(AllHipHop Features) 48 hours ago Derick Bowers was merely the owner of the start-up t-shirt company Adversitees, but numerous media mentions later and the 28-year-old Howard University graduate is now the de facto leader of the charge to get Jay Z to reconsider his relationship with high-end department store Barneys New York.
When news broke that African American customers, 19-year-old Trayon Christian and 21-year-old Kayla Phillips, were stopped by police at the request of Barneys' employees after legally purchasing items from the store, Bowers decided that he had to hold his all time favorite emcee accountable for his connection to the franchise.
Barneys and Jay Z announced earlier this year that the two marketable brands were teaming up for the limited edition "A New York Holiday" clothing collection. The exclusive designer wear is scheduled to go on sale next month, but Bowers, and more than 3,000 signers of his Change.org petition, want the Hip Hop great to change course and cut ties with Barneys.
AllHipHop spoke with Bowers about why he took this stand against the man he considers his idol, his reaction to The Breakfast Club's Charlamagne Tha God giving him and his supporters the "Donkey of the Day" on his radio show, and what Barney's CEO Mark Lee should do beyond just offering statements and apologizes.
AllHipHop.com: What was it about these particular incidents that made you feel the need to create this petition?
Derick Bowers: We’re use to discrimination, and when I say "we" I mean black folk, minorities, anybody that’s not white. We’re use to that discrimination, so it really wasn’t that surprising hearing that this happened. What’s more surprising is the fact that because of these actions Barneys clearly shows that they have no connection with the young, black Hip Hop community, and if that’s the case then why are they reaching for the brand power of Jay Z who is the face of that.
It’s hypocrisy, and that’s what really grinds my gears about the whole situation. Just piggy backing off what Kanye [West] said in his song "New Slaves." Lines in that song were a direct correlation to what’s happening right now. Either you’re too broke to go in the store according to them, or if you got money we’re going to use you, and that’s Jay Z. I just hope he sees that. And even though he is doing good, and it’s not like he knew this was going to happen, he set this whole holiday collection to better his scholarship foundation, but now that Barneys has shown what they do, I think it’s time for you to pack that bag up and go somewhere else.
I know you’re stated that you are huge Jay Z fan. At any point did you feel apprehensive or conflicted about this?
Of course I was very conflicted. You don’t know me personally, but people who do know me know that I am the hugest Jay Z fan. I have every album. Anything that he has been affiliated with I have. I idolize that guy. His story is a great one. Being from Brooklyn and also being someone who was very into Hip Hop at one point, he was somebody that I definitely looked up to. I just supported the Magna Carta [Holy Grail] album, and I enjoyed it. And mostly every move he has made, even with some criticism, I’ve always supported those moves, because I feel like when you do reach a level of success you are going to get a lot of backlash, and you are going to get a lot of haters who don’t want to see that success. But this is something totally different.
I’m not personally attacking Jay Z. This attack is really at Barneys. What I’m asking from him is to withdraw that partnership to let them know we have that power, and you can’t take that from us. You can’t do anything you want to us. We are not just consumers. We’re not just what you think of us. So if he withdraws that power that’s hurting them where it hurts the most. That’s what really matters, that they pay a consequence for their actions, and they will not pay a consequence unless they feel it in their pockets. They can go off and give a statement saying that they’re going to change. They’ll still be Barneys New York, and their demographic of rich, white buyers will still shop there because it doesn’t affect them. But if Jay Z pulls out this deal they will feel that, and that’s what matters the most. So it’s important that he does that.
What if he decides not to end the partnership? What do you feel should be the next step for you or people who are like-minded as you?
I’m not trying to ruin what Jay Z has. I’m his biggest fan, so it’s bittersweet and it’s conflicting. I would love for him to think twice about this. He did it with Cristal. Even though he was not getting any monetary endorsements from them he was mentioning them a lot. He was giving them a lot of promotion to the Hip Hop community. When the owner of Cristal said that he didn’t really care for rappers to be in their market, [Jay] didn’t care for that and said that it was an insult to all of us, and he felt insulted and he moved on. He made his own bottle of champagne, and he took that to the next level.
This is the same thing accept it’s worse. This isn’t just some rich white man saying that he doesn’t want somebody to buy their stuff, even though they’re going to take the money anyway. This is discrimination, dehumanization of a group of people. At the very least it’s discrimination toward Hip Hop culture and black faces are synonymous with that so it becomes racism. And if Jay Z doesn’t agree with that, if he feels that he is going to continue to do this with Barneys and doesn’t see it as a problem then personally I cannot support Jay Z anymore.
