This Clothing Line Aims To Help Dismantle Racism Through Art

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published:

It’s 2018, and the resistance is stronger than ever. There is no stronger form of activism than art, and more and more we are seeing companies that are looking to turn the system on its head.

Enter Black on Black, a clothing and accessories company created in Brooklyn, New York, by Rodney White. White, an artist/art director created Black on Black as a way to cultivate a conversation about race, led by black people, about ways to break down the system that oppresses us, and simultaneously build ourselves back up.

There is also collection for allies, so the line is not just for black people. Intersectionality is at the forefront of the message and the conversation, as it should be because you can’t have progress without intersectionality, so don’t start blowing up the comments section with how it’s excluding white people, okay? Thanks.

I reached out to White to ask him about Black on Black — what it means, where it came from, and how he is trying to change the world for his young daughters through clothing and art.

There was no moment that spurred him into action. Rather, the line came from long-brewing frustrations with the way the world, and especially advertising, dealt with the black community. By making his own clothing, White is able to take control of what black people are seeing in the mainstream media and transform the message into one of self-acceptance. White prefers to be called an “ARTivist” rather than an “activist,” but his message remains the same.

“My art speaks to self-empowerment, optimism, and the ‘American Dream.’ Thirty-nine years of living made clear to me that systemically and institutionally, not everyone has equal access to that ‘dream’ and optimism. And those people overwhelmingly look like me.”

His young daughters, who are black and Mexican, will be navigating a world where both of their identities are targets of discrimination by a system of white supremacy. For White, it is important to him to instill in them the self-confidence to be proud of who they are, to speak up, and to tune out the rhetoric that will tell them they are less-than because they are strong women of color.

One of the line’s children’s shirts reads “I AM the New Black” which feels like it is giving black kids, especially black kids who may have a parent of another race, a sense of pride in themselves. As the black mother of a biracial child, this is a shirt I would buy to empower my son to have pride in his black ancestry and culture.

Black on Black has a variety of phrases that celebrate black pride (the best-selling “Blackety Black” shirt falls into this category as well as shirts like “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Blackness”), the struggle of being black (there is a shirt with imagery of the “unlucky” thirteenth amendment), police brutality, and of course, the aforementioned alliance (the “Pie” shirt, which reads “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie” is also very popular.)

When asked why he chose clothing to stage his protest, White was very deliberate. “The cool thing is clothing and T-shirts are able to get into any space, private or public, and can have the impact of street art or protest without uttering a word. I catch people reading my shirts all the time, and I smile inside knowing that the message just reached another mind.”

If you’re looking for a bold, creative way to support black art and the opposition of systemic racism, Black on Black should be your first stop. It is an easy way to support small business, while also initiating a start to those difficult conversations we all need to be having; the message and where you stand is right there on your chest.

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