Nordstrom's response to BlackandBrownNews.com's inquiry: In a telephone call to BBN last Friday, a Nordstrom spokesperson said, "Nordstrom sides with BBN and finds the advertisement offensive and racist. Peter Nordstrom, our president, spoke with the designers and expressed his disappointment, but the designers view it as art." When asked about a more forceful condemnation for the egregious offense the spokesperson said, "The retail partnership is an important one. We value our retail partnership with the designers and hope they will listen to us as a valued partner."
"Art is anything you can get away with." Marshall McLuhan, Canadian communications Theorist, Educator, Writer and Social Reformer
For now, it seems, the designers Proenza Schouler and the filmmaker Harmony Korine have escaped any real penalty for creating an advertisement for their fashion line that exploits underage Black girls under the cover of artistic expression. At BBN we believe art should not be censored and people should be free to create, say and do almost anything. But our position has not changed on this: This is not a debate about freedom of art or censorship. This is a matter of accountability.
That the designers and filmmaker chose to debase and exploit the most voiceless, defenseless and unprotected segment of American society for commercial purposes demonstrates cowardice and thoughtful strategy. The thinking: even when a retail partner finds their creation offensive and racist as Nordstrom did, they will pay no penalty. If the designers and filmmaker were bold, daring and unafraid of real controversy and true to the freedom of art, they would have selected a less safe victim to do their bidding. Imagine those same designers and filmmaker creating a fashion advertisement that projected anti-semitic images or spewed homophobic language. Rightfully, that advertisement or "work of art" would probably have been not only shut down, but retailers would unlikely be able to justify the "valued partnership" and sever ties with the designers.
But not for defenseless and seemingly unprotected Black girls.
It is 2010 and the United States has a Black President and First Lady with two daughters who fit the physical image of those young girls in the advertisement. What is more striking is that the First Lady is also a very, very, very good friend to the fashion industry - designers and retailers alike. When she steps out of her door, retailers keep fingers crossed in hopes that her choice of designer for the day is sold in their store.
The only remedy BBN sees as appropriate to mitigate this egregious offense by Proenza Schouler is for retailers who carry their line to sever ties with the designer.
There are moments when big business has to soul search and ask the question of overall value with partners who effectively make unilateral decisions to do as they please without any consideration for how the partnership might be affected. It appears the designers did not give their valued retail partnership that fundamental consideration.
In this great democracy of ours, we can say, write and create almost anything. But what we can't control is the unintended consequences of our creations. Marshall McLuhan was right, "Art is anything you can get away with." At BBN we aren't convinced the last chapter in this latest offense to Black America has been written. Sharon D. Toomer