What it means to stay fly in a police state
I’ll start this article with my recollection of buying a mercerized cotton rain jacket from the Gucci store on 5th Ave over twenty five years ago (summer 1987). I worked as a messenger/mailroom clerk in an office overlooking the old New York Colosseum at Columbus Circle. The jacket costs me three weeks worth of pay but I HAD TO HAVE IT. The jacket was a simple red shell with the interlocked G on a patch sewn onto the left arm. The inner lining was a cotton print of arrayed Italian flags. I first spotted the jacket on a young thug bopping hard at the Latin Quarters. Dude was so fresh to def with the jacket, a Gucci sweatshirt, Gucci sweatpants, Gucci baseball cap the classic Gucci trainers. Suffice to say he was sporting a thousand dollar outfit when a rack back then would be equal to ten stacks in 2013.
I could tell he was from Brooklyn too because his whole crew had that aura as they were dressed in Polo Ralph Lauren and velour Fila suits from head to toe. But my man who was Gucci down had on THE emotional outfit. He was a bonafied ‘hood star. In a city like New York where you have to actually be rich JUST to be poor this dude was obviously sick and tired of looking poor. This is the predicament of people who live in and around poverty on the daily. You change your look to alter your outlook on what your chances might be for escaping the impoverished conditions you live in. It won’t always be an Italian sweatsuit from head to toe however. Sometimes it might just be an expensive leather belt and brass buckle.
We learned a few weeks ago about the disenfranchisement by the NYPD of a young Black male with the same aspirations of not looking impoverished who was arrested after the purchase of an expensive Italian leather belt at famed NYC high end retailer Barneys. The young male was accused of fraud in the purchase even after proffering identification to the officers.
The first salvo in the discussion of this incident was racism and that was the obvious call, but on a deeper level you have to observe the classism and continued appropriation and subsequent disenfranchisement of the style, swagger and most importantly CAPITAL of the working class. This is a story which is being repeated ad nauseam as we continue our consumerism, mainly because there aren’t signifiers of class and wealth which originate in the communities of poor people. Certainly not obvious ones which we can attach our emotions to. We must leave our communities and travel to the high rent areas of the city which don’t want our presence there. I should rephrase, they don’t want our physical presence, because the aspirational style of the working class is exactly what drives commerce and consumerism.
In a short while Jay-Z will enter into a partnership with the same high end retailer that sics the police on young Black males. These youths are supposed to admire and aspire to the trappings and accoutrements of wealth, but just NOT be able to afford them. Isn’t that dichotomy strange and perverse? Jay-Z, from the Marcy Houses of Brooklyn would have been very similar as a 19 year old to Tayvon Christian. Rapping about champagne, luxury apparel and realities that exist a million miles from the ground zero of struggle which is a NYC housing project. But here we are listening and dancing to Jay-Z songs like “Tom Ford“. And even Tom Ford himself who was credited with returning the Gucci brand to prominence in the late 1990s did little more than ape the style and swagger of Harlem designer Dapper Dan.
By placing the classic interlocked ‘G’ logo all over the clothing, or blowing up the classic ‘YSL’ logo to ginormous sizes Tom Ford brought the ‘hood aesthetic of conspicuous consumption to the sanction and celebration of mainstream fashion. Dapper Dan is the dude who deserves at least one of those CFDA awards that Tom Ford was bestowed. This brings me back to my original story about buying this Gucci jacket in the flagship store. I was a pathetic chump because I stood in that store for more than 45 minutes waiting for someone to ring up the jacket. I was being ignored by the staff repeatedly and I didn’t have the good sense to walk out of the building because I wanted the jacket so bad and had put my little monies together to buy it. I was still dumb enough back then to think that was all I needed to do in America was to earn some money and then I too could partake in the American dream of consumption.
There is the tricknology which tells me that my life is incomplete without these phony markers of wealth, and that is certainly supported in part with my reality, where I observe the real life signs of poverty. I’m told that I’ll feel better with my consumerism so I spend the values of my hard earned labor in an attempt to feel better about myself. Then after being robbed of my wages but feeling emotionally better I am summarily detained by the police who tell me I shouldn’t be here in the first place. Waitaminnit!? I was just feeling good. Now I feel like a piece of shit all over again.
That was my mistake although I wasn’t arrested for it like Tayvon Christian. My disenfranchisement was being made to wait nearly an hour just to buy the item. The neo-disenfranchisement for working class consumers is to be arrested or harassed by police officers in concert with these retailers who do not want working class people ruining the luxury experience for wealthy consumers. The working class should stay in their local Target stores, which coincidentally are also patrolled by NYPD officers in normal uniforms with sidearms visible. This is supposed to be the retail experience for the working class, where we feel like we are shopping in a prison camp, and instead of debit cards we are spending our commissary.
Jay-Z and Barneys are a million miles away from the Target store at Atlantic Center and they hope to keep it that way.