you have got to be the last one standing.

(image via)

Tonight is the last night that the nightmare known as Cabrini-Green will live to see the sun rise. Tomorrow morning, the last remaining building will be torn down. A sordid chapter of Chicago's history will be demolished, a literal Target put in place, to mark the site where so many lived and loved and lost their lives.

I haven't the knowledge or wherewithal to begin to write about the sorrow that the housing projects caused for many people. I have too much privilege to condescendingly describe the squalid conditions that low-income families were forced by necessity, birthright, actually!, to live in. So I won't.

Instead I want to talk about humanity. Fashion I'm discovering, exists in a sort of bubble that claps its ears around its head and plants its palms around its eyes. Folks go through their days blissfully unaware of the human suffering that millions endure each day - billions, really, if you want to get global - and instead finely hones its attention on the latest permutation of the college-tuition-costing Birkin bag. It boggles the brain to imagine, just for a second, all of the attention and time and money that is diverted (is that the right word? displaced, perhaps?) towards things that once the sand hits the coffin, don't fucking matter.

The only thing that matters is our humanity. Every kiss, every tear that is shed, every heart that is broken and put back together again and broken again and put back together once more, sometimes by the asshole who broke it in the first place. Every time you look something or someone so achingly beautiful your body responds in kind via goosebumps or a flutter in your stomach. Every single instance of pain, every moment of all-consuming love until the love inevitably runs out, every day of ambivalence that starts in your twenties and lasts for god-knows-how-long, every time you apologize for hurting someone you love even if you're disingenuous about it. This is a small glimpse of the human condition, and it's only thing that ties us all together.

All of the residents of Cabrini-Green lived through these all-too-real experiences just like you have. And that's why you should be aware of the demolition of these people's homes...because they are people. Human beings. It's so easy for those that have to ignore those that haven't got, but in the end we all up in the same six by four space and the haves become essentially quite meaningless. So while we're living our day-to-day lives (on borrowed time, I may add), I implore you all to not forget about those who are less fortunate. Charity events to pat yourself on the back and assauge some kind of guilt is not what I'm talking about. I mean, to like, look around your studio/apartment/luxury condo/house/mansion/whatever and be appreciative of the roof over your head. Be grateful every single day that you won the American lottery and weren't born into the cycle of poverty that's consumed more lives than you can possibly imagine. 

I love style because in it, I can represent my own human experience. Dressing nerdy? Well, that's a reclamation of the torment I endured as a kid because I liked school and had literally zero friends (things that haven't really changed in the progressive years). Harnesses? A small way to announce to the world that I was born with kinks. And it's why I hope I never become jaded - I cherish my humanity too much. It's really all that we have.

RIP, Cabrini-Green. Hopefully your death will bring peace to your residents and will awaken those don't care from their human slumber.


Amy said...

Beautifully written piece.

Although I agree with you that fashion is escapism for most people in America, it is not for everyone. I strongly feel that street style is a part of my dharma/karma/spiritual path. There's a very cosmic element to walking randomly around the world seeking beauty in the roaring chaos. I so deeply love meeting new people and brightening their day by honoring them with a photograph. There's all sorts of synchronicity involved with an art like street style hunting.

Street style is my "puja," my meditation on the beauty in the world. It's important to be aware of the ugly/dark/negative energy int he world, but it's even more important to celebrate the light. And if being stylish gives you "the armor to face the realities of every day" (as Bill says), then that's enough justification.

Fashion is one of the defining elements of civilization. All human beings adorn themselves. I've been to Kibera in the slums of Nairobi, which makes Cabrini look like Disneyland. I went with a non-profit group to meet with women who were HIV+/AIDS who make jewelry. Why jewelry? They told me it was to bring beauty into their lives, as well as keep their minds off the fact that they were dying because their husbands (who'd already passed) refused to wear condoms when they cheated with another woman and passed HIV on to them. Another group of HIV+ women traveled around Kibera braiding hair. Why? Because they want people to be beautiful!

Even in the most horrific circumstances, humanity uses visual self-expression - fashion - as a source of strength in the fight for psychological survival. I did my honors thesis on the use of dress and apparel in the Igbo Women's War of 1929, the only all female military uprising in human history. And guess what? Fashion was a central element in their story and these women changed the path of British colonial history by eliminating the despotic male "warrant chief" system.

When you look at the mass-market "it bag," label obsessed fashion culture of industrialized countries, it's easy to forget that fashion is SO MUCH MORE.

Annie said...

thank you for this.

Brandon said...

I'm at work and read the whole thing in one go. Thank you for this post. Can fashion ever be ok, when in order to survive designers have to suck up to the establishment?

Brandon said...

Just a wee update. I continued reading the next 4/5 pages of your blog. I think I'm obsessed!

wobblinbetty said...

Great post, very intense
I agree with you but also Amy's comment has got a point...
Love xx

Always Something said...

I don't have anything smart to contribute right now. I wish i did. I usually do, but my head isn't working quite right today.

But this was the best thing I have read in so long.