Breaking Brown

September 27, 2011

fashion vs. freedom; brown blogger oliver willis mocks “occupy wall st” protesters for not dressing better

Much has been said about the difficulties of mounting a serious progressive movement in America. This point was best argued by Corey Robin in his blog post “If Everybody’s Working for the Weekend, How Come It Took This Country So Goddamn Long to Get One”;

I’m not saying it’s impossible; it’s just difficult. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, but it does mean that writers who show such tender regard for the constraints facing a president should be a little more sensitive to the constraints facing progressives. And perhaps be more attentive to those constraints in their writing and avoid issuing injunctions that we just need to work harder.

The most remarkable feature about American politics is not, as many critics throughout the years have had it, that more change doesn’t happen here; it’s that any change happens at all. I mean, think about it: The French took the Bastille in four hours; it took American workers 100 years to get a goddamn weekend. That’s not because American workers are less radical or their leaders less militant; it’s because the levers of political power that ordinary citizens can use here are so diffuse. Radicals in Russia seized a block of Petrograd one day and brought down tsarism the next; their American counterparts have had to labor in every hamlet, county, city, and state to engineer much less dramatic transformations.

Although Robin was schooling  The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, his comments could just as easily have been directed at blogger Oliver Willis who, in a recent blog post, derided “Occupy Wall St.” protesters for -wait for it – not dressing better during their protests. In his blog, Willis wrote;

If you dress up like a dope-smoking hobo, expect to be treated like one and not be taken seriously. Get a haircut. Wear a nice shirt. Carry a sign with a message that makes some kind of sense to an average American.

Willis also posted pictures of Occupy Wall St. protesters juxtaposed against black and whites from the Civil Rights movement.

So I guess the women who were pepper sprayed in the face could’ve avoided all that by wearing a nice skirt with leggings? The truth, however, is more complicated than Willis can obviously wrap his head around.

African Americans dressed in semi-formal wear during the Civil Rights Movement because they were, by and large, viewed as subhuman by the oppressive white power structure. Thus, dressing “up” while being mauled by dogs had a humanizing effect.

But we’re not at that point anymore. This isn’t a race war. It’s a class war. And, as Robin rightly notes, in the trenches class warfare is hard.  Anyone who saw footage of the protests in Syria, France and London would also note that those protesters weren’t among the best dressed either. And their bloggers and writers weren’t sitting on the sidelines screaming, “wear better clothes!”. They were much more focused on facts than aesthetics. Willis should be too.

And those of us who are African American should avoid becoming protest snobs. We’re not better than Occupy Wall St protesters because we wore better clothes.  We should, however, stand with them. The fight is the same.




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One thought on “fashion vs. freedom; brown blogger oliver willis mocks “occupy wall st” protesters for not dressing better

  1. Yvette says:

    He has since apologized. Willis is one to watch though because, like the Right, he’s the first to pile on and de-fang liberal initiatives. Bloggers should be held accountable, same as people…

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