TMF: Victoria’s (racist) Secret

The ideal Victoria’s Secret consumer? Even I’m not this white.

I’m mixing it up for today’s TMF. I don’t usually pick adult items or ad campaigns for the TMF: Tired Marketing Fail! series. Mostly, it’s because I think adults can field adult issues on their own. (Well, most adults.) I usually target kid stuff because the marketing is aimed at kids, who don’t generally have the ability to distinguish sexist bullshit from regular bullshit. Depending on the age, they can’t even distinguish when a television program ends and when commercials begin.

TMF is also a little reminder for all of us out there buying stuff for the kids we know. What parent out there hasn’t been at the mega-box store seemingly sleep-walking through the rote task of getting that week’s shopping list done? Hell, since becoming a mom I’ve had weeks when I can’t remember if or how many times I’ve showered. Did I brush my teeth yesterday?

But today I’m making an exception to the usual TMF format. Today I’m going off on Victoria’s Secret. Not because of its history with child-labor marketed as fair trade… No, this time it’s because the company can’t stop putting out racist shit! From “geisha” outfits in its catalog earlier this year to sending a model strutting down the runway last weekend wearing a Sioux-inspired war bonnet, Victoria’s Secret seems to be trying to get away with misappropriation, exploitation, and sexualization of non-white cultures. (Photos of each are in the links above.)

Jezebel writer Ruth Hopkins dials in exactly where we should be on the outrage scale:

I am livid. After years of patronage and loyalty to the Victoria’s Secret brand, I am repaid with the mean-spirited, disrespectful trivialization of my blood ancestry and the proud Native identity I work hard to instill in my children. Well, I’ve got news for you, Victoria’s Secret. Consider yourself boycotted. Perhaps it’s time for us to resume the feminist practice of bra-burning. Regardless, this Native girl is ready to go commando.

We just went through one of our most racism-filled election cycles in modern history. Indeed, one of the many reasons why Mitt Romney lost is because he employed the so-called Southern Strategy — feeding on the fears of conservative, white people who fear and dislike people who do not look like them (or, racists, for short) — and banked on the almost exclusive power of the white vote to put him in office. And we all know how that worked out.

So, maybe Victoria’s Secret is merely using its capitalistic prowess here — a sort of Southern Strategy of consumerism — but this time trained on sexualizing and corrupting icons and motifs from non-white cultures. Except that this happens all the time. This is, in fact, the very definition of white privilege and institutionalized racism. Whites can play dress up as other cultures because it’s cute, fun, or even sexy. It mocks the non-dominant culture. It negates their power. And it reinforces the dominance of whites in our culture.

As a white person, I am deeply offended at the implication of this kind of marketing, products, and consumer-driven events. If I don’t speak out, I am part of the problem. I become complicit with a cultural machine that only sees diversity if it can be comodified and sold to white people (in non-threatening ways, of course). This is the same reason why I will never root for the NFL’s Redskins.

Beyond that, there is a moral bankruptcy in this. Culture and race are not things to be acquired or tried on.

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