I personally can't support him. That’s for everybody else to decide. If he were to drop an album I honestly will be itching to listen to it, but what can you do? I’m more of a fan of equality and right than anything. I have a 17 month old , and my son may possibly experience something like that. Why would I want that? If I could change that then that’s better than being able to listen to a Jay Z album.
Today on Power 105 Charlamagne was speaking about people that were petitioning Jay Z to end his deal with Barneys, and he gave them the "Donkey of the Day." What is your reaction to what he had to say about the situation?
I heard it in the car this morning with my wife. I really didn’t expect them to give the "Donkey of the Day" to people who wanted [Jay Z] to withdraw. Even if he honestly feels that it’s fake outrage… but then he goes on to talk about, "well, we don’t shop at Barneys anyway. Stop pretending like you care." To me it was just a radio DJ talking. It didn’t really have any kind of substance to me. At the same time I know that Jay Z almost got Charlamagne fired at one point for something he said, so to me it sounds like politics. I’m not going to create that accusation. I’m just putting it out there that’s what happened. He said it himself in an interview with Jay Z recently, so you can’t really take anything he’s saying for purpose.
Angela Yee said yesterday on Twitter that it’s appalling, and that she doesn’t agree with Barneys. And more than 2000 signatures in 24 hours shows that people care. I understand the times of digital media and 140 characters and short attention spans. That’s how we are. We do have a short attention span, and the news cycle is only an hour, and if that hour doesn’t stretch out to another one then nobody’s talking about it, look a Trayvon. It’s true, but we are still thinking about that stuff. We’re constantly getting flooded with information so we take in more information, but at the same time I don’t agree with what he said. I don’t think we should get "Donkey of the Day."
I’m not liking myself to the civil rights movement, but what if somebody had given Martin Luther King the "Donkey of the Day" for wanting to move to the front of the bus. I’m not trying to compare those two things, because they’re definitely not in the same league, but come on.
Why did you decide to give the proceeds from the sales of your "Barneys New Slaves" t-shirts to the Boys and Girls Club?
I know that they’re a very reputable organization when it comes to children all over the country. I didn’t want to take advantage of this situation like I’m trying to make money off of it. I do have shirt line called Adversitees that I own, and a lot of the shirts are statement shirts or a mixture of pop culture and political culture. This was an opportunity take that statement to fashion. If people didn’t want to go on Twitter, if people didn’t want to sign a petition, if they didn’t want to do all these things of somebody who wants to be an activist or protestor, at least they had the option to wear a shirt. People will see that. At the same time they will be able to help some deserving children in an organization like the Boys and Girls Club of America. I have faith that they will do the right thing with that money.
What would you like to see Barneys do that you think would help rectify the issues that have happened?
What I would like them to do is take ownership. Yeah this damage control they’re doing is nice. It’s cool, but every company is going to do that when they’re in the face of some crisis like this. They’re can hire the girl from Scandal to help them cover this up. They’ll do all the things that companies do to make themselves look better, but we want to know they mean it. That’s it. We just want to know they really mean it, and for them to say "we have to look at our policies," no I want them to take ownership.
I want them to have a real dialogue. I want the CEO of Barneys to come to Brooklyn and have a Town Hall meeting with the people who want to be where he’s at. We’re not all that different. Just different skin tones, different salary brackets, but at the end of the day we breath, we want more for our children, we just want to be happy. If things like buying a $350 Ferragamo belt makes somebody happy, according to America we should have the right to that liberty. Why in 2013 do we still have to feel like we’re dehumanized?
I’m a son of Hip Hop and if I walked into Barneys at my age… I’m not that old. I’m almost thirty. I’ve matured. I work in a corporate environment, and I wear tailored suits. Honestly, I don’t really expect for them to be looking at me crazy. I know a lot of corporate black men that shop at places like Barneys, and they may not get looked at just because of the way they carry themselves. That’s not saying they’re not racist. That’s just saying there is a certain level of blackness that’s accepted and there has to be assimilation. As long as we can have a conversation about the fact that we have to assimilate to make us feel less threatening to you, to prove that we’re not criminals, then that’s a problem, and we will not support anything that feels that way.
To learn more about Bower's petition visit change.org.
For more information about the "Barneys New Slaves" tees visit www.adversitees.com.