The Ancestors I Found Hanging in My Closet

With the recent reevaluation of racist images throughout American culture, from confederate statues to Aunt Jemina syrup and Uncle Ben’s rice, I took a look in my own closet to see what racist ghosts might still live. When I first graduated from college and got my first real job in Chicago, I set out to establish a professional business wardrobe. Like most young professionals, I wanted something that would set me apart with a certain sense of style. I thought — what’s more stylish than Brooks Brothers. The oldest clothing brand in the United States that’s outfitted presidents (Lincoln wore a Brooks Brothers suit to Ford Theatre the night he was assassinated and Barack Obama frequently stepped out in their brand – Figure 1). Brooks Brothers defined the look of diplomats and millionaires for generations, so of course I wanted that look. I later found however that the ageless style I was seeking was built on another tradition in American vogue — racism and slavery.