When You Call a Black Man Hostile

The systematic discrimination experienced by Black people in the US has a long history dating back to slavery and continues up until today. Recently, this discrimination has resulted in, on average, more unarmed black people being killed by police. In 2017, the Police Violence Report highlighted that 49 unarmed black people were killed by police. These 49 people represented 35% of the unarmed people killed by police, whereas black people only represented 13% of the US population. Comparatively, white people represented about 63% of the US population, and only 37% of unarmed people killed by police were white. In response to the continuing inequity in police violence, Black Lives Matter, the modern-day resistance movement developed in the wake of other historical movements such as the Abolitionist and Civil Rights Movements. The purpose of this design was to engage social justice issues through design scholarship, focusing on exploring the oppression, and ultimately unjust deaths faced by black people. This design is meant to act as a vehicle for education and awareness of social injustice, specifically for teaching white people about white privilege.

The design is intended as a catalyst to spark conversations about social injustices for black people between the designer and viewer. Each design element was carefully considered for its social injustice symbology. The black bodice, made of a cotton twill, purposefully does not have armholes, forcing the wearer to have their arms restrained at their side mimicking how black people have been granted freedom, yet significant discrimination still holds them down. The high-low hemline on the bodice was chosen to represent this imbalance in society. The skirt, made of nylon tulle, is gathered into a straight waistband and secures at the center back. Use of tulle is representative of the harsh, oppressive reality for black people. This reality is also expressed in the tulle fabric that was bustled, stitched to the base skirt, and then ripped and burned. The color red represents the blood and death of unarmed black people killed due to police brutality. Forty-nine bullets were stitched to the skirt, each reflecting one of the 49 unarmed black people killed by police in 2017. As I stitched each bullet, I looked up each person and how their appearance was framed in the media where oftentimes they were labeled as hostile or a thug. As I was researching the individuals, I frequently lost faith in our ability to end racism. During this design stage, I referenced the writings of Angela Davis, an activist during the Civil Rights Movement, about the history of police violence. I leaned on Davis’ words as a foundation of reassurance and persistence, to create the design. Therefore, one of her quotes was etched on the back bodice using a laser cutter. Although much of the symbolism in this design is a jolting reminder of the need to continue anti-racist work in our communities, Davis’ imagery and words serve as a remembrance of hope for the future.

Overall, the design was created to further engage discourse about social injustice surrounding police brutality against black people through design scholarship.