Editor’s note: This article contains racially charged language that might be offensive to readers.
University of Wisconsin sophomore and First Wave scholar Eneale Pickett is no longer saying, whispering or asking “Can I please be given access to this space?”
He is kicking down the door and getting into that space whether people like it or not.
Pickett, a Chicago native and elementary education major, has created a clothing line called Insert Apparel, which focuses on engaging people in critical discussions on the intersectional issues of race, gender and sexuality on campus.
The name of the brand comes from the idea that people should “insert” themselves inside serious discussions and find where they can apply themselves to a situation, Pickett said.
Some of the clothing features provocative messages such as “All White People Are Racist” and “If I Encounter Another Cop with a God Complex I’m Going to Have to Show the World That They Are Human.”
If these messages make you feel uncomfortable, then Pickett has succeeded in his mission.
His work is centered around generating diverse dialogues surrounding race, something that he said can be prompted by discomfort.
“For me, growth don’t happen in comfort,” Pickett said.
Initially, Insert Apparel was created in response to an incident this past March where a student was spat on and told that students on scholarships did not deserve to be at UW. This incident prompted Pickett’s first shirt, which read “Affirmative Action Didn’t Grant You Action to This Space.”
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For Pickett, the affirmative action shirt shows that students of color and on scholarship deserve their place on campus because of their hard work. It also brought more awareness to the concept of affirmative action and privilege in education, gaining support from public figures such as Vic Mensa and Laverne Cox.
But while others have taken a liking to his work, it has also generated controversy. Some of the backlash against Pickett’s creations have come in form of death threats.
One piece of clothing in particular led to Pickett’s Facebook being suspended for four days.
In a Sept. 30 post, he released his “All White People Are Racist” hoodie. Since then, the post has gained 57 shares and hundreds of comments from students on campus and people from across the country.
One Facebook user wrote, “If you don’t like white people go back to Africa you piec eof shit [sic]. piss on you and your slave ancestors.”
An Etsy user wrote, “Thank your mammy for pickin my butterbeans through you ugly knuckle dragging HIV+ jobless crack smokin fa**ot. … All white people are racist and that’s a good thing.”
One common misunderstanding with the “All White People Are Racist” hoodie is the confusion between prejudice and racism, Pickett said.
Racism, Pickett said, deals with discrimination from a group of people who hold power, while prejudice doesn’t require a position of power.
“I can be prejudice toward a white person, but will my prejudice affect [them] getting an education, a job or access to spaces where I could make policies?” Pickett said. “Black people have not been in that position of power yet.”
In response to the post, Pickett said many students have filed hate and bias reports against him.
But Pickett said calling someone a racist doesn’t equate to being called a racial slur.
“How is it hate speech if it’s not a racial slur?” Pickett said.
Being called a racial slur, Pickett said, brings trauma.
“Being called a racist probably brings back the trauma that you inflicted on a race of people,” he said.
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Along with the blatant hostility, Pickett has also received criticism for his method of raising awareness on white privilege and racism with his hoodie.
Instead, many have asserted he is creating more division, rather than unity.
“When people say you’re steering away allies, are you an ally because I make you uncomfortable or I check your privilege at the door?” Pickett said. “If that’s it, then you wasn’t really an ally to begin with.”
Regardless of the responses, Pickett sees Insert Apparel as a success because of the dialogue he has generated. He said he hopes all people, especially white people, wear his clothing because their voice is more powerful and will appeal to a broader community.
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Pickett said he will continue to create and release designs for Insert Apparel, and the money generated from the clothing line will go toward production and social causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
With future designs, he said he hopes to continue the conversation he started.
“Being a student of color and being a black student of color at this university is hard,” Pickett said. “The strength that you have to show is tremendous just to go to class and the culture shock coming here is unbelievable.”
Moving forward, Pickett said there must be changes made to better represent and accommodate students of color and to address sexual assault on campus. He said he believes the cultural competency initiatives the university have instituted are not enough for the community of color on campus.
“This university don’t deserve the students of color because they don’t know how to help them when they are going through traumatic experiences,” Pickett said. “The only way students of color are appreciated here is when they have to show there is diversity.”