Birkin Bags: A Symbol of Black Female Resistance
Recently on the internet, there has been intense debate regarding the popular “Birkin bag”. Black female rappers have put Birkin bags on the map as the new designer bag that everyone has to have. From Cardi B, to Saweetie, and City Girls, all of our favorite Black women on the radio have defined the Birkin bag as one of the hottest commodities in fashion. However, recently they have received backlash online with claims that their Hermés Birkin bags are fake or accusations that they are lowering the value of the expensive bag. Using the words of Patricia Hill Collins, I hope to show how the symbol of the Birkin bag is an example of Black Feminist Thought because it exists as a result of Black women resisting intersectionally oppressive structures. The Hermés Birkin bag is an uncontrolled image defined by Black women in response to class, gender, and race oppression.
In the book, Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins spells out why Black women are an objectified group in America. They are objectified because they are seen as “other” and their classification as an object allows their definition to be controlled. She quoted Bell Hooks in saying, “As objects, one’s reality is defined by others, one’s identity created by others, one’s history named only in ways that define one’s relationship to those who are subject.” Black women have a distinct experience because they are the inferior objectified group across intersecting identities. With the many outcomes that Collins predicted from objectification, resistance becomes a primary mode for BFT because there is a “convergence” of binaries.
Today, we see more Black women becoming millionaires from rapping. They still stand as exceptions to the majority, but they adapt to the change of their circumstances and incorporate the ever-changing BFT. This new generation of female rappers has had to define their own space in a male-dominated industry and do it against all controlled ideas of Black women. As women in hip hop, they were excluded solely because of their gender by the very men that could not have become famous without a Black woman in their life. The women created their own space and showed that women can be strippers or college graduates and still make millions on their own. Now they use Birkin bags as a form of currency. When City Girls raps, “Nasty but classy, Birkin bag me,” they tell how men can show you your worth through giving you a Birkin. Through opposition to gender oppression, these Black female rappers have made the Birkin bag into a form of currency that Black men owe them.
The thing about Birkin bags that Black female artists will never let you forget is that they can afford their own bags. The men simply give them bags because they deserve it, not because they need it. This is resistance towards the controlled messages about the class of Black women. The assumption that they are all poor, single moms, uneducated, or stripping for pennies is not what these women will accept as their status. They go to college, strip, experience poverty, or did none of these things, and can still afford a Birkin for themselves. I enjoy watching Cardi B in particular because she constantly posts her beautiful Black family after a life of stripping and making money. She shows how her husband takes care of her, just as much as she shows the flaws of the relationship. Regardless, she shows that Black relationships aren’t bound to the narrow downfall that white American class structures have reduced them to. Despite the creations of ghettos and prison industrial systems, there is space for Black love. In the words of Gucci Mane, “when a king gets a queen he is invincible”. The Hermés Birkin bag is a symbol of the worthlessness of Black women and its gifting does not take away her class as a breadwinner.
The last way in which Black women resist through rapping about Birkin bags, which I will discuss, is through racial structures. Black people have been excluded from fashion until very recently. Especially in regard to modeling, they were considered less marketable to white America and Europe. With the creation of social media, many marginalized groups have been given the space to pose in their favorite fashion looks. Black women have raised the value and notoriety of the Birkin bag by rapping about it and posting it on Instagram. They have resisted the boundaries of black people in fashion by showing how Black women can sell a product. Black women were not included in the fashion industry, so they have almost made one of their own. Fashion lines like Fashion Nova now copy the looks of all our favorite female hip-hop artists. These looks still aren’t offered in malls or in magazines, but the new wave of internet fashion has put so many malls into foreclosure. Black women made space in an industry that didn’t include them and have made many businesses lucrative that take the risk of not following the mainstream. The Birkin bag is a symbol of the prosperity of Black women within the fashion industry while simultaneously independent of it.
I use the Birkin bag as a symbol because it is an uncontrolled image of Black women. It is a perfect example of how intersectionality creates resistance and works within a constantly changing context. Black women are constantly having different experiences, and some are experiencing extensive wealth now. They have had to adjust their self-definitions. The Birkin bag is a product that pushes the realm of who Black women are in America. Ultimately, every push towards opening this realm resists several oppressive structures at once whether all Black women can afford a Birkin or not. The goal of BFT is to resist the injustice of all sorts and from everyday experiences to make life better for everyone. The Birkin bag is a modern-day resistance movement orchestrated by Black female hip hop.
To see more information about this in a contemporary article: https://people.com/style/cardi-b-calls-out-racist-response-hermes-birkin-collection/