Abercrombie and Fitch: Picking up Where Jim Crow Left Off
This past week, five little girls were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the US government. The award came as Memorial Day approached, as well as the 50th anniversary of their deaths, which occurred in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The "Jim Crow" era was at it's height, a time where the black population was segregated and racism prevailed. The girls were in Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church when, without warning, fire and debris ripped the church apart, fueled by explosives and racial hatred. Beyond the senseless damage and death, the bombing served as a catalyst for people to stand up and demand civil rights and equal treatment.
On this Memorial Day, a half a century later, it's easy to say that things are better in America. A black man can walk into a cafe in Birmingham and sit where he wants without fear of Jim Crow attitudes. He won't hear, "We don't serve your kind here" in 2013, as he would have in 1963.
Denial of service based on bigotry is intolerable, but we're no stranger to these behaviors here in the U.S.
Two words: Abercrombie and Fitch
The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch has been all over the media for several weeks. To paraphrase his exclusionary comments, Abercrombie and Fitch targets the "cool kids," the ones who people are drawn to. For that reason, they deliberately do not produce XL sizes. In short, they don't cater to large and/or obese people. This attitude comes right from the top, from the mouth of a charismatic leader. It's their company-wide marketing strategy. If an obese person visits their local mall and ventures into an Abercrombie and Fitch store, they're likely to be greeted with the attitude, "We don't serve your kind here."
While I'm not going to make a stupid leap comparing Abercrombie and Fitch's CEO to Adolf Hitler, I do want to caution against these behaviors. Horrible, large-scale acts throughout history have begun with notions more innocent than these.
As a doctor, obesity (among other diseases) is an enemy. While I fight obesity and the behaviors that cause it, I treat the people in its grip with dignity and sensitivity; I treat them as equals they are.
Americans have battled the demons of stigma and prejudice for ages. Things are getting better, but there have been some hard times along the way - lives lost, destruction, chaos. Because this ground was so difficult to gain, any resurgence of dangerous behavior should be rightfully snuffed. In regards to Abercrombie and Fitch, in the absence of an apology or change in behavior, let the market forces of the American consumer respond with a resounding, "You will serve every kind."