American Apparel is a great place to go if you want at least one person in false glasses to stare at you while you nervously rifle through some sheer bloomers. American Apparel is not a great place to go if you enjoy respecting and honoring other cultural traditions. Case in point: the retailer has recently attracted criticism for putting up a Vodoo-themed window display in one of its Manhattan stores.
According to Shantrelle Lewis, writing in Ebony, when an African spiritual practitioner asked a company employee about the reason for the display, the employee replied that it was in celebration of Halloween. Um, what? As a Change.org petition demanding that the display be removed puts it:
The Vodoun-themed window display, using faux sacred Fon iconography, is culturally insensitive, as it insinuates that a world religion that has been viciously and incorrectly maligned for centuries is "spooky" and upholds the specious belief that African and African-derived religion and culture are "seasonally appropriate" to sell Autumn/Hallowe'en-inspired items.
Lewis points out that Voodoo has "been bastardized in popular culture and subsequently demonized within Black communities throughout the African Diaspora." Voodoo, "an actual African spiritual system associated with good health and well-being" has been erroneously made synonymous with dark witchcraft and tampering with the dead; these narratives have been re-circulated and revisited by ignorant Americans for nearly a century now. Writes Lewis:
It baffles me as to why a store would make the decision to mis-appropriate a sacred spiritual system that is old as time in Africa itself. Alas, we know that even hipsters — for all their self-congratulatory "progressive" ways — can be just as bigoted and racist as any one else.
Sadly, it's not as baffling as it should be: if there's money to be made in picking and choosing aspects of a certain culture, sensationalizing them, and then making a profit, it will be done ad infinitum.