United-Colours-of-Benetton

I Fit The Description.

Monday November 10th 2014, I was dragged off of a city bus by police, and handcuffed because I supposedly fit the description of the suspect of an armed robbery in my neighbourhood.

Here is the description:

Black man wearing a black and grey jacket.

Several police cars surrounded my bus, and then several police officers (in a colourful array of army fatigue pants) boarded the bus and proceeded to extract me from it. 2 of them held me as they put me in handcuffs on the sidewalk. It was during the peak hours of traffic. 3 other buses were behind mine, all filled with people. Dozens and dozens of cars zooming by. A completely legal public humiliation. (if you haven’t been dragged off of a bus by police officers in broad daylight with hundreds of witnesses, trust me when I say it’s beyond fucking humiliating.)

They went through my jacket and pants pockets thoroughly, searched up and down my legs, arms, and in my socks.

“Is this a weapon?”, asked officer red fatigue pants as he felt my wallet.

“No, that is my wallet.”

“What is this?”, he continued.

“That is my cell phone. In the same pocket as my phone you’ll find my headphones; my keys and bus pass are in my right pocket, and there is a tiny plastic case of coco butter vaseline in my 5th pocket.”

The look of bewilderment on his face was priceless. “Vaseline, you say? For what?”

“My lips.” I stop myself there, as this is not a teaching moment.

Somehow maintaining my composure, I ask one of the officers,

“Is there a problem?? I have done nothing wrong.”

“I’m just doing my job”, said officer green pants, the eldest of the officers. “You understand that, right? You fit the description.”

“I have done nothing wrong, and I’m cooperating”, I say, as I lock eyes with officer lime pants, his hand steadily on his taser.

“Thank you for cooperating,” said officer yellow pants, standing behind me with his leg between my legs, making sure the handcuffs were just tight enough. 

A series of questions followed. 
“What is your name?”
“Tristan. You have my wallet and picture identification. Why are you asking me my name?”
“Where were you going?”
“To the metro.”
“How were you getting there?”
The bus that you just dragged me off of..? yeah, I was taking the bus.“

Then officer purple pants (a brown man) tells me, "You’re being detained because you fit the description of a suspect. He just robbed someone at gunpoint not even 5 minutes ago. We’ve handcuffed you to be sure that you can’t reach for any weap–”

“I don’t have any weapons on me. I have done nothing wrong. I’m not the person you’re looking for.”

“–ok sir, alright. We’re going to search you. You have the right to remain silent.” (they search me)

My brain registers what he just said. Is this shit really happening? Like, actually happening? What the actual fuck.

“We’re going to search the bus now. Did you hide anything on the bus?”

NO." 

"Are you sure?” (all the while with their hands firmly on their tasers and guns, waiting for any sudden movements from me)

I. am. sure.”

I’ve never said 3 monosyllabic words more deliberately in my life.

So they start searching the bus for the alleged firearm I was supposed to have been carrying. Time passes. The search continues with unrelenting determination. The other passengers on the bus go from being annoyed that they’ve been “detained” as well, to being genuinely afraid that I may have hid something on the bus. Looks of disdain and judgement are shot towards me as if to say’ “just tell them what they want to hear.” 3 people come out of a barber shop across the street to get a better view of what’s going on. A woman with a young child walking by tells the child not to look at me.

The search ends, no gun.They found none because there was none to be found. They assure me that they’re well within their rights to do everything that they’ve done because I “fit the description”. Black man wearing a black and grey jacket.

Real tears swell up in my eyes and without realizing it, my hands and legs begin to shake. Officer purple pants and officer yellow pants stand holding me firmly. 

Words are exchanged between officers. As they come off of the bus, they begin to realize that I’m not the man that they’re looking for.

“Sir, it seems that you’re not–”

I know. I told you that.”

“– – but sir, you have to understand that we are just doing our job.”

“Really? Is that what I have to understand?”

They begin to loosen the cuffs. As my left hand is released I’m told,

“Put your hand on your head.”

“WHY would I put my hand on my head? You’ve just detained me on the sidewalk, searched me, publicly humiliated me in front of countless strangers, assessed that I am no threat to you– -”

“Sir, just put your hand on your head please.”

I do.

The look on the faces of all of the officers present is one of shame.

Officer purple pants steps in and we exchange words. I ask him his name, and where he’s from. He tells me he’s from Egypt.

“You’re from Egypt. You’re African. So you know that– – ”

he says,“I know this sucks, but you gotta know that we were just doing our job.”

“Yes. I do know that, and you’ve gotta know how fucked up that is. And you, being a brown man, I’m sure you do know how much this sucks. And that’s even more fucked up. You’re a bigger part of this systemic problem than you realize.”

“How old are you, sir?”

