MAC, don't kill my vibe

Warning: This is a v rant-like post. If you're not interested in a rant-like post about cultural appropriation then I would suggest leaving now and maybe going here. Otherwise, welcome to my rant-like post. 

While I was casually scrolling through my Instagram feed recently I came across a post from @lalaromero featuring a screen cap that I immediately recognized as an article from Refinery29, a well known fashion and lifestyle blog. The photo and caption are below:

MAC's official quote on the inspo behind this collection "has absolutely no connection nor was it inspired by the Native American cultures." The collection is said to be inspired solely by summer music festivals. This feels problematic to my heart, esp as they get ready to launch the Selena stuff. With colors in this collection like Arrowhead & Adobe Brick I am literally so confused. Maybe I'm being "too sensitive" or maybe MAC is dead wrong for this bullshit. Look we are all just trying to learn & grow as we go, maybe someone can help me something I am missing with this...

The photo depicts a MAC compact decorated with what seems to be a Navajo (NATIVE AMERICAN) pattern. The text featured with the photo refers to the collection as "Vibe Tribe." You read that right: a collection that has absolutely no connection to the Native American cultures using Navajo patterns that is called Vibe TRIBE. (FYI, the word tribe is often defined as "a local division of an aboriginal people.")

MAC's latest collection titled Vibe Tribe, but NOT inspired by Native American culture.
Image via Refinery29

While I don't personally strongly identify with a specific Native American culture nor was I raised around it, I still find it pretty offensive. However, just because I'm offended doesn't necessarily mean this is my fight to fight. I'm proud to bring attention to any form of cultural appropriation, regardless of whether or not it directly affects me. As Desmond Tutu once said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." I don't think MAC is the great oppressor of colored cultures in the cosmetics arena, but you get my point. If you'd like to explore more about the issues surrounding the Vibe Tribe collection I'd suggest starting with this article from Refinery29. I will return to MAC's latest misstep later on in the post but for now, I'd like to focus on a previous incident related to Mexican culture. 

While looking through the comments on LaLa's post, I kept seeing people reference a previous "Juàrez fiasco." Comments like "Almost as bad as that Juàrez bs" kept catching my eye. I saw it enough times to start wondering: what does MAC have to do with Juàrez? The tone of the comments suggested this wasn't MAC's first brush with cultural appropriation. I did what any one would do- I Googled it. I started typing in the words "MAC Juàrez" then autofill did the work for me. "Controversy," "collection," and "line" were the next suggested searches. Obviously I used "MAC Juàrez controversy" to start my investigation. The first link is an article from NY Mag that references a blog called The Frisky. The Frisky is credited as one of this first blogs to call out the MAC collection that was 'inspired' by Mexico. In her post she details that the line includes a blush called "Quinceañera," a lipstick called "Ghost Town," and finally a nail polish named "Juàrez." My jaw dropped. W.T.F.

Further investigating led me to find out that back in 2010, MAC started a collaboration with fashion line Rodarte. The team took a road trip from El Paso to Marfa, TX and found themselves 'inspired' by a highly romanticized view of Mexican culture in the borderland. Although they probably had good intentions (the road to hell is paved with good intentions, amirite?), they came up with an extremely insensitive and offensive makeup line based on what they described as the colors and culture of Ciudad Juàrez, Mexico. 

For those of you who don't know, up until a few years ago Juàrez held the title of the deadliest city in the world. WORLD. Due to drug and gang related violence, a lack of government authority, corrupted policing, poverty, human rights issues and the like, it's not at all surprising that this city held this title for so long. While Juàrez has moved down to number 27 in the list, the turmoil has yet to cease in the city. Crime rates have supposedly dropped, but conditions haven't really improved. (I say supposedly because statistics are often inaccurate due to the amount of unsolved murders/missing people cases, unreported crime, lack of policing, tampering with evidence, and corruption.) 

The most shocking part to me about this line was how it glamorized the plight of Mexican women and how far removed it is from reality. Rodarte stated they were inspired by the women who would leave in the middle of the night to walk to their factory jobs in maquiladoras. What they must not have realized at the time is that these women are often just trying to put food on the table while literally risking their lives to travel to work in the dark. These young, impoverished women traveling to and from work are often the target of femicide. Lack of jobs, machismo values, and more contribute to the harsh reality that grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, and cousins are often left with no choice than to work in these conditions. I've personally visited maquiladoras in other parts of Central America, and I can tell you absolutely nothing about them is glamorous. I visited a shoe factory where over half of the people working didn't have shoes of their own to wear in a dangerous working facility. They were paid the equivalent of a few U.S. dollars a day to work in a building with no air conditioning, little light, and an extreme lack of safety precautions. Harsh solvents and open flames were used to seal and assemble the shoes. While the particular factory I visited had a somewhat equal ratio of men and women working, many women had to bring their children to the factory with them in order to be able to work. So unless MAC would call this glamorous, it seems that they assumed a lot about the life of a working Central American woman.

MAC probably isn't alone in their ignorance though. It's likely that if you've never lived near the border, you may not have even heard of the city before. But for me, the city happens to be in my backyard. 

MAC's never released Juarez collection featured on v light-skinnned women.
Image via ColorLines

I've never been to Mexico and that's pretty uncommon for someone that grew up where I did. I am no more than an hour away from the Mexican/U.S. border. When I was growing up it was super common for families to take weekend or even day trips to Juàrez. People enjoyed the food, street markets, and cheap products they could find there. Kids in my class would always come back with bomb toys, cool clothes, or stories about their weekend trip. The drinking age in Mexico is 18, so high schoolers and not-yet-legal college kids would often travel to party there on the weekends. It's also common in this area to have part of a family living in Las Cruces or El Paso and the other part living in Juàrez. Grandma's birthday is this weekend? No problem, hop in the car and take a drive down to celebrate with her. You get my point. The city had something to offer to everyone.

