In this op-ed writer, Jameelah Nasheed unpacks the current conversations around elitism, fashion, and how the protests outside of the Met Gala show our vastly different realities.
This year’s Met Gala was filled with celebrities and influencers wearing attire intended to be in alignment with this year’s theme, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” Although some attendees left viewers confused, some nailed it. Still, the most on-theme part of the evening was the fact that while the Gala’s powerful attendees — by way of fame, fortune, or job title — enjoyed their evening, something far different what was going on outside: a protest for racial and social justice, which resulted in some protesters being arrested by the police.
According to The Daily Mail, a flyer from the protest referred to the group, called #FireThemAll on Twitter, as an “autonomous group of NYC abolitionists who believe that policing does not protect and serve communities.” The flyer also explained the protesters’ objective, which was to interrogate why the NYPD is being allotted $11 billion in resources, rather than allocating those funds to help Black and brown communities that are in need of support. In a video posted to Twitter, a protester is heard saying, “Black and brown people are on the brink of houselessness. We cannot go back to normal. Where was your rage last year?” The protester, who has been identified as Ella, and was one of the at least nine people who were arrested, continued, “We demand free housing, we demand all political prisoners to be freed, we demand justice for our people.”
Last year the Met gala was cancelled because of COVID-19. At the time, the world was just beginning to understand the gravity of the virus that would end up killing more than 670,000 people in the US alone — with the majority being Black, brown, and Indigenous Americans. For many the return to normalcy this year felt premature.
I’m not going to act like I don’t love fashion — like I don’t enjoy watching in anticipation of my fashion faves. But I also understand that we live in a capitalistic society where things like fundraising work in a very complicated socio-economic scheme of privilege. So, there’s something to be said about this year’s Gala, in context with the various challenges we’re facing as a global society.
In attendance were entertainers, influencers and politicians, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and someone who has the power to defund the police that arrested Monday’s protesters, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. After years of dismissing the Met Gala, de Blasio, joined by his wife and son, and dressed in clothes made by American designers, accepted the invitation. The mayor made his first appearance at the lavish event during a year of unprecedented (in my lifetime, atleast) hardship — the many lives lost due to the pandemic, economic challenges, and the continuous fight for social justice as police, including the NYPD, have continued their mistreatment of Black citizens.
Met Gala attendee and Pose star Indya Moore took to Instagram to express regret over their decision to attend. “Being at the Met this year was cognitive dissonance. I entered and left feeling confused. But before that I felt clear. Grounded. People were protesting and arrested in the name of what so many of us who attended, care deeply about. They were arrested most likely because they were perceived as a threat to those of us who were there.” they wrote.
According to The New York Times, a ticket to the fundraiser costs $35,000 per ticket and between $200,000 and $300,000 for tables. While that doesn’t mean that every attendee buys a $35,000 ticket (many New York City politicians are invited, and don’t pay to attend, including AOC, Maloney and de Blasio), it is a wild reminder of the country that we live in, and the vastly different lives we live compared to one another. Moore continued, “We organize millions for a museum, on stolen land that Black and brown people suffer on unless white supremacy thinks they are exceptional — but not for the people? Can't we be substantially generous in ways that alleviate suffering and poverty?... I am surprised that I was invited and I am grateful for the gesture and I want us to be more sincerely thoughtful around how we take from people we do not care about, not so we can accept that truth, but so that we can grow the heart to change it.”
Many of the people who walked the red carpet are advocates for freedom, liberation, and justice for Black people, Indigenous people, women, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups. These high-profile and wealthy advocates will likely play a role in the progress we hope to achieve. I have no interest in blaming or shaming them for attending. I just can’t help but think about the fact that right outside of this lavish event there were regular folks peacefully expressing their desire for a better America, and in return, they were aggressively handled and arrested while being pulled away from the glitz and glam of what was being broadcast. Police unnecessarily escalating a protest, the silencing of dissenters, and the protection of the “exceptionalist” facade— what’s more American than that?
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue