Prada is coming under fire for using blackface-style imagery in at least one of its New York City storefronts and online. As part of a new holiday marketing campaign, the luxury brand was featuring a black caricature with exaggerated big red lips. Photos of the display brought fierce backlash on social media and prompted the company to get rid of the items.
Chinyere Ezie was walking past a Prada store in downtown Manhattan Thursday when she saw what she described as a "racist and denigrating" caricature being displayed in the front of the store. In a Facebook post, she described "shaking with anger."
"Today after returning to NYC after a very emotional visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture including an exhibit on blackface, I walked past Prada's Soho storefront only to be confronted with the very same racist and denigrating #blackface imagery," she wrote.
"History cannot continue to repeat itself," she added. "Black America deserves better." She also tweeted sarcastically, "Thanks to #blackface @Prada, now you can take #sambo home with you for the holidays."
A spokesperson with Prada Group, Prada's parent company, told CBS News in a statement Friday that they "abhor racist imagery" and will remove the characters in question — part of the designer's "Pradamalia" collection. It said they were envisioned as "imaginary creatures" and were not meant to mimic blackface caricatures.
"The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface. We abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. We will withdraw all of the characters in question from display and circulation," a Prada Group spokesperson said.
The designer brand tweeted about the figure and displayed it prominently on its website, but took down the tweets and removed the cartoon from its homepage. Some of the imagery was still being used in a section featuring the Pradamalia Friday afternoon.
Danielle Belton, editor-in-chief at The Root, has covered cultural topics impacting the black community. She was initially "shocked" at Prada's use of the character, but says such imagery resurfaces nearly every year in some fashion.
"Blackface has been historically used to dehumanize black people," she told CBS News. "It's mystifying how no one along the chain said there was anything wrong with it."
Theis long and deeply ingrained in American culture – featured in vaudeville, minstrel shows and movies. Starting before the Civil War, white (and then black) performers wore dark makeup, creating not only a popular theatrical form, but negative stereotypes about black people that still persist today.
"It was about making people feel good at the expense of the African-American," Burton said. "When you dehumanize people, you can justify it. There's a directness between the use of blackface and violence toward people of color."