Mike Jefferies, CEO of Abercromie and Fitch knows how to get publicity, that’s for certain. From a business standpoint, you can’t hate on a guy for having a target market. His target market just happens to be a very narrow one. People are all in a rage over his choice exclusion of the “uncool”. If you haven’t heard about #fitchthehomeless, click here to find out what one creative man is doing to show his disgust. Many are up in arms about how dehumanizing this is to the homeless population. I love the concern many are showing for the homeless. To these passionate responses I can only hope that the mouths from which these concerns are coming from are also saying friendly “hello’s” to the homeless as they pass them by. Our lack of acknowledgment, stereotyping, and even speaking for a people we have no relationship with dehumanizes them as well. They have a voice of their own. If we want to hear it, all we need to do is be willing to hear it.
But target markets and revolts against A&F is not the aim of this post. This post is to bring awareness to the face that the culture of elitism is on its way out. Our world is riding a new wave of collaboration, inclusion and ways to bring people together in community. Smart businesses are marketing this core need in to their tribes by offering social responsibility and community initiatives. Non-profits that thrive are ones you see working in collaboration. Communities experiencing transformation have seen an increase in ownership of societal issues and an awareness of the importance of knowing neighbours. Issues of poverty are being combatted by various groups of people leaning in together to solve the issues together, rather than relying solely on government. This is the new “normal”. Isolating and excluding others based on looks, race and social standing is becoming unattractive and repulsive. If you’re running a business, a non-profit, building a church, or just seeking to survive in our Western culture today, you’re going to need to embrace this new vision of coming together as a collective society.
I love demonstrating this in schools where I teach dance through what I learned through the Cypher. First, let’s start by defining what on earth that means for the many who are unaware of hip hop culture. Often in circle form, this is where freestyle dance happens in the middle. For many of us, all we’ve seen of the cypher is in movies where only the best of the best go into the middle to show off their sickest moves, or a dance battle takes place between two amazing dancers. Those who make up the outside of the cypher are only there to observe. They aren’t included unless they’re as dope as the others. However, did you know that bboying (aka: breakdance) is learned in community? At the end of a session where we’ve learned foundation movement, we will often practice in the cypher. When my turn comes, I head into the middle to learn to freestyle the movements I’ve just learned in class. It’s most likely I’m going to mess up, get stuck, or forget movements. This is where the game changes. The centre of the cypher is no longer reserved for the “best”, but for learning, and the outside of the cypher becomes particularly important. Every person is not only a learner a part of the community, but one who can encourage and even instruct the one in the cypher if they get stuck. Everyone is welcome from the beginner to the expert.
The most amazing thing I have learned through cyphering in class is one thing many who still practice elitism and exclusion will never get to experience: true celebration of others. You see here’s the deal: after practicing my moves in the cypher with my trusted community, I gain something that no one can take from me; something that can only be deeply rooted and grounded in the soils of my heart through this idea of supportive community. That one thing is courage. All of a sudden, I can do something I never thought i could. I can swipe. I can go down to the floor and bust out. I can groove. Maybe I could even battle? And that’s not the craziest thing! When I have the courage to battle, in bboy culture I get a bboy/bgirl name. That means all the labels others have put on me, and even the ones I’ve put on myself, come off and I wear this new name; this new identity. But get this, don’t miss it: I could have never battled without courage, and courage manifests itself in supportive community.
Courage is inclusive. Courage sees in others what they don’t see in themselves. It’s a mark that the Kingdom of God is present. Courage thrives in community while it withers in a culture of “us and them”. If you can make someone feel they are not included, you may gain power over them, but you’ll never see communities thrive, because communities are made up of individuals. You’ll never see an end to epidemic problems such as bullying and poverty. On the other hand, a culture of inclusion ushers in courage to combat even the worst of our world’s problems. It can take a kid from the roughest neighbourhood in the city and give them hope and transformation.
This is what marketing to the beautiful will never see. This is what ignoring the marginalized will never get to experience. I want to live each and every day in the adventure of bringing out the beauty in others. This is only revealed through community and collaboration. I dare you to see who you can join with to bring courage and compassion to a world who would pay millions for just a taste of that.