Why I'm Still Anything But Pleased Following Ulyanna Sergeenko & Miroslava Duma's Racist Comments

With the month of January coming to an end, to say I’ve already run into some bad social insensitivity in the fashion world would be a huge understatement. Just within the past few months, we’ve dealt with an astonishing number of demeaning occurrences, from the H&M “Coolest Monkey” sweatshirt ad to the “Slavery” apparel vendor. Just when you think we’ve learned our lesson, another slew of influential names strikes the headlines. This week it's Russian fashion designer, Ulyana Sergeenko and street-wear connoisseur and co-founder of Buro 24/7, Miroslava Duma.

You’d think by now it’d be common knowledge that you can’t say the N-word...right? But Sergeenko and Duma seemed to be A-OK with communicating the N-word anyway. Last week, Sergeenko sent a personalized fashion show invitation and flowers to Duma. Duma found the invitation so sweet that she shared a pic of it on her Instagram story. The invitation reads “To my n*ggas in Paris” (uncensored), a line from a Kanye West song

That’s right, two influential white women were using a racial slur, endearingly. The internet was furious with Sergeenko, letting her know how unacceptable and offensive the term was to use in the invitation. The word carries one of the darkest parts of American history, being used by white people as a stinging slur to black people since the days of slavery. So even if the word was used to quote a song, that still doesn’t excuse the fact that Sergeenko, a very privileged white woman, used it without a second thought about its connotations. Sergeenko using the term in the invitation was deplorable enough, but the public was extra upset that Duma found the word so harmless (and even sentimental) that she would actually post a picture of the invitation.

To make it worse, once word broke out about Sergeenko and Duma’s use of that language, a style blogger known as BryanBoy posted a video of Duma from 2012, where she made transphobic comments about male models in feminine clothing. In the video, Duma says that little boys who saw the male models in feminine clothing would not be able to understand it “correctly,” implying that boys wearing boys’ clothes was the only “correct” way of dressing. She even “thanked God” that there weren’t too many men who were dressing femininely. After the all social media uproar toward the offensive images and comments, Sergeenko and Duma posted their apologies. Sergeenko's has since been deleted, but it originally read:  “Kanye West is one of my favorite musicians, and NP is one of my most favorite songs. And yes, we call each other the N-word sometimes when we want to believe that we are just as cool as these guys who sing it.” Duma's reads: 

 

 

A post shared by Miroslava Duma (@miraduma) on

After reading Sergeenko’s apology letter, the public grew even more aggravated. I think Sergeenko’s apology did very little in letting us know she truly understood the fault in her actions. She tended to blame Duma for “naively” sharing the invitation and she never really let the public know why she shouldn’t say the word in the first place. When you say you wanted to use a racial slur to feel as “cool” as the Black singers who sing it and leave it there, then you’re clearly missing the point. Still, Sergeenko claimed she’s all for diversity, then apologized and requested that the public stop spreading hate towards her. With a confusing apology like that, it’s hard to say how genuine Sergeenko’s remorse is.

As for Duma, it’s possible that her transphobic attitude could be changed within the span of six years. Still, posting that racist term so nonchalantly says a lot about where she is in terms of understanding racial sensitivity.

It’s true that these two white women, privileged by their color and their high status, wouldn’t immediately understand the plight of minorities. However, who you are doesn't excuse you from trying to understand how your words and actions can damage people. The N-word is not just a word––it's heavy with the centuries-long suffering of a group of people. Therefore, Sergeenko and Duma should have had the basic knowledge of why the N-word can never be said from their own mouths or even written by their own hands.

As international fashion entrepreneurs looking to expand their brands to clients all over the globe, how can Duma and Sergeenko reach everyone when they don’t know (or care to know) their story and history? If Duma really cares about “diversity” and “inclusion,” then Duma herself should have already had that basic understanding of the heinousness of the N-word. As people in the top tiers of the fashion industry with the power and influence to change our social rhetoric, Duma and Sergeenko should educate themselves socially and learn at least the basics of what is and isn’t socially sensitive.

Fashion is all about the expression of self, so fashion designers should get to know and understand every "self" they serve: black, white, cis, trans and everyone in between. So, as we start to realize what it means to support diversity and equality for everyone, we will run into unsettling situations like these. But let’s hope these two style stars actually learn from their mistakes and use that knowledge to better the fashion world through their own brands.

Header Image: Miroslava Duma / Business of Fashion

Iesha Ismail is currently a junior double major in English and Women's Studies at the University of Florida. Iesha is a Feature Writer and Style Blogger for Her Campus National and Features Editor for Her Campus UFL. She is an Editorial Intern for Ecophiles Media as well as a Writer for UF Sparks Magazine. She loves to observe nature and fashion as inspiration for all kinds writing she's into. Fashion, culture, drawing, and animation are just a few of the passions she plays with on the daily. Whether it's writing colorful stories or sketching in her worn out sketchbooks, Iesha always dabbles in anything art.

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