By Guest Contributor Dr. Tanisha C. Ford
A New York Times Magazine spread titled “Class Acts,” featuring six professors styled in designer fashions, recently resurfaced in the social media sphere largely due to the media’s budding interest in fashion in unexpected workplaces. Initially, I was thrilled to see the NYT acknowledge that we professors could be stylish, too. But, as I removed my rose-colored Burberry glasses to examine the slide show again, I saw that there were no professors that looked like me. No professors of color.
I instantly took to my Twitter and Facebook pages to post the “Class Acts” spread for my diverse group of colleagues to weigh in on. Their responses ranged from a sarcastic “… apparently black professors can’t be fashionable” to an admonishing “A truly pathetically pale slide show … shame on you NYTimes.” I felt vindicated that they shared my concerns that faculty of color were not represented. We began comprising our own list of “fierce and fly” faculty of color, including (but certainly not limited to) Mimi Thi Nguyen, Darlene Clark Hine, Davarian Baldwin, Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, Siobhan Carter-David, Treva Lindsey, and Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar.
But even after our insightful social-media venting session, I was still bothered by the spread. And it wasn’t simply because “we” weren’t included. It was because the spread ignored the battles related to dress and adornment that African Americans have endured, both inside and outside of the academy. A brief look at major moments in Black history reveals how battles over race, class, and adornment have majorly influenced mainstream American fashion trends.