"Aspirationalism" Is Just Code For Racism, Conde NastMoe4/01/08 2:00pmFiled to: long goodbyesTopAbercrombie & FitchaspirationalismConde NastRacism2302EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkHey guys! More big news! Dodai and Anna have left us. No one is really talking to me. The new owners say they want me to stay, they just want to "edit" me a bit, and by "edit," they are saying, they mean more than my copy. "You may have to shower," is how this Daphne woman put it. Smell ya later, Daph! So anyway, Dodai and Anna were not a "good fit." No seriously, people actually do actually say that, as she did, on a conference call just now. So here is my theory: they were fired because they are black. There is a vain side of me that briefly wondered whether Conde saw in my exquisite internet photos the potential for Total Fashion Aspirationalism. They could give me a makeover, like in the movies! And then I could write a brutally honest tell-all about the process; and that could be a movie! And I would get rich, because the movie would have an excellent makeover montage!AdvertisementThe truth is that they are keeping me on because they know I am a "loose cannon" and will get myself fired for cause and that Dodai and Anna, being black, will have a fully reasonable case for a race discrimination suit, and they are pre-empting that potentiality with a generous severance package and, one imagines, seats on all Conde-sponsored "Our Hairstyles, Ourselves" panels forever and ever in perpetuity. And Dodai and I will laugh about it and go about our business because the universe is absurd that way. So I am going to make the case for them, since this is my last chance and their logins have been deleted from the system: America is not really a traditionally classist country but it is a traditionally "racist" country, and that racism masquerades as classism in the pages of all the Conde Nast magazines, where we don't see it as being so noxious because "classism" is not endemic here, it seems like some exotic foreign import a la Anna Wintour, and anyway, if you are not black you don't have to think about any of this stuff every day, because enough black people have confronted the obstacles that it feels like progress, and maybe, eventually, it will be.Barack Obama is powerful and strong and visually charismatic enough to chip away at the likes of Vogue, and the imagery that forms the foundation of our consciousness will begin to salve the wounds to the national soul that has been forged by an economy that has overvalued the superficial for entirely too long. Economic realities beget cultural and societal ones. Slavery was just cheap labor, right? What's more American than cheap labor?AdvertisementI began hating fashion when I covered retail at the Wall Street Journal and began learning about the hiring practices of Abercrombie & Fitch. Sometime in the early nineties Abercrombie had been recast — under the leadership of the Limited Brands and a bizarre Ralph Lauren clone named Mike Jeffries — as an "aspirational" brand appealing to middle-class mallgoing teenagers, and the centerpiece of this strategy was turning every kid who worked there into a "walking mannequin" for the brand. At first, this was organic; the hot frat boys they recruited found it easy to convince their lifeguard chick ex-girlfriends to come work too. But retail is a drag, and the company was growing quickly, so rules and procedures needed to be established. Every store was given a "target school" — a college university expected to supply some quota of students to the stores. Only Georgetown students could staff the Georgetown store, for instance; George Washington students were forced to take the Metro down to the less-coveted Pentagon City location, etc. etc. Management further isolated fraternities, sororities and sports teams at the schools for recruitment to work at the stores, and sent forth their most attractive and charming brand representatives to woo them in. The idea was that the stores would reflect some sort of idealized form of real life, and they did.But as the chain continued to grow, exceptions needed to be made. Certain tony prep schools were targeted for recruitment. Exceptionally-attractive staffers were allowed work at the stores of their choosing. Local modeling agencies were sometimes tapped to staff the coveted positions at the front of each store. Target school quotas could be ignored so long as each store was hot enough.But each store was never hot enough. District managers pressured by regional managers pressured by the constant pressure for increased profits assured to that. Weekly, they would monitor the stores, admonishing the manager for allowing Jeremy to work the register in last month's clothes, or letting Rick wear white shoes, or allowing Melanie to wear red lipstick when that wasn't "brand-positive," or ever hiring Melanie in the first place because, at 130 pounds she was horrifically obese. Uglies and fatties and people who didn't "get it" were cast out; new kids came in; the stores devolved into constant chaos and somewhere in the middle of the constant hire-purge-hire cycle a few too many minorities slipped in.SponsoredAnd that is when things really got nasty. Where the few token black people who had worked at Abercrombie in the nineties felt generally comfortable with the culture, blatant, stomach-churning racism gradually supplanted whatever the company's "culture" ever was supposed to be. In my investigation — and you must understand, as a 24-year-old reporter I took my "investigation" of Abercrombie & Fitch very seriously and interviewed literally hundreds of employees — a regional manager told me the VP of stores had referred to a Latina employee in a Texas store as "the maid," and his South Street Seaport store as "the Asian Invasion" and finally, a New Jersey store with an offensive quantity of black employees as "The Jungle."Now, if I may offer you the chance to link this thing with that thing and chuckle at the irony, ha ha ha.