“If you had bothered to read the information on my licence you’re in possession of, you’ll see that I’m 30.”

“Oh. you look… younger. Sorry about all of this.”

Are you serious? If you’re looking for some heartfelt understanding and empathy from me, stop. You’re not going to find it. Should the fact that you assumed I was a teenager make me feel better about this situation somehow?”

My right hand is freed. I do not place it on my head, and I calmly lower my left hand. They’re cool with that.

“You’re free to go, sir.”

A conversation of heated words then followed that I was not expecting to have, but one that I was fully ready for. This somehow turned into me literally saying,

You’re not free to go. I have things to say to all of you, and it’s your turn be cooperative. You are not free to go. you’re going to listen.”

Somehow, a teaching moment.

Would these new students respect me? Or would they show me the same respect that they show their own uniforms?

With rage on my face, bile in my throat, and what felt like the energy of 1000 ancestors keeping me as grounded as possible, I launched in a verbal lesson that these police officers, these keepers of the peace, will not soon forget. A completely legal verbal thrashing. And nothing was held back.

Thoughts like:

“I hear that you’re just doing your job. And I almost understand that. But I resent that. I resent that police make me feel paranoid instead of protected. I resent that some people’s right to fear is valued over young black men’s right to be treated with dignity and basic respect. I resent that it’s legal for police to see my race as a cause for suspicion. I resent that.”

and…

“I’m telling some secrets here, but there’s this thing black parents do with their sons called “the talk”, and it isn’t the normal “talk.” It’s the talk about not staying out late, or holding their hands in their pockets, or not wearing hoodies when they’re outdoors, or holding their hands up as soon as they’re faced with an officer or they’re pulled over….

This is a REAL THING. I’m not imagining this. Growing up my friends and I have heard it dozens and dozens of times. And no one should have to live this way. This is fucked up.”

Once again, officer lime pants said, “you’re free to go, sir.”

By this point, I was thoroughly pissed off by the lack of understanding from these officers looking like the united colours of Benetton. So I made it a point to collect the information of all who were present. They offered me a lift to my intended destination. They asked me to sit in the back seat of a squad car. I knew at this point that they had No idea what they had triggered (“let’s detain him ‘cause he’s black and we’re looking for a black guy, then embarrass him publicly, then assure him that we were right, and patch it all up with a nice friendly ride in the back of a police car! yeah, that’ll get him on our side!”) so I told them thanks, but the only way I’m getting in to your car is in the front seat.

And then I did exactly that.

I rode with officer green pants, the elder of the gang to my destination, in the front seat. Along the ride many more words were exchanged, mostly him apologizing for what they did, and me really and truly not giving a single solitary fuck about his weak mad dash at empathy. I politely explained to him how detrimental his job was to so many people.

“So what do you do?”, asked the inquisitive officer green pants.

“I’m an actor.”

“Oh. wow. That’s great eh? Lots of fun I’m sure. I was an extra once on a tv show. They needed lots of cops so they had us all line up and they were really picky about who got to be in the scene. It was frustrating.”

“Yeah. I know, right? It can suck sometimes. I guess you just have to fit the description that they’re looking for.” I replied.

He laughed nervously to himself, and we sat in silence.

We witnessed a car run a stop sign and he looked at me with a shrug.

Exactly.

Then we had reached the destination, I hoped out and went along with life.

“So, what’s the point of me writing about this?”, you ask.“ What do I want to come from this? What about solutions?" etc.

Unfortunately, I have learned from experience that the media (tv news, newspapers, radio news shows) can twist your words around, tell a completely different set of accounts and not be held responsible for it. I resent that.

Many of my friends and colleagues who are not black and who have not faced the discrimination I face daily are often quick to spout things like

"That’s so awful. I’m so tired of hearing stories like this.”

I don’t think that you can be more tired of hearing it than I am of experiencing it.

or “that sucks. it’s just like…(insert other experience here)”

No. My experience is a valid separate entity from yours. And that is okay. In your search from commonality, what you’re really doing is trying to erase what I’m telling you so that you don’t feel uncomfortable and bad about your reaction to it. Please stop doing this. We don’t need to lump all oppression into the same soup.

To be clear, I am not anti-police, or anti-white.

I am pro me.

I am anti-bullshit. I am anti-racial discrimination. I am anti-the centuries of this fuckery happening, and those who aren’t affected by it not knowing that they are part of the problem. Black lives matter. My race does not equal suspicion, and if it does to you, then maybe, just maybe your view of the world is severely skewed and distorted.

We live in a society where the police were legally allowed to pull me off of a bus and place in me handcuffs because I was black, and was wearing a black and grey jacket.

