#FitchTheHomeless – On Dehumanization, Paternalism, and Charity

The internet is in agreement: Fuck Abercrombie & Fitch.

The collective outrage has produced some fantastic responses.  My favorite comes from Amy Taylor who proclaims,

“I am proud to say that I may be a not-so-cool kid and the extra pounds I carry may not be a thing of beauty, but I am nothing like you or your brand — and that, Mr. Jeffries, is a beautiful thing.”

But inevitably, as is par for the course on the interwebs, there are going to be some responses that are less than fantastic, that despite good intentions, actually end up furthering oppression rather than combating it.

Enter the #FitchTheHomeless campaign.

I’ve seen a number of people posting this on Facebook and Twitter with captions like, “Awesome!” and “Perfect.” and “Brilliant!!”

But when a friend posted it to my timeline asking for my thoughts, I immediately was left with a pretty terrible taste in my mouth.

This “campaign” is neither “Awesome!” nor “Perfect.” or “Brilliant!”  And here’s why:

While I am sure the creator had good intentions (“I can humiliate Abercrombie & Fitch while helping people in need!!!“), what it ends up doing is using people experiencing homelessness as pawns to make a political statement.

And that’s really not okay.

Setting aside the immature digs at the physical appearance of Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries, the essential premise of the video seems to be:

Abercrombie & Fitch wants only “attractive” people to wear their clothes, so let’s rebrand them by putting the ickiest people in their clothes that we possibly can, and who’s ickier than homeless people!?!?

So the White man who created the video puts on his White Savior cape, buys up a bunch of second-hand Abercrombie merch, and heads to a community this is, in every respect, not his space to invade: Skid Row.

Skid Row and Gentrification

The narrator/creator is right in asserting that Skid Row has “one of the largest concentrations of homeless people” in the U.S., a reality that is a direct result of policies by local authorities that attempted to concentrate the city’s entire homeless population into one area with few resources and services.

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Dehumanizing the Dehumanized: Denver’s Urban Camping Ban

I am officially ashamed to say that I live in Denver.

Don’t get me wrong.  I really like living here.  There are so many cool people, and the mountains . . . oh the mountains!  Plus, there’s some cool activism going on that I love being a part of.  Oh, and the weather is great!

The politics?  Not so much.  Earlier this week, the Republicans in the Colorado state legislature killed a bill that would allow civil unions for lesbian and gay couples.  As I usually do with CO state politics, I was able to say, “Well, CO state politics are shitty, but at least I live in the progressive bastion of Denver!”

Except that only a few hours later, Denver did this:

Whaaat?  Seriously?  In essence, it is now illegal to be homeless in Denver.

Now, if the “Urban Camping Ban” had been a part of a wider effort to actually offer services that get the homeless on their feet and off the street, I would probably be for it, but that is in no way the reason or rhetoric around why it was passed.  Advocates, primarily business owners in downtown Denver and our hyper-pro-business mayor, claim that the blight of homeless people sleeping in public places is bad for business.  Essentially, “People don’t want to come to my store when there are icky people around!”  Despite that wildly dehumanizing rhetoric, the ban was passed.

There are two main problems that I see in the legislation.  The first is simply practical.  Where are homeless folks to go if they can’t sleep in parks, sidewalks, or other public spaces?

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