In the age of internet overload, there’s only too much brands, companies, and personas can put out there (whether its images or opinions) without being attacked on every social media platform available, publicly bashed, or even accused of racism and/or homophobia. In the wake of Dolce and Gabbana’s latest social-media racist rant, it seems that fashion aficionados are looking for the next design house to make even the slightest tilt in the wrong direction; brands can’t hint at something (and anything) without microscopic speculation from the crowds and critics. Today, that brand is Prada. The Story of Little Black Sambo, a children’s book with a red-lipped black kid as the main character, has been (unknowingly, according to the brand) referenced in the latest Prada mistake– which shows a black wooden figure with sultry red lips as a $550 dollar purse keychain. As of now, the keychains have been pulled indefinitely, and its pertaining window display that was mounted at NYC SoHo’s Prada store has been dismantled.
“They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface. Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery,” the company said in a statement.
Chinyere Ezie, a staff attorney at the Centre of Constitutional Rights, outed the brand when she saw Prada’s window installation in NYC. After visiting The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Chicago, she got out of the Prince Street subway, only to be met with a black figurine sporting a generous red pout at the Prada window display. Having just seen African-American history in all its glory, it didn’t take long for her mind to do the correlation. Fresh off Chicago with her suitcase still in hand, she stepped into the store and documented the scene on her phone. She went back to report her findings: she asked family and friends if she was being paranoid, but they saw racism too. “I felt enraged. I felt flabbergasted. I felt confused,” she said. “I can’t say that I’m a loyal customer of Prada. I don’t think I would have gone into the store had I not been assaulted by the images.”
Later, Ezie collaged a picture of the Prada keychain next to one of Little Black Sambo. Her post went viral, reaching the Prada headquarters in Milan. In her post, Ezie suggested the brand donate the profits to an anti-racist initiative. One comment on her post read: “Wait, you’re the one automatically thinking “monkeys = black people” here. Doesn’t that make YOU the racist?”
Is every image of a monkey deemed racist in the 21st century? In Prada’s defense, the keychain collection features several other animals, including a dog and an octopus. If you consider the long arms on the figurine, you can see that it resembles an ape or monkey. The problem is that the NYC SoHo window display only showed that specific black figure, again and again, rather than in conjunction with other animals in the series. Black figurines with giant red lips everywhere, next to each other. Why that was, we’re unsure; but it seems the mistake here was secluding that specific keychain. Perhaps if the dog and the octopus had been presented along with the now controversial figurine, there would be no comparison–just a happy, overpriced, animal keychain kingdom by Prada.
According to The Washington Post, in a letter of apology the company sent to Ezie, it acknowledged her request: “Given your suggestion, we will donate proceeds from these products to a New York-based organization committed to fighting for racial justice, which is a value that we strongly believe in. We will learn from this and we will do better.”