Return of the Mink

About 30 years ago, I bought Dr. SJ a full-length black mink coat as a birthday present. It was not one of my better “investments,” as a few years later, PETA was out on the streets of New York City throwing red paint on women in mink coats. She put it in the closet and never wore it again.

It was never clear to me what purpose was served by not wearing the coat, as it wasn’t as if the pelts would regenerate into happy little playful minks, but I understood both the symbolism of wearing the coat as well as the potential of confrontation. To wear it was a political statement Dr. SJ didn’t choose to make. Fair enough. So it still sits in the closet, unworn and lonely.

It thus came as a surprise to find that mink coats are making a comeback, according to the New York Times. Not because cute little minks are now deemed vermin with nice fur, or nobody gives a damn about slaughtering living creatures for the luxury and warmth of their pelts. 

My mother purchased her first fur some 15 years ago, when she was a single woman, employed at the drug rehabilitation center she credits with her own sobriety. “I saved some for a down payment, then paid the rest off over three, maybe four years with an installment plan — a layaway,” she said. The second coat, the fox, was an anniversary gift from her husband, also a longtime fur wearer, whom she married in 2010.

What made the writer immune from the influences that compelled my wife to closet her coat? It wasn’t that we suddenly recognized a compelling human need to wear mink.

These days there are plenty of other materials available to cover one’s nakedness, a point that anti-fur activists readily make. The past few decades have seen a humanitarian backlash to animal fur clothing. Major fashion designers, including Gucci, Stella McCartney and, most recently, Chanel, have forsaken it; several cities in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have banned sales of the material.

And yet, unacceptable as wearing real fur had become for some, it wasn’t for others.

But there is a sense among many black women that this broader, cultural disavowal of fur has coincided with our increased ability to purchase it. (Or as Paula Marie Seniors, a historian and professor of Africana studies at Virginia Tech, reported her mother saying: “As soon as black women could afford to buy mink coats, white society and white women said fur was all wrong, verboten, passé.”) For women like my mother and grandmother, my aunts and my sisters, a fur coat is more than a personal luxury item. It is an important investment.

The taboo against wearing animal fur as a status symbol is a white woman thing. Whether the “cultural disavowal” of mink coincided with black women’s ability to purchase it isn’t entirely clear. There may be some distant coincidence, but the correlation is shaky. But that the shift was somehow a racist plot to deny black women the luxury of mink that white women had enjoyed before them is a curiously twisted contention. So it had nothing to do with the cute little critters, but was about white women who saw black women with cash in their pockets heading for Saks and started screaming, “Hide the minks, HIDE THE MINKS”?

The cultural disavowal of fur coats was largely the product of a very effective campaign by PETA back in the 1980s to inform people of the suffering inflicted upon animals for the sake of their luxurious wrap. One of the tactics used invoked comparing the animals to the suffering of black people.

In 2005, a PETA exhibition juxtaposed a photo of a black civil rights protester being beaten at a lunch counter with images of a seal being bludgeoned. Another piece from the show, titled “Hanging,” paired a graphic photo of a white mob surrounding two lynched black people, their bodies hanging from tree limbs, with the image of a cow in a slaughterhouse. In 2007, in an advertisement, the organization compared the American Kennel Club to the Ku Klux Klan.

If PETA rode the coattails of the civil rights movement to save animals, was there not a debt owed to black Americans? And what did PETA do for “maginalized communities” anyway, as they were all about the animals and let the human suffering go unmentioned? If black women were denied the opportunity to bask in the luxury of mink before because of racism, are they not entitled now to their luxury?

My mother’s furs are her insistence on public elegance in a world frequently inhospitable to her. It is a point of pride that she wears, and will pass down to me.

There is no serious contention that the wearing of fur by black women is any different than white women. Rather, the argument is that they didn’t get to do it when this awful thing was socially acceptable, so they’re going to make up for it now by insisting on “public elegance.” Or to put it more curiously, in reparation for their deprivation before, they get to do wrong now with impunity. Was this really the perspective?

I have worn and sold my share of recycled furs while purveying vintage to stylists, designers and all. I have long questioned the notion that we black people should expend energy on being anti-fur.

On one outing, I channeled Mary Tyler Moore’s iconic fox piece as I strolled unself-consciously through a city department store. Within a few minutes, a white woman in her 30s followed me closely as she erupted in high-volume condemnation.

Her reaction failed to filter harsh realities about race: Black human beings in our country have historically endured worse treatment than the animals such freelance activists protect.

Suffering no detriment as a result of one’s race is certainly a constitutional right and a cause for which everyone should be willing to fight. But when the “right” at stake is to wear a mink coat with social impunity in reparation for historic racism, the ramifications are stunning.

55 thoughts on “Return of the Mink

    1. Nigel Declan

      My apologies. I thought the quotation marks were intended to capture a mistake on the part of the Grey Lady, not SHG. It is less amusing this way.

