racism, especially not when it comes in the shape of a ‘fabulous’ fur coat. DSquared2’s collection is tainted, subverted by the hands of a colonial history. It is the very embodiment of a culture that devalues Indigenous women and that continues to perpetrate violence against them.
Let’s not wear our history like a second skin. Let’s do better.
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