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Real Talk: Do You Need a Lesson in Black Fashion?

French Elle dropped a racially charged bomb on its website recently.
You’d think in the aftermath of the scandal raised by Dutch magazine Jackie referring to Rihanna as a “niggabitch,” a fiasco that led to the resignation of its editor-in-chief, that publications would be more careful, maybe hire a Black editor or consultant, to make sure they didn’t sully their brands with allegedly accidental insults that offend the worldwide Black population. But nope! As if in a race to be the next big offender, French Elle recently dropped a racially charged bomb on its website.

Writer Nathalie Dolivo penned “Black Fashion Power,” a blog post that seemingly meant to praise American Black style — because you know we’re a monolithic people who can be easily stereotyped — but ended up offending the entire Diaspora.

Dolivo references Solange Knowles, Janelle Monae and Nicki Minaj as sartorial stars and suggests that their style, along with the style of the rest of the Black community, has been significantly heightened thanks to Michelle Obama. She writes, “For the first time, the chic has become a plausible option for a community so far pegged [only] to its streetwear codes.” Elsewhere in the piece she refers to well-dressed Black women as integrating “white codes” of style.

This woman is clueless, and not just about fashion. I’ll take Solange Knowles and Janelle Monae as arbiters of style, as I would raid both of their closets any day. But their eclectic fashion sense isn’t at all, whatsoever, in any way influenced by the First Lady’s style. And I can think of no one person less influenced by Mrs. O’s style than Nicki Minaj — every time she’s photographed, everyone over the age of 14 is left with a head-tilting “huh?” when observing her attire.

I adore Michelle Obama, and I give her a lot of credit for a lot of things. But for making Black folk chic? Mrs. Obama is “just” a widely visible reflection of one of the many expressions of Black style. It’s straight up and down ignorant to think that all Black women must have been dressing like Mary J. Blige circa “Real Love” until 2008 when Mrs. Obama arrived and introduced us to kitten heels, sweater sets and tailors. And it’s a pure fail to think dressing well is akin to some sort of “white thing.”

Baby, we’ve been fly. It’s part of the reason so many designers stay Christopher Columbus-ing Black culture — i.e., looking to us to “discover” something new, then slapping a label on it and calling it their own. Because Mrs. Dolivo is tardy to the party when it comes to knowing about Black style doesn’t mean it didn’t exist before Michelle Obama and doesn’t exist beyond her. It does mean that I’m baffled how a woman who clearly knows so little about Black people was assigned to write so much about them.

As these types of stories keep occurring — before the Rihanna fiasco at Jackie and before Italian Vogue referred to an earring that looked like your standard Black girl hoop as “slave earrings” — I realize this isn’t stemming from a consistently poor choice of writers or a bad editing team. Rather, there is a deficiency in information about American Black culture, not only within America, but outside of it as well.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk