They feature statements like ‘Africa Is Not A Country’, ‘Reparations’ and ‘Don't Touch My Hair’
Olatiwa Karade is a 19-year-old woman from New Jersey, US, and her pro-black political slogan jumpers, which she's selling on Etsy (they're currently sold out but she's restocking), are causing a stir, and a lot of laughter amongst black people.
They speak to some of worst ‘microaggressions’ (small instances of racism), that many black people have to put up with – whether that be people describing the continent of Africa as a country, or people touching their hair.
Other slogans on her jumpers speak truth to power. One calls for ‘Reparations’, as some black people, such as Birmingham City University professor Kehinde Andrews, believe “darker nations” should be monetarily compensated for the indignity of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism.
Another makes the statement that ‘Columbus Was A Murderer’, disrupting the generally positive historical image of the man who ‘discovered’ America.
Currently in college, Karade is following in the grand tradition of political slogan clothing – a legacy of designers such as Katharine Hamnett, and carried on by black contemporaries such as Jacob V Joyce's, whose ‘Token’ jumper aims to highlight the fact that many women, LGBTQI, disabled people and POC know how it feels to be tokenised.
Karade says she found her voice in the political discourse surrounding the most recent US elections, which obviously led to the premiership of Donald Trump. It was this experience which “reiterated how many people in power are ignorant and negligent of marginalised people like me”, she adds.
Dazed found out more about her story:
Why did you decide to make the jumpers? Did you have any inspiration, like Jacob V Joyce's 'Token' jumpers?
Olatiwa Karade: I always joke that I grew up in business school. My parents fostered all of my artistic ventures since I was a kid. They helped me with mock business plans for products I only dreamed of inventing, fake menu’s for fake restaurants, and trips to art and fashion museums where I sketched in my kiddie notebook. I found passion in entrepreneurship, I just couldn’t decide what I loved enough to commit it to. I found it in pro-black activism. The current political climate, my coming of age as a young black woman, and my personal experiences with racial discrimination really nudged me to do something. Digging through my clothes to find something to wear to Afropunk Brooklyn 2017, I decided on a politically charged t-shirt my mother had handed down to me. I loved how I felt wearing it, with my ideas and beliefs proudly on display and desperately wanted more. Thus, the sweaters were born!
“I had to stop internalising the misogynoir of the ‘angry black woman’ narrative, so I rebranded it with glitter, flowers, and soft, beautiful sweaters” – Olatiwa Karade
Why did you choose provocative statements?
Olatiwa Karade: I chose provocative statements for a number of reasons. I knew what I was publishing would be controversial – so I figured I might as well say what I want. I might as well say what a lot of us are thinking in our head when we see something foolish, or rage inducing, or when we’re in uncomfortable situations involving our racial background. I spent a lot of time feeling angry after personally experiencing and constantly being front row seat to racial injustice. I tried everything to suppress my anger, but I found the solution was to stop blaming myself for reacting to actions that were justifiably upsetting. I had to stop internalising the misogynoir of the “angry black woman” narrative, so I rebranded it with glitter, flowers, and soft, beautiful sweaters.
Do you hope they'll inspire more conversations about race and educate white people?
Olatiwa Karade: I hope my sweaters will spark more conversations about race! Mostly though, I want to normalise pro-black activism. I want it to have the ability to be soft, comfortable, and accessible to black people and allies. The sweaters speak for themselves so you don’t have to. I wanted to make a product that would seamlessly continue demonstrating the activism many of us do and support on social media after we close our laptops and when we must put our phones away. I hope the sweaters induce some conscious thinking in white people and are a catalyst for their self-education journeys.
Which is your favourite design and why?
Olatiwa Karade: My favourite design has to be “Pro-black, Anti-Bullshit”! I love it because it reflects me and my ideas entirely. If I could only wear one sweater forever, I’d choose that one. A lot of people feel as though pro-blackness is anti-whiteness, but that’s incorrect. Pro-blackness is many things, including but not limited to anti-hate, anti-oppression, anti-racism, and anti-bullshit.
What has the reaction to them been like?
Olatiwa Karade: The reaction to the sweaters has been overwhelmingly supportive! I could not have asked for a more wholesome experience. The amount of love, peace, and well wishes I have received have me floating. I couldn’t be more thankful of everyone who encouraged me and understood my message. Of course I had a few naysayers, but with the nature of the product I produce I’m very pleasantly surprised with the lack of hate. My store sold out within 24 hours of publishing! Since then I’ve restocked, and it’s sold out again! I plan to restock extremely soon due to the popularity and high demand.
“Through my activism I hope to promote equality, melanin appreciation and the general lit-ness of people of colour” – Olatiwa Karade
Have your politics always been quite radical?
Olatiwa Karade: In my honest opinion, I’ve always had “radical” politics. But – I must state that I fully believe that political “radicality” shouldn’t have negative connotations. Do I want radical change? Absolutely. Do we need radical change? Absolutely! I think the aggression in the word “radical” should be removed. And honestly, politics is only branded radical when it’s about demanding human rights. If advocating for the preservation and improvement of the lives of people of colour makes me radical, then it's the only thing I want to be.
Why do you think we should stop inviting white people to the “cookout”?
Olatiwa Karade: Ha! I was waiting for someone to ask me this question. I’m not saying they can’t come, I’m just saying let’s not keep throwing invitations out willy-nilly. Not every self-proclaimed “woke” white person deserves entrance to black spaces. Not every white partner should receive an invite for being in an interracial relationship or having a biracial child. Basic human decency should be done because it’s the right thing to do, not so you can pine for activism cookies from black people.