That is Fucked up. And if you don’t think so, You’re part of the problem. Seek professional help. Sometimes I feel like Omar Epps in 'Higher Learning’ (watch it.)

But, back to the question at hand:

What do I want to come from this?

I don’t know. What’s done cannot be undone. The ongoing resentment will linger. I don’t know for how long, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to be as calm and collected the next time this happens. Because it will happen again, and it has happened before.

I Do know that this bullshit is not allowed to run my life through internalised rage. I know that the best students always get the hardest tests. I know that thanks to those around me I slept well the night that this transpired. I know that this incident is not allowed to define how I think about myself because I do not give it permission to.

So what’s the solution?

Please, you all tell me, and tell each other. Because right now… I don’t know.

I do know this, however:

I Fit The Description. That’s what they told me over and over again, like it was okay. “Black man”. That’s all it took. If it can happen to me it can happen to any black man. And it does. Everyday.

Let me re-describe black for you. Some say Black is “an absence of”. I say that Black is actually the inclusion of all colours.

Black is lazy they say
Black is unproductive 
Black is unwilling to work
Black is sitting at home, leeching off of the ‘welfare state’.

Black is the color of oil, coal,
tires and roads. 
Black is moving every day
Getting you where you need to go.

Black is powering machinery,
Generating electricity.
Black is power
in our cars, in our factories,
In our fireplaces, in our homes.

Black is the color of fertilizer, of rich soil.
Black is the color from where nature sprouts, grows, and blossoms
Black is growth.

Black is the color to which nature turns when it dies.
Only to feed the black soil its body, all it has gained in life, to foster new life.

For that, 
Black is renewable, regenerative.
Black is color that signifies life’s start and conclusion.

Black is the color you see before you take your first breath of life. Black is the womb.
Black is the color you see when you take your last.
Black is cyclical.

Black is the night, the night is scary. Black is scary. 
Black is the victim of false connections.
False because the night is not scary.

Black is the night, yes. 
The night is when creatures, unable to survive the light or its heat, come out to live their life.

Black is the night, yes.
The night is also when animals recharge, preparing to take on the next day.
Black is restorative.

Black is the night, yes.
The night is when animals’ heightened senses help hunters hunt and prey live
Black is your body at its best.

Black is the night, yes.
The night is the home of the moon, the North Star, and constellations that helped sailors sail.
Black is direction.

Black is the first people that first walked this planet, 
made the first art pieces, 
first conversations.
Black is civilization.

Black is ink, graphite. 
Every piece of literature is written in black on the empty pages of pages, giving them purpose.
Black is meaning.

The next time someone asks me what black is, I will straighten up and speak with my chest out:

Black is :

Progress, Power, Growth, Sacrificial, Regenerative, Life & Death, Cyclical, The Victim of False Connections, Restorative, Your Body At Its Best, Direction, Civilization, Meaning.

I Fit THIS description.

1Love.

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10

United Colours Of Benetton / Part 1

We recently got hold of this Benetton booklet from the late 80′s. 

Benetton were notorious for promoting gender equality in it’s adverts. Models of all races are used and positioned appropriately. 

The primary colours, and simple designs of the clothing made their target audiences wide and so reached many demographics. 

Found & Scanned by @nolicenceshop from late 80′s Benetton Booklet 

Controversial Benetton Advert

A newborn baby advert, 1991: Benetton says: ‘The photo of the newborn baby girl, Giusy, was intended as an anthem to life, but was one of the most censured visuals in the history of Benetton ads. In the realm of advertising, traditionally occupied by pretense, the eruption of real life caused a scandal. In Italy, the protests started in Palermo, where the Town Council ordered Benetton to take down its advertising posters. In Milan, censorship was preventive and the vast ‘Piazza Duomo’ stayed off-limits. The ad was then condemned by the Code of Advertising Practice Court, the Self-Regulatory Committee for the sector, which decided that the photo “does not take account of public sensitivity”. It was awarded a prize by the Swiss ‘Société Générale d’Affichage’ (General Poster Association) and the Sant’Orsola General Hospital in Bologna asked for permission to display the photo in its delivery room’  Photograph: Rex Features

7

Chapter 2: Social Responsibility

 

Social responsibility is a field of ethics that is frequently in the news. All of the following case studies have featured in journals or magazines within the past thirty-six months.

 

This chapter is about two things: the relationship of design to its audience, and the designer’s relationship to his environment and the people within it. As Berger says

“We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.” (Berger, 2008)

The point here is that it is important for designers to understand how their work can be interpreted or misinterpreted. Once an image is published, the creator loses control of how it will be viewed. This can result in an ambiguous message or meaning. Sometimes the artist can exploit this, deliberately. It can also be ethically controversial.

