On October 3, Kanye West surprised fashion fans and industry professionals alike by hosting his Yeezy Season 9 show as part of Paris Fashion Week. On the catwalk, the collection included oversized t-shirts with a photo of Pope John Paul II on the front and “White Lives Matter” printed on the back.
Choosing to include the phrase immediately stirred controversy. West also referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a scam despite donating $2 million to support the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor in 2020, according to CNN.
Selah Marley, daughter of Lauryn Hill who walked the show while wearing the t-shirt, defended her involvement in the event. “The past 24 hours has allowed me to realize that most of yall are stuck in a hive mind mentality,” she wrote on social media, as reported by Complex. “You do what the group tells you to do & think what the group tells you to think.” She added, “If you know me, you know that nothing I do is without deep thought & intention. Wait til you hear what I have to say.”
Others called out West for including the design in his show, such as Gigi Hadid and Supreme’s creative director Tremaine Emory. Jaden Smith and Dazed fashion writer Lynette Nylander both walked out of the show, according to Rolling Stone.
Why is the phrase “White Lives Matter” subject to so much controversy?
The slogan appeared in 2015 as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. It was coined and promoted by white supremacist groups such as the Aryan Renaissance Society via flyers, protests, and social media. The Anti-Defamation League qualifies the slogan of “hate speech.” The slogan was adopted to promote neo-nazi ideology by other groups such as the Klu Klux Klan.
The phrase is also the name of a white supremacist group founded in 2015, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classified as a “hate group.” The White Lives Matter (or WLM) group was started with the aim of defending the “promotion of the white race and taking positive action as a united voice against issues facing our race.” The group firmly opposes interracial relationships and homosexuality. Rebecca Barnett, the founder of White Lives Matter, has referred to the Black community as “the enemy” and has said that the death of Black people at the hands of law enforcement is “none of our concern.”
Kanye West using the slogan on his clothing is a direct reminder of white supremacy – an ideology that has led to the suppression and death of the Black community and minorities in the United States.
The mother of Ahmaud Arbery called out Kanye West for his use of the “White Lives Matter” slogan. “As a result of his display ‘White Lives Matter’ started trending in the U.S., which would direct support and legitimize extremist behavior, [much] like the behavior that took the life of her son,” Wanda Cooper-Jones relayed through her attorney Lee Merritt, according to Rolling Stone. “That is the thing that Wanda and families like hers continue to fight against.”
“This mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement and his now denunciation of the movement as some sort of hoax flies directly in the face [of what he’s said,]” added the statement. “It’s confusing for her, it’s confusing for the families to receive his support privately, but publicly to set us all back.”
About Kyra: Kyra Alessandrini is a news writer at Girls United and a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in publications such as Time, The Hollywood Reporter, InStyle, and Elle. Born in New York and raised in Paris, France, she is passionate about culture, street photography, and travel.