Don’t let the bigots grind you down

Fred Perry came under Twitter-attack last week for featuring non-white models in their campaigns. “Youth culture pushes through,” says activist, artist and model Saffiyah Khan…

British heritage brand Fred Perry has recently come into controversy on Twitter (where else?) because of a series of images in which all four models pictured are non-white. 

The main criticisms against the label are steeped in white-replacement theories translating, roughly, to: I believe my white identity is being systematically erased and non-white culture is left in its place so I am boycotting this brand in protest.”

It’s weird to watch and I maintain no interest in the pile-on. I don’t think there’s any need.

I did a campaign for the brand last year because I’ve been wearing Fred Perry since I first got into skinhead culture in my early teens.

I thought the whole thing was class. The style is dead smart and the look has taken its place in the anti-racist history, outliving many attempted coercions by the other side” simply because real skins will not let anyone write their story for them. And why should they? The Specials’ 1981 classic Ghost Town paints a picture of what kids were up against as buttoned shirts, polished shoes, and crisp suits were first making a revival.

A certain publication recently tried to call out” the trolls on Fred Perry’s Twitter, by pointing out that many of the commenters had St. George and Union Jacks in their bios. However, it was a case of hip, left-leaning media missing the point – again.

The subcultures through which the Fred Perry Laurel Wreath”’ was popularised – mod, skin, northern soul, and ska, to name but a few – are proud of their roots. Spotting a wrong’un is not as easy as looking for any pale skinhead with a flag. In fact, lazy assumptions like that are symptomatic of a bigger issue, proven by a massive swing to rightwing politics, and caused, in part, because the centre/​left is seen as patronising these days.

Be sure that an army of kids will quietly take to the charity shops and scrub out your sulky residues, no second thought”

Should you be proud to be British? If your answer is no”, then you likely don’t see the importance of our shared history from The Battle of Cable Street, to Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), to WWII, as we marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day last week – all triumphs for the average man and for unity. Not to mention the fact that, while movements such as the National Front have been and gone, black and white kids have been dating, listening to rocksteady, and generally having better things to do. Like making ska.

Nowadays, we see the emergence of politically correct racism”. We generally understand that racism is wrong – or atleast the word is wrong to say aloud – so it goes thinly veiled behind concepts such as white-replacement theory and anti-immigrantion worming their way into the mainstream.

I guess some might genuinely see a line in the sand there – between it and proper racism”, whatever that means. However, as someone who has been called Paki” more times than I can recall, when I look down I still see racism. Like back in the skinhead revival era, there are sinister powers at play which give divisive answers to legitimate questions about peoples’ future. But that’s another article in itself.

If this Twitter battlefield has shown anything, it’s mostly that you’re wrong to think a fashion brand owes you anything. Fred Perry was a cool bloke, the clothes always have been cool, but undoubtedly the coolest thing about it all is the people who have worn it over the last seven decades. If people are chucking their Pez pieces over this, be sure that an army of kids will quietly take to the charity shops and scrub out your sulky residues, no second thought.

In this wonderful roundabout way, youth culture again pushes through and we get on with… more important things.

Saffyah Khan is represented by Elite London and is well cool. 


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