For Olatiwa Karade, protest comes in the form of fashion.
By Vanessa Willoughby
Marginalized peoples have never been safe under the terror of white supremacy. The election of failed business mogul turned reality television fixture, Donald Trump, further illuminated the nation’s desperate, obsessive determination to protect this long-established institution.
Trump, who powered his presidential campaign on the hatred and fear of minorities dressed up in the dog-whistle promise to “make America great again,” is more than just a fraud with itching Twitter fingers. He is the very real product of America’s longest tradition: racism. For some white people, Trump’s election was a wakeup call, exposing the fallacy of the American Dream. For the colorblind and disbelievers alike, Trump’s win marked a sudden jolt to consciousness. On the other hand, most marginalized people were not surprised — to be marginalized in this country means that your identity can be a liability. It means that the personal is extremely political.
Anti-Trump protesters have vocalized their dissent through various methods. In addition to taking to the streets, citizens have used social media to showcase their opposition to Barack Obama’s orange successor. Artists and creatives alike have been able to amplify their voices due to the instantaneous nature of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For 19-year-old Olatiwa Karade, protest comes in the form of fashion.
Ignited by the 2016 election, the New Jersey resident launched SplendidRainCo, an Etsy shop stocked with politically-charged sweatshirts. The sweatshirts feature sayings and insights that are all-too familiar to black and brown people: YOUR FOUNDING FATHERS OWNED SLAVES, DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR, DON’T ASK ME WHERE I’M FROM.
Karade’s designs quickly sold out. To date, Karade says she has “sold over 500 [sweatshirts] with thousands of requests for more.” Her Etsy store has amassed over 50,00 views, along with many supportive messages from customers. As a business owner with a small team, Karade’s designs are currently made-to-order. The college student, who seems to have no plans in discontinuing her creations, is just getting started. We spoke with Karade to learn more about her politics, her inspirations, and the future of her business.
Who or what inspired you to create the sweatshirts?
Olatiwa Karade: The political climate took a turn for the worse during the 2016 elections. People’s hateful opinions became louder. America became less safe for marginalized people. It became necessary to proclaim your stance on whether you believed people of color should be allowed to live or not.
Do you plan to expand your line to other clothing items?
OK: Absolutely! Expanding is one of my top priorities. I have a ton of new ideas for slogans I can’t wait to produce. I also soon will offer different types of clothing as well. Look out for new collections!
Can fashion be political? How can Black women use fashion to protest?
OK: Fashion is politics! Pushing boundaries and being innovative is what makes fashion powerful and memorable. The greatest designers earned their reputations by making people uncomfortable and making them think outside of their norms. Black women use fashion to protest all the time. Our hair is politicized regardless of style, and our clothes and culture heavily influence the mainstream. If we challenge the status quo, we challenge the system.
Why did you choose fashion as a form of political protest? Why did you think it would be effective?
OK: As a Black woman, everything I do is already politicized. I might as well look good doing it! Fashion is accessible to people of color. Our history with fashion is a monumental part of Black culture. Bold statements in fashion is nothing new to us. In this case, the bold statement is that the value of our lives is not a subjective matter.
What is your definition of microaggression?
OK: Microaggressions are casual, everyday questions, comments, and actions that negatively target someone based on their marginalizations. “You talk well for a Black person!” “You’re pretty for a Black person!” “You must be white on the inside if you like (insert anything)”. No matter how wide the smile on the face of the person who says these things, statements like those are you telling us that you overwhelmingly believe Black people are unintelligent, ugly, and all the same. Which yes, is racist as hell.
Who do you consider to be your inspirations in terms of social justice and/or politics?
OK: I have so many political inspirations. From Angela Davis to Beyoncé and Solange, I absolutely live for powerful and outspoken Black women. I could not be more thankful to the three founders of Black Lives Matter, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors for leading our generation to the forefront of Pro-Black activism.
How did Trump’s election change the current cultural landscape for you?
OK: Trump’s election into office was for many people, devastating. But for people of color, it reminded us that our country was founded on our exclusion and shaped to continue excluding us. Hateful people became bolder, Klan chapters resurged, hate crimes spiked, but marginalized people were still to blame—simply for existing. Trump’s election loudened the violence and discrimination America was built on.
How can art aid political protest?
OK: Art aids political protest by being a vessel in which you can get your message to the people. It’s enticing, beautiful, and encourages critical thinking. Most importantly—love it or hate it, it’s memorable. Black people have been using arts as a means to express our frustrations with maltreatment for generations, and I am blessed and grateful to continue the tradition of fighting for change.
What is your vision of pro-Black activism?
OK: I just want Black people to be able to live freely. Pro-Blackness is about the liberation of Black people, especially when they are a marginalized gender, LGBTQIA, of low socioeconomic status, and/or disabled. It’s about expecting basic human decency, to be treated as equals. It’s about being given the space to thrive as individuals without stereotypes and discrimination holding us back.
What is the responsibility of white allies? What do you think establishes “wokeness?”
OK: The responsibility of white allies is to use their privilege to absorb some of the impact Black people are constantly being hit with when asking for humanity. Allies should make effort to educate themselves and their kin, to push political agendas that advocate for the betterment of conditions for people of color, and to know when to stay silent and listen. For example, a lot of celebrities pushed their allyship by getting on social media or a stage in front of a large audience and telling us how we feel about the current political climate. But, if you were really “woke”, wouldn’t you use your platform to give a marginalized person with lived experiences a voice?
What do you think it will take to dismantle white supremacy and the patriarchy? Do you think it can ever be accomplished?
OK: Dismantling white supremacy first requires the acknowledgement of the severity of its establishment. Recognizing the way white supremacy and misogyny are intertwined in the foundation of America is the only way to unwind the violent and oppressive tendencies of our society and government. I, along with many others, will continue to work toward the dismantling of white supremacy and the patriarchy regardless of opinion on the possibility of its success. We have to stop waiting for the right time to make change, and instead force time to bend to our dire need of change right now.
Author Bio: Vanessa Willoughby is a freelance writer and editor. Her bylines have appeared on but are not limited to: The Toast, The Hairpin, Vice, Bitch, and The Establishment. She is a Fiction Editor at Brain Mill Press. Find her on Twitter: @book_nerd212.