While Juàrez didn't always endure the violence it does now, its had a pretty longstanding struggle with poverty. Lack of jobs, exploitation of workers, and poor working conditions force many families into poverty even in the best scenarios. A portion of my dad's side of the family is from Mexico and he still has relatives there. Namely, in Juàrez. When I was younger my dad would take a few trips a year to visit and take food, clothes, and other necessities to them. My dad was lucky enough to be born a mere hour away from this unfortunate situation while some of his cousins remained on the other side of the border. My dad's trips and recollections of Mexico were never happy ones. I can't speak for him but I think being there reminds him of what his life almost was, and it probably makes him feel a little guilty for narrowly escaping that destiny. It's also probably very upsetting to see your family struggle that way and not being able to do anything about it. Despite the negative associations he has with these experiences, I know it makes him grateful for the life he has now. He has worked extremely hard to make sure that our family never has to live without, and for that I am forever grateful. So while many people enjoyed what the city has to offer, it's never been a vacationing or relaxing destination for my family. I think part of him never wanted me to see that some of my distant family lives the way they do. He would often describe the place my extended family lived in as a hut with dirt floors. When he would return from trips there he would often have a cloud of somberness surrounding him. 

So while I've never stepped foot on Mexican soil, I can say that Juàrez is very much a backdrop to my heritage. This isn't a pity party for my family's struggle. Our story is only one of many, and many families endure much worse. My point is that even if you're not in Mexico, not directly from Juàrez, or you are not one of those women who walks to her job in the night, it's still possible to have a very strong connection to the city. Making light of a very serious issue that so many people have a connection to is quite offensive. I think blogger Liloo did a good job at expressing why this is a problem when she said, "I'm angered that this could ever inspire anyone to create such frivolous things like makeup & fashion." Amen, sista.

There may be some criticism as to why I feel the need to unearth an incident that occurred six years ago. Firstly, in 2010 I wasn't into makeup nor was I educated about cultural appropriation. I had no interest in cosmetics nor did I realize the impact the market could have on young women specifically. Secondly, I briefly tried to not get angry over it. Part of me told myself to leave the past behind. But then I realized that this company is bringing up their own unpleasant problems again. They are the ones making the same mistake; I'm simply the one to point it out. Seeing that MAC clearly didn't learn their lesson the first time around infuriates me. The Juàrez line never ended up being released thanks to backlash from consumers. You would think that MAC would have realized (even back in 2010) that consumers are aware of their own culture, therefore they recognize cultural appropriation and rightfully refuse to support it. With the anticipated release of Vibe Tribe, it's apparent that instead of learning from their mistakes they have refused to acknowledge them. Pulling the Juàrez line but deciding to launch Vibe Tribe in many ways says to consumers, "We know not to offend Mexican people now, but we're gonna see if we can get it past Native Americans." Like really, we have to go through this again?! MAC not realizing that they are committing a similar offense to what they did six years ago furthers the truth that often times Native Americans' culture is often seen as unimportant, irrelevant, not worthy of respect/acknowledgement, or worst of all - nonexistent. It's like MAC is publicly announcing, "Okay, we realized these brown people from Mexico exist and have feelings and that maybe we were wrongfully glamorizing the oppressed women and girls of Juarez. MY BAD. But what about these other brown people on this side of the border? They've been exploited for centuries so no one will notice if we do it too, right?" While I'm sure hoping that these weren't the actual arguments going on in MAC/Rodarte meetings, this is what their brand is ultimately conveying.

Suzette unveiling the entire collection!
Image via HelloGiggles

Although it may seem to some that I'm whining about old problems, I'd argue that MAC is one that caused them to resurface. There was tons of backlash against the Juàrez collection in order to get it pulled and I can only hope that something similar will happen with Vibe Tribe. Although it's already been released, calling attention to the problems with this collection and voting with your wallet can send a strong message. I truly hope I'm not the only one who finds it insulting for a company to think they can pick and choose which cultures they credit and represent. There is nothing wrong with pulling inspiration from different cultures and different parts of the world, but it has to be done with respect. It is important to know what you are actually referencing. The Juàrez line clearly cited where their inspiration came from, but they ended up minimizing a larger humanitarian issue that engulfs the entire region. Secondly, GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE. Do you want to make a collection celebrating the beauty of Native American cultures? Please do so, because they are beautiful! But don't assume I'm an idiot. I'm not going to pay $30 for a glittery turquoise eyeshadow you're telling me is based on 'festival fashion' when I can clearly see with my own two eyes it's a rip off of Native American culture. Give your consumers more credit than that.

I think if MAC really tried they could make a successful line that celebrates a culture that includes POC. I think the Selena collection has the potential to be just that. As Lala mentioned in her original post, she and many others are now wary of the pending release of the Selena collection. While MAC has started out in the right direction by referencing the source (Selena's sister, Suzette Quintanilla) and appropriately crediting the inspiration, many are now hesitant to continue to support the company after incidents like this. I truly hope that MAC can finally learn from their past mistakes and turn over a new leaf with the Selena collection. Selena was and still is an icon who celebrates Latina culture. I hope that MAC (and other companies alike) can do her reputation justice and follow suit.

P.S. Viva Selena!


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