There are a few phrases that get thrown around in the fashion world. There’s fashion fabulous. And fashion-forward. And fashion a**hole. Guess which one actress Blake Lively was being when she ran a gushing ode about life during slavery on her website?
If you guessed number three, then you are correct.
Preserve is Lively’s lifestyle site. Why a former teen actress who is figuring out how to make the leap to being a successful adult actress needs a lifestyle site is not clear. But on this site, one of the things she does is run fashion spreads. The latest, which she styled, is called Allure of Antebellum. The clothes, lots of wide-brimmed hats and tailored coats, are more 1970s retro than antebellum South, but clearly someone on the Preserve staff liked the name, so they wrote some words to justify it. And clearly this person forgot that the most defining characteristic of the Antebellum (the fancier word for pre-Civil War) South wasn’t “Georgia peaches, sweet tea and the enticement of a smooth twang,” as they wrote. It was the enslavement of Black people. Human chattel, not a leopard skirt, is the antebellum claim to fame.
Lively should know this. She had her wedding on a plantation in South Carolina. Surely there was time in between saying “I do” and the first dance to learn about the purchase of people, the notion that humans were no better than property to be worked, sold and abused at whim on the very land where she stood with her gown and bouquet.
But there is nothing sexy in remembering slavery — it is not America’s best look. So Lively’s site, hell-bent on adding a little Southern kick to its latest fashion spread, decided to do a total revisionist history, pretending the South was all wraparound porches and sweet tea.
We should have all learned enough by now to stop looking to actors as the embodiment of good sense. And Lively’s most famous role was on Gossip Girl, far from highbrow TV. Yet the problem with the Internet is that we have to hear from these performers. Their bad ideas and ill-conceived, poor taste notions are not just confined to a quote in a magazine. They are blasted across our computer screens, demanding attention. Lively has been quiet about the uproar her upload has caused. And the site has not taken down the offensive ode to the pre-Civil War South. We can assume they don’t think it’s all that bad.
So let’s not “embrace the season and the magic below the Mason-Dixon with styles as theatric as a Dixie drawl,” as Preserve implores us to do. Let’s remember that racial insensitivity is just as ignorant — and just as insensitive — even when it is wearing a fancy frock.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)