Amanda Brooks Serves Condescension to Stylish Black Waitstaff

Rachel Tension, our newest contributor, is an impossibly gorgeous multicultural style obsessive with a PhD in race relations from the School of Hard Knocks. Join us in reading her first piece for Styleite as she analyzes a recent gaffe of luxury retail expatriate Amanda Brooks.

Don’t you hate it when privileged white people try to be complimentary of another race and completely miss the mark? Because I hate it when privileged white people try to be complimentary of another race and completely miss the mark.

I refer here to a recent post on the personal blog of Amanda Brooks, the former Fashion Director of Barneys. (For those of you who haven’t been diligently tracking what Mrs. Brooks is up to, she recently gave up her job — and voluntarily! — to take a year-long creative sabbatical with her husband and their two kids on a farm in the English countryside. LOL WASPs, amirite?)

Anyway, Brooks has been blogging pretty regularly now that she doesn’t have all that fashion directing to do, and on Tuesday she extolled the virtues of a Jamaican-themed restaurant in New York called Miss Lily’s (which she misspells). And that extolling basically takes the form of, “Look at how cool all these Black people who work here are!” From the post:

Melvin, a gentle yet spirited rasta juice-master greets you with a familiar smile, while a gorgeous black chick in hot pants rings you up. There are gorgeous black girls everywhere at Miss Lilly’s [sic], and they have daring personal style to match. My favorite is a Grace Jones look-alike who wears head to toe leopard (hood included) and too much gold jewelry, in a good way. I’m getting up my nerve to take her picture — I promise I’ll share it with you when I do.

Rough translation: “Black people! I’ve written about maybe one brown person in the history of this blog so get excited! They’re in hot pants! They wear leopard! And OMG LIKE SO MUCH GOLD JEWELRY YOU GUYS I CAN’T.”

Ahem. I’m not suggesting Brooks’ post is racist, or that she is herself is a bigot of any form (and I know this because she celebrates the taste of people from a variety of racial backgrounds in her book, I Love Your Style). But in her zeal to commend the Black women who wait on her at Miss Lily’s, she ends up condescending to them. Whether or not Brooks realizes this (and she probably doesn’t, God help her), her commentary on the style of these women singles out their Blackness and links their personal style to it inextricably.

Was it really necessary to point out that these women are Black no less than three times in the space of 60 words? It was not. And yet there are the references to their skin color, right alongside the laudatory opining about those goddamn hot pants. The effect of this is to separate the really good style of this handful of women from the really good style of all women. Per Brooks’s assessment, being Black and stylish and being any other race and stylish are separate distinctions, and one simply must hoot and holler and blog whenever one spots a Black person wearing a pleasantly gaudy amount of jewelry.

Granted, this isn’t exactly on the scale of the Jackie magazine scandal, but it’s still not great. Fashion (well, specifically, the wearing of clothes) is something all people have in common — and good style should be a force for bringing people together, not pointing out the Grace Jones-sized differences between and among us.

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