It’s not the working conditions for the people who made the clothes (I don’t know) or the saying (though frankly I don’t like it.) It’s not that they’re paying some cute black girl to be the face of a company that I’m pretty sure is owned by this guy:
I mean, if you’re going to be oppressed by the man, might as well be one that looks like that amirite?
It’s not the flagrant pandering, or desire to monetize the oppression of others. It’s not that this company seems to be perpetuating the current structure of white-male owned companies while purporting to “create change” in the world. It’s not that their products seem to turn meaningful phrases into contextless pop ideology.
That’s all fine.
The problem is that they’re trying to manipulate you into acting against your own best interests by preying on your attachment to your identity. And, it’s not just them. It’s all of capitalism doing this, but at least we already know Monsanto is evil. It’s the dishonesty about the whole thing that really gets my goat.
These motherfuckers aren’t trying to save the world, they’re trying to make money — but more than that — they’re trying to feel important. And, they’re trying to make you feel important too, so you’ll buy their shirts. Wearing a shirt that says is “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” is tantamount to being neutral in a time of injustice. Our current capitalist system operates as a huge identity-selling machine, so when you buy your identity from a store, you are completely acting out in the desired manner to perpetuate our current system. Aka, you are doing nothing to oppose the larger system. Aka, you are neutral.
Whose side did that make you on again?
We are overrun with useless, bullshit clothes. We produce too many clothes for our thrift stores to deal with, and the vast majority (70%) are recycled into rags. And like, I’m not sure that’s really a problem (nothing wrong with rags!) but we investing a lot, a lot, of human time into producing waaaay more clothes than are needed. That’s energy that is not being spent on cancer research, or educating other humans, or helping to heal the broken body and mind of humanity. It is energy people are not putting into their families or communities.
Why are we buying so many clothes?
Because clothes are a primary identity signifier. When I go out lesbian dancing, there is 75% chance I’m gong to pull a plaid or denim shirt of the shelf because I know this will signal to other women that I’m queer. When I go to programmer meet-ups, I’ll probably wear some dorky startup shirt, and if I’m meeting a client for the first time I’ll wear something stitch-fix sent me in the mail. I do this so I can manage my identity perception.
Often, however, our relation to clothing is far deeper than managing our identity to others; it actually feeds into managing our identity to ourselves. The first thing a person who suspects they are trans will probably do is go out and buy a bunch of clothes for their appropriate gender. If you’ve ever crossdressed before, you’ll know that wearing clothes designed for women and clothes designed for men makes you feel different.
This doesn’t just apply to the things you wear, it applies to everything you buy. What type of toilet paper you select probably depends on your identity. Are you a comfortable, loving kind of person? Maybe you get the one with the puppy on the front. Are you an environmentalist? Then you’ll probably enjoy the asshole burning righteousness that comes from wiping with recycled newspapers. Are you a pragmatist? Then you’ll definitely be saving 50 cents by getting the Walgreen’s brand — that is, if you haven’t brought them in bulk at Costco already.
So — ok, that’s fine. We have identities, and we purchase accordingly. The problem comes because corporations know this, and they will manipulate the fuck out of your relationship to your identity to sell you their shit. Additionally, advertisement aimed at current identity isn’t as powerful as advertisement aimed at aspirational identity. I’m pretty secure with my intelligence, I feel like I’m smart enough. You may disagree, and I may be delusional, but that’s besides the point. The point is that selling me shit to make me feel smarter won’t work. Cute brain-teaser puzzles or leather bound books leave me cold. However, I have friends who are insecure in their intelligence, and they tend to be attracted to objects of intellectualism. A bookshelf full of fancy unread books is always a dead giveaway.
On the other hand, I am deeply insecure about how I look as I am aging, especially around my eye area. Every time I walk by a fountain-of-youth promising eye cream, I have to talk myself out of buying it. The identity I want is some naturally beautiful young woman who doesn’t give a shit about societal norms, but is magically gorgeous anyway. The identity I have is that of a neurotic woman in her early 30s ripping all the grey hairs from her head. (Ok, I stopped doing that, but only because I was worried about getting bald spots.) However, if you are selling something that promises the feeling of effortless beauty, it will catch me because I wish I could feel that way.
Aspirational identity is tied to insecurity, so often corporations will manufacture aspirational identity by making you feel insecure about something. This is why American culture has devolved so its primary purpose is to make its populous feel like shit — a sufficiently insecure population will drive itself into debt trying to purchase a less painful identity. Does this describe the world you see around you? What if we consider education to be no different from other goods? When choosing what college to go to, are kids encouraged to make a practical choice, or an identity supporting choice?
Anyway — back to Wicked Clothes. On one level, its just another clothing company, but it serves an additional more sinister function. American society perpetuates conformity by neutralizing its radical elements through absorption. Now that gay people can get married, for instance, they are herded toward the white picket fence and 2.4 children just like straight couples. Initially gayness was threatening to society because it was a radical element, but gay people aren’t scary if we can make them act just like straight people. In a similar way, Wicked Clothes is functioning to absorb and neutralize the radical elements fighting for social justice.
Fighting oppression? Lolz, that’s just what you do when you’re done putting on your makeup!
If society can turn “fighting for social justice” into something you feel rather than something you do, society can redirect people’s behavior into supporting the current systems rather than dismantling them. Once “fighting for justice” becomes “buying the correct products” it’s game over and we can go back to life as normal.
So, what should you do? Boycott Wicked Clothes? What a capitalist thought! They have some cute shit, I’d buy from them. They’re part of the system, sure, but you have to interact with the system to survive. You have to wear clothes, you have to eat food, and it’s not like any other clothing company is any less evil.
No, what you have to is love yourself. If you can love yourself enough, if you can accept your insecurities and imperfections, you can loosen the grip capitalist marketing has on your soul. You can stop being manipulated, and only bring things into your life that will benefit you. This will help you free up resources, money, and mental energy that you can use to help other people. Go ahead get the T-shirt if you need a T-shirt, but remember it doesn’t make you. You make you.