BY TESS TUITOEK ’21
Hosted for the first time in five years by the Association of Pan African Unity (APAU), “Black.ism, the show” was a spectacular success, with performances showcasing fashion from the 1920s to the present. One of the organizers of the show, Nyasha Franklin ’19, said, “We haven’t had this kind of show since the class of 2019 has been here, so none of us had ever seen it put on; so it was kind of going from scratch and participating from other cultural shows such as AC [African Caribbean] Day.” She went on to explain the importance of the show, especially in the current political climate. “Anything that black people do to support themselves and uplift themselves is a political movement,” Franklin said. “Uplifting and celebrating ourselves is the most important thing about this show for us, and that’s what Blackism means to us.”
The show was structured according to major moments in Black history. Starting with the Harlem Renaissance — the intellectual, social and artistic movement in the 1920s that took place in Harlem, New York — the show began with a screen backdrop emblazoned with the words “Return Engagement by popular request: Ethel Waters in person” and “Bundle of Blues” by Duke Ellington playing in the background. This was the Jazz Era, when Ethel Waters, an African American singer and actress, stood at the forefront of popular culture. Some of the dramatic fashion pieces presented in this category were bold evening gowns BY TESS TUITOEK ’21 STAFF WRITER and high social status looks to embody the era.
The next part of the show moved swiftly into the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s with the slow, melancholy “Grandma’s Hands” by Bill Withers playing in the background. The models moved side to side with serious and sad expressions clearly symbolizing the difficulty of this era. From Ella Baker and Rosa Parks’ dignified, formal attire to Angela Davis’ afro, the fashion of the time was also a form of protest. By wearing the broad-shouldered blazers and fur coats that were the middle class’s “Sunday best,” these women reframed the idea of what a nonconformist looked like.
Just as the mood was toning down, models introduced the more militant resistance of the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the younger generation called for Black Power under the Black Panther Movement. Walking down the runway to “War” by Edwin Starr, models marched down the runway in black turtlenecks, leather coats, camo jackets and raised fists. This movement, symbolized by natural afros and black berets, was what Black Panther leader Kathleen Cleaver once called a “new awareness […] that their own natural, physical appearance is beautiful.”
The next part of the show brought the room to a standstill as models described the harsh truths of the America we live in today. Models marched down the runway to “Glory” by Common and John Legend holding posters saying “Stop the Killings,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” “I am not a Threat” and the slogan of this era: “Black Lives Matter.” They marched in Tshirts emblazoned with the words “Fight the Power” and “Black Lives Matter,” wearing hoodies that referenced the reality of police brutality occurring in the United States — Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner were wearing dark hoodies when they were shot by police. Once at the end of the runway, they chanted, “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police,” a chant frequently recited at Black Lives Matter rallies.
“Whether a hijab or a hoodie, they still don’t see it as genocide,” said Ahlaam Abduljalil ’21, one of the poets who performed in the show” — words that described the urgent theme of the night and that resonated deeply with the audience.