Bobby Kim On Using His Platform
by Bobby Kim
September 10, 2018
I believe that everything is political. The way you comb your hair, the produce you eat, the movies you choose to watch. For some people in this country, just existing is a politically charged statement, whether due to their skin color, disability, or sexual orientation. That’s why it confuses me when people tell me to stick to designing clothes instead of politics. Or that they would prefer I cut down on all the social justice talk in my channels. I don’t see how I can divorce my art from my experiences, or me from the world.
With Nike, Ford, and Levi’s boldly taking a stance on the NFL/kneeling issue – a remark that was certain to turn off a segment of the American population – it shows that it’s harder than ever to brush social issues off the table. Our parents advised us to never bring up religion or politics over dinner. That willful ignorance oiled familial relationships and social niceties. It was more comfortable to avoid the hard discussions and keep friendships intact. It was a selfish play. It made for a wrinkle-free life, one where our gardens bloomed and children celebrated birthday parties. Yet, it also locked others (the voiceless and powerless ones) in systems of oppression.
Activists have always known this truth. Social justice warriors have interrupted your regularly scheduled programs to remind you of violations. But, in the past, you could avoid that street corner or not pick up that magazine. The zealots and fanatics were ignorable, and so was the injustice. Today, however, we can’t hide from social media and the transparency it brings to our communication. For the first time in history, everyone is speaking their points of view with abandon. We are virtually reading each other’s minds and colliding with people’s deep-rooted fears, misinformed insecurities, and cold hate. And many of these people are humans we love and care deeply about.
The Kaepernick affair illustrates this revelation. This pulling-back of the curtain on our disconnect, our misalignments as a society. Pre social media, most Americans classified racists as WWII Nazis or the KKK. Then, there were the rest of us, floating around the spectrum, having Black friends at work and celebrating Martin Luther King Day. But, racism isn’t just burning crosses and firehoses. It can be overlooking Asian-Americans in casting Hollywood movies or refusing to acknowledge the disproportionate number of Black men who are murdered by the police. With social media, that murky grey middle ground is disappearing and that line in the sand is getting bolder and starker. We are getting a sharper picture of who stands where and it sucks to see our friends and family on the opposite side.
But, it is necessary. This is the hard stuff - the arguments and debates we’ve staved off for generations. Swept under the rug, they’ve now abscessed and swelled and must be addressed head-on. The elephant in the room is now sitting on us and it is time we worked together to guide it out.
I don’t feel pressure to vocalize my politics because everyone else is speaking up. I do it because the best branding is honest, opinionated, and human.
To mute myself of these topics, to dance around the thorny issues, is as duplicitous as a friend who only tells you what you want to hear. In fact, it’s worse as a business. It’s a friend who only looks to take your money. If you’re operating a brand today, your customer wants to know everything: the way you comb your hair, the produce you eat, and the movies you watch. They also want to hear what you have to say about current affairs. And it’s not just to be enlightened or swayed by your opinion. It’s to make sure your heart is beating and that you’re keeping it real.
We’ve trained ourselves to see politics as divisive and inflammatory. Politics, however, can also be unifying, constructive, and a bridge between islands. Right now, everyone is unloading centuries of anger and resentment and it’s an ugly display. We’re getting everything out on the table. But, it’s not until we start listening, that we’ll be able to sit down and join hands around it.