 

Benetton UnHate Campaign

 

Designers were encouraged by practitioners such as the late Tibor Kalman to apply their skills to promote public awareness of all kinds of social issues. He worked with Oliviero Toscani on some United Colors of Benetton advertising campaigns that appealed to the audience as individuals rather than as mass consumers with a

“shared vision of what is important, starting from a set of common values.” (Benetton Group, 2009)

Benetton’s campaigns have usually had one thing in common, the subversion of stereotypes. On their own website they claim to have furthered the interests of many charities, humanitarian groups and voluntary organisations. However, their campaigns have also been criticized for their shocking images and cynical use of emotive photography.

The most recent of Benetton’s campaigns is the UNHATE project depicting world leaders kissing on the lips (Fig. 8-13). The official line from Benetton is:

“These are symbolic images of reconciliation - with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation - to stimulate reflection on how politics, faith and ideas, even when they are divergent and mutually opposed, must still lead to dialogue and mediation.” (Benetton Group, 2009).

 

The images all feature the kiss, a universally accepted symbol of love, between religious and political adversaries. The campaign relies upon the audience being politically aware enough to know the power and status of the people depicted as well as what they stand for, socially and morally.

 

Rodin’s The Kiss (Fig. 14) statue caused similar controversy when the sculpture had to be removed from public view because of it’s ‘perceived eroticism’. It represents forbidden love and is seen as ‘one of the most iconic images of sexual love’ (Turner Contemporary, 2011). Images of the kiss have been used throughout history to represent love, unity and romance. However it is an image that is open to personal interpretation and personal experience. A forced act of kissing could be seen as dominant and aggressive.

MacAvery Kane sees the Benetton campaign goal as worthy,

“promoting closeness between peoples, faiths, cultures, and the peaceful understanding of each other’s motivations” (Benetton Group, 2009).

However, there was huge controversy around the launch and Benetton was forced to pull one of the images featuring the Pope. Whilst the company claims to have good intentions, they digitally manipulated events that never happened. This is a visual lie. David Berman, in his book Do Good Design, refers to visual lies as being more powerful than words.

“The imagery can be so subtle that people often don’t realize they are being manipulated” (Berman, 2009)

There is nothing subtle about the images in this case, so we can assume that the audience is meant to understand that they are false and question the reasons for that. The viewers’ disbelief poses the question: why is it easier to believe in hatred than in love?

 

Another controversial act is the use of famous faces to promote a product without their permission. There is no copyright on an individual and rights with regard to publication of an image vary from one country to another but there is usually some sort of protection in law against defamation or offensive use. In The Guardian, the Vatican complained that the photographs were an…

“…absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends. This shows a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offence to the feelings of believers” (Butt, 2011)

Writing for The Guardian, Symon Hill, describing himself as a “queer Christian”, comments upon the Vatican’s outrage as…

“…confirming the popular stereotypical view of Christian anger.” (Hill, 2011)

He opines that the Christian church would be better directing their anger at those who exploit the poor and vulnerable, but fails to defend Benetton’s cynicism at cashing in on public outrage. As a religious bisexual, his comments on the image of two male religious leaders kissing and the homosexual connotations are interesting, considering the Catholic church condemns same-sex relationships as sexually deviant. The publicity generated by the controversy has been vast: if you google Benetton Unhate Campaign you get 2,090,000 results.

 

In America, the White House disapproves of using the President’s name or image for commercial purposes but Benetton have used Obama in two of the posters. The company consulted their lawyers over the consequences of any complaints, so they clearly anticipated a mixed reaction. It is unclear if Benetton are promoting tolerance or if they are unethically using photo manipulation and cynically exploiting the rights of the individuals depicted to further their own commercial ends. Or both.

 

The company has a long history of shock campaigns and most people in Western society will be used to seeing their brand of advertising. Whilst the White House and the Vatican have a case about the unapproved use of their figureheads, the impact in the West will be relatively small. However, the use of leaders from more sensitive countries such as Egypt and North and South Korea is a different matter.

 

Benetton has a history of shock advertising campaigns, led by Tibor Kalman. The latest UnHate campaign is evidence of the company’s ongoing commitment to use its voice to question the status quo. It does not shy away from controversy or risk, which often generates more publicity than it would otherwise enjoy. Benetton states it case and lives with the consequences.

 

This chapter has been about the controversy that can surround ethics. The banning of the advert featuring the Pope underlines the argument that ethical choices can be divisive.

This vibrant and energetic shot of Dominique Hollington from the United Colours of Benetton Spring/Summer 2009 ad campaign is particularly memorable. I think I saw it plastered across the tube stations in London and the U-Bahn stations in Vienna respectively. It’s not like you would be able to forget that joyous smile and the movement of the clothes in this typically upbeat David Sims shot image.