Responding this way to Ocasio-Cortez’s statement erases her identity and that of the Black designer who clothed her
Aurora James is making her mark on the fashion industry. She’s the founder and director of Brother Vellies. Her beautiful sustainable-focused jewelry designs that honor African design techniques have garnered her a prestigious nomination for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent — she was the first Black woman to be nominated for the award.
Her designs have been worn by Beyoncé, Meghan Markle, Zendaya, Rihanna, Serena Williams, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Chrissy Teigen, and Solange. And James is determined to create space for her fellow Black designers. She founded The Fifteen Percent Pledge initiative, creating a campaign for retail brands to commit 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.
Last night, the Black Canadian designer graced the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual fundraising gala red carpet with a custom dress worn by progressive politician Congresswoman for NY-14 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). James, an American immigrant, sponsored AOC attending the Met Gala and created the design for the dress. AOC paired red lace-up sandals with the dress, featuring the Puerto Rican Flor de Maga and a matching flower in her hair.
Art informs societal values. Here, two women of color came together to create a statement piece that they likely knew would cause a ruckus. The bold red ‘Tax the Rich’ statement on the back of the dress forced people to talk about taxes — at a fashion event full of wealthy elite and celebrities, no less.
Some folks have been quick to call the so-called stunt an instance of “white feminism”. Others made the gross comparison of the James dress AOC wore to the Met Gala to former First Lady Melania Trump’s ‘I really don’t care, do u?’ jacket. These sentiments not only erase the ethnic and racial identity of both women, but their outstanding efforts to create equity. Manipulating the statement to fit an agenda other than the intention to raise awareness about taxing the elite upholds oppression, white supremacy, and gatekeeping.
AOC made a bold choice to wear this dress in a room full of the 1 percent. She used a highly photographed, publicized, and reported event to raise awareness about tax reform by wearing her stance on her dress. Call it a stunt or a statement — the dress has people looking up what ‘tax the rich’ means. It’s trending on Google and Twitter. Many publications are writing articles about the dress and the choice words painted on it.
Frankly, AOC sparked a conversation by simply showing up to an event in a dress. She could have stayed at home and ‘tax the rich’ wouldn’t be trending. Without AOC wearing the dress James designed, it would have been another Met Gala without much awareness around wealth discrepancy.
While it’s strange how much the public obsesses over politicians and their out-of-office hours’ activities, this is the reality of modern politics. After all, the last American president was a reality TV show star. AOC is constantly ridiculed for her personal decisions, from the cost of her haircut to her choice to attend the Met Gala. Politicians have attended the gala before without such ridicule. Former First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the 2014 fundraiser by cutting the event’s ribbon.
The line between politicians and celebrities is hard to define. President Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine campaign has employed many tactics, including inviting pop stars such as Olivia Rodrigo to the White House and the Instagram-famous Seth Phillips a.k.a @DudeWithSign to come by the Oval Office for a photo-op with one of his signs reading: “Let’s look out for each other and get vaccinated.”
Modern politics rely on celebrity endorsements and politicians making appearances at celebrity-dense events. It’s a strategic move to make a political statement at a red carpet event that garners international attention. AOC capitalized on this odd part of American society by using her platform to raise awareness about an important cause. If you think that’s white feminism, you’ve failed to understand.