For UW-Madison sophomore, budding entrepreneur, and activist Eneale Pickett, the message is the medium. And when it comes to social justice, one thing is certain: Pickett does not mince words.
The Chicago native recently incurred the wrath of a significant part of the Twittersphere after he started selling hoodies online boasting brash political messages and modeling them on the Wisconsin campus to raise awareness about racial issues.
Some of them feature such racially-tinged and anti-police statements as “All White People Are Racist” on a white sweatshirt with bloody sleeves or “If I Encounter Another Cop with a God Complex I’m Going to Have to Show the World That They Are Human.”
“White people can buy them too” he tells me. “They can be allies, ya know.”
The wares didn’t exactly go down well with everyone, however.
— Eneale Pickett (@Eneale_Pickett) October 16, 2016
The micro-collection received a fair amount of pushback in the form of death threats, tweets, and anonymous emails from people all over the country — including black folks — who accused him of furthering racial and moral divisions rather than unity. Students also filed hate and bias reports against him, while his Facebook was suspended for four days after the release of the “All White People Are Racist” hoodies.
“It hurts when you have people of color saying ‘You do not speak for us’. But some people don’t know what racism is — even when they experience it on a daily basis.” Other pointed the irony in selling ‘anti-racist’ T-shirts messages that would be considered racist by a large majority of people.
@GlobalGrind wrong is wrong, the hoodie is offensive and untrue. Spread love not hate
— E. Syion (@e_syion) October 17, 2016
@Eneale_Pickett where can I get my "All Niggers Are Savage Animals" hoodie?
— Andrew Jackson (@CantBeStumped) October 18, 2016
That doesn’t seem to faze Pickett much, though.
“I’m not here to make people feel comfortable. I want to educate,” he explains. For him, people are not supposed to feel comfortable when dealing with issues of race. “This country was never unified to begin with anyway, and that’s why we still face things like police brutality and racial discrimination.”
When I point out to him that selling clothes berating folks who are supposed to be your allies might only serve antagonize them, he retorts:
“It’s supposed to antagonize you.
“If you want to call yourself an ‘ally,’ you have to do your research; realize that racism is systemic and that you’re part of the problem. Otherwise you were never really progressive to begin with.”
Pickett says that despite the hostility, he has no intention to stop creating designs: “It’s not just about race, it’s about marginalized communities and making sure their voices can be heard.” Next up? Sweatshirts addressing gender and sexual politics.
He recently posted a sneak peak of his new designs on Twitter. One reads “All Men Are Sexist” on the front and “Now here comes the problematic rebuttals” at the back.
— Eneale Pickett (@Eneale_Pickett) October 22, 2016
“Women cannot be sexist to men” Pickett affirms. “They fundamentally cannot oppress or overthrow them, because they are also victims of a system: patriarchy.”
The idea for the clothing line — called ‘Insert Apparel’ to invoke the idea that everyone should ‘insert’ themselves into important conversations about race and gender — first originated following a racist incident on campus.
One of his cohort “sisters” got spit on by an Asian student, who told her that everyone on scholarship was poor and didn’t deserve to be here. This prompted his first T-shirt “Affirmation Action Didn’t Grant You Access to This Space.”
If you want to buy a shirt DM me. pic.twitter.com/3NRfwCcrGO
— Eneale Pickett (@Eneale_Pickett) May 23, 2016
Now the scholarship-recipient and education major is planning to branch out across the full spectrum of social justice issues. He’s currently working with Native American people and other marginalized groups to address issues within their communities for his next collection.
“When I walk into a room [wearing my hoodies] I’m Sandra Bland, I’m Eric Gardner, I’m Trayvon Martin. But I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of Native Americans because I don’t know their struggle.”
Recently contacted about whether guidelines should exist regarding students’ right to sell and wear clothes making blanket generalizations about other ethnic groups, a university spokesman replied that in this case they are merely “exercising their rights to free speech.”
Etsy doesn’t seem agree. At the time of writing Insert Apparel’s Etsy page has been taken down.