An Open Letter to Abercrombie and Fitch from a Formerly Homeless Kid

Dear #FitchTheHomeless and supporters,

Let me begin by pointing out that I am not homeless any more. I survived my childhood. 

I was, however, born without stable housing, living in a converted garage in El Sereno, California; within a short time my family was living in hotels around the Los Angeles area, what some call short-term homelessness. Around third grade, I remember camping for a couple of months straight. Later, inquiring why we never camped again after that, my mother replied, "Oh, honey, no. We were homeless."

I had five fifth grades because we kept getting evicted; I lived in homeless trailers behind the Ramona Gardens Housing Projects, so poor even projects kids looked down on us; and I recall spending at least one summer at camp with the Fred Jordan Mission

My old Ramona Gardens neighborhood. (Image source: Labeez.org)

My junior high and teen years were more stable, but the threat of eviction and possible homelessness remained. The emotional trauma of being a homeless child is hard to quantify, but it stays with you; the anxiety, the worry, the difficulty making and maintaining friendships knowing that you might be leaving soon. I had more than one awkward day at school when kids pointed out my fake shoes or knock-off candy bars.

I remember feeling like a baller when my parents got vouchers to go to a thrift store and let us pick out outfits for the school year. I've worn all styles and use levels, second and third degree hand-me-downs. Giving clothes to the homeless, to the destitute, even, is an interesting and important function of charity. (Charity itself is an old, problematic idea that needs more scrutiny today.)

Enter Abercrombie & Fitch.

Image source: http://geofflivingston.com

As you no doubt already know, A&F recently made headlines and heads spin with their preposterous prohibitions on women of certain body types (and people of different, generic beauty levels in general) wearing their clothes.

First, can we just all agree that this guy is a gigantic asshat? (That's a technical term for CEO Mike Jeffries, I am almost certain.) His pathetic attempts to limit clothes to "cool kids" and "conventionally beautiful" [read: white, European, modelesque] people is absurd and xenophobic at best, ferociously sizeist and psychologically traumatizing at worst. The pushback against him has been awesome and intelligent in some regards, but not all.

And now enter you, Greg Karber and the #FitchTheHomeless support team.

When I first read about #FitchTheHomeless, I was stunned. It took me a few days to wrap my head around the awfulness of the campaign. If AberCrappy & Piss want to sell clothing exclusively to the thin, cool, popular, and beautiful, does it really makes sense to buy up their clothes and donate it to the homeless who, by default, become the fat, uncool, unpopular, and ugly among us?

I was that homeless kid getting free clothes, as were my amazingly beautiful sisters and mom. We were not fat, uncool, unpopular, or ugly, and neither are homeless people. The homeless, including my family, are merely people who are down on their luck, left without safety nets, struggling in a society that's constantly alienating and changing and leaving people behind.

Source: The author; that's me in the middle with four of eight siblings.

I was hurt and offended that this campaign was even a thing; what you thought appeared progressive and witty is uncritical, belittling, and demonizing.

But then I read a terrific piece on Relevant.com (and there's a snarky one on VICE, too) in which a social worker who works with the homeless showed your #FitchTheHomeless clip to actual, current homeless folks. They responded in their own words, with such gems as "Why isn’t he talking to people when he gives them the clothes? I hate it when people who think they are do-gooders act like that," and "Why the hell would he pass out clothes to us that he said date rapists wear?'

Indeed, sir. At this point, I'd like to block quote from the Relevant article, because it's stated beautifully and I don't need to rephrase:

"Sure, donating clothes to the homeless is great. Raising awareness about A&F’s misconduct — also great. My problem, however, lies in the undertones of the other message: that homeless people are the lowest of the low and therefore adorning them in A&F is the quickest, easiest way to stick it to CEO Mike Jefferies. Not to mention, this campaign implies that homeless people are needy and therefore should and will wear whatever we give them and be thankful. It seems to say: I won’t wear this garbage, but they should, in order to prove my point because they fit the proper stigma to do so. I am not OK with this. If a point has to dehumanize men and women to be made, it’s a point not worth making."

Contrary to what seems to be a popular opinion, (7 million+ views on YouTube so far), A&F is not homeless apparel. The homeless deserve better. That's not to say you're all evil or intentionally malicious ... maybe just misguided and a tad uncritical. I believe you had good intentions. 

Source: #FitchTheHomeless YouTube video, screenshot.

So, if not #FitchTheHomeless, what should be done to fight back? Here's a small list of alternative to dehumanizing the homeless to piss off A&F:

1. Boycott them. This seems to work. There's even a new Buycott app

2. Buy A&F clothing and tailor it to fit any body type you want, 'cause f*ck everyone being skinny. I'm skinny, but damn I love my diversity. And tailors want yo' monies too. 

3. Ignore them. Who gives a sh*t what some wannabe cool kid, self-hating, skinny-only loving, asshat says? They don't want our money, don't give it to them. It's really that easy. I hear H & M and AE have lines for full bodies. (Not that I'd wear that stuff either. Personal style choice; mine being that I have no style.)

4. How about we worry more about the root causes of all the issues involved? Try some activism related to the Eurocentric beauty program, sizeism, homelessness, and douchebaggery. (Wait, is there activism for that?)

5. Avoid oppression Olympics, 'cause making fun of homeless people to avoid sizeism is obviously problematic. 

6. I would never advocate destructive actions, but brandalism is also a thing in some parts of the world.

There's dozens more. Put your thinking caps on. 

At the end, really, the homeless and the housed, the "fat" and the "skinny," the "cool" and the "uncool," are all just people trying to live their lives, hoping for some love, maybe a lucky break, maybe a helping hand, maybe a hug, and maybe an outfit that they feel comfortable in. If you wanna wear A&F, knock yourselves out. If you wanna trash A&F, do that too, but don't make us into billboards for your misplaced activism. Didn't KONY already try that? 

In sum, I am happy to be secure in my job and happy in my life. I hope the same for everyone. #FitchTheHomeless doesn't help, and campaigns like this bring me to the last comment from the Relevant article: "The comment that I think sums up everything that needs to be said, was made by a woman who sat quietly through the whole video, before simply stating, 'Well, that sort of hurt my feelings.'" 'Nuff said.

Wanna know what childhood homelessness was like? Get at me on Twitter: @JohnathenDD