      How many tummy rubs must be given as penance?

      Reply
  1. MIKE GUENTHER

    I guess soon enough, the only clothes we will be allowed to wear must be made of Hemp.

    Cotton has racial connotations and synthetics use chemicals in their composition.

    Reply
      1. Casual Lurker

        “When did you stop oppressing black women?”

        [With the assumption of facts not in evidence]:

        Around the same time I stopped beating my wife.

        Reply
  2. Hunting Guy

    Paris Hilton.

    “Every woman should have four pets in her life. A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage, a tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything.”

    Reply
  3. B. McLeod

    Minks are basically foul-smelling, ill-tempered weasels. I suspect the coats originated as the wearers’ signaling their claims to have dispatched the number of minks necessary to yield the component pelts.

    Reply
  4. Keith

    What’s the point of a status symbol if the whole world can afford it? As long as race stands in as a poor proxy for socio-economic indicators, these stories will abound.

    This brings to mind to rise and fall of baby-formula popularity in the 70’s. Remember how the NYT’s folks described THAT one?

    In part, infant formula remains popular with these mothers because they still see it as ”a kind of status symbol,” said Judith Gordon, a researcher for the Bureau of Maternity Services. She said the assumption is a leftover from the 1950’s, when only wealthier women could afford the product, then deemed medically superior to breast-feeding.
    – STUDY ON INFANT FORMULA USE (10/27/81)

    After that, PETA La Leche deemed it horrible and immoral to subject the children to those dangerous chemicals. Sadly, the poor folks couldn’t do this awful thing when the rich white women could, so they missed the boat.

    Why should *I* get a turn 2.0 3.0 4.0…. n/x{sigh}

    Reply
  5. kushiro

    Next up in the NYT:

    “Critical Race Theory Convinced Me to Poach An Elephant and Use Its Tusks to Make Gorgeous Ivory Canes, Because Reparations.”

    Reply
    1. Fubar

      “Critical Race Theory Convinced Me to Poach An Elephant …

      To poach elephants, use a huge pan,
      Much larger than one to serve man.
      Cement mixers might do,
      With a fire and a flue.
      Serve with side dish of Brontosaur flan!

      Reply
  6. Matthew Scott Wideman

    “For women like my mother and grandmother, my aunts and my sisters, a fur coat is more than a personal luxury item. It is an important investment”. I know this is a law blog, but that’s not a smart statement or at least one that would lead to financial stability.

    There is some irony in getting angry at people for noticing or negatively reacting to one’s conspicuous consumption. Isn’t that the point????? My friend has a beautiful “Batman” Rolex given to him by his Father…..it could be -7 degrees and his sleeves are rolled up showing off that watch. He gets a fair amount of hate…..but it just makes him smile on the inside and on the outside.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      That’s conspicious is one thing. You know how them rich folks like to show off and rub us poor folks nose in it. But at least the only thing that died for a Rolex was good taste.

      Reply
  7. Anonymous Coward

    I am amazed and appalled at how everything can be about race. How does PETA feel about nutria fur? Since the North American wild nutria population is an invasive species that competes with native beavers and otters, trapping nutria is doing nature a favor, rather like affirmative action for favored identity groups.

    Reply
  8. Jake

    Buying one coat you wear for life and pass down as a family heirloom, seems so quaint and responsible. Why exploit some smelly varmint once when we can continuously lean on women and children working for prominent clothing manufacturers using cheap, synthetic materials in third world countries. These new clothes are designed to wear out and/or be out of style in less than a year. Landfills aren’t going to fill themselves.

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Casey

      I wore my mother’s sealskin back in the day after she left this earth. Nobody has mentioned that fur coats are warm. Warm! Not only did it look luxurious but also I could conquer the world during the winter in that thing. She wore it every time we saw a snowflake here in the hinterlands. During the 70s before the woke woke up.

      Reply
  9. Skink

    Scott, you got me thinkin’. In The City, folks is 44% white, 27% Hispanic and 25% black or African-American. In my part of the Swamp, it’s 67% white, 21% Hispanic and 9% black or African-American. The average February daytime temperature in The City is 43 degrees. I know it don’t seem that way lately, but that’s what they say. Here in the Swamp, it’s 80.

    Homeless folks around here are mostly white–it goes with the population numbers. In The City, it’s more evenish. It’s clear it’s way better being homeless in 80 degrees than -4, so our white homeless guys do way better than your non-white homeless guys, and not just because our transplants from the Midwest are way and again nicer to folks than is the ones in The City.

    Weather is racist.

    Reply
  10. John Barleycorn

    Chop up the coat, at the tailor, and embrace your baby tractor. Have them sew up a pair of ear muffs for the Dr.

    It is important to stay warm when contemplating how much time you have lost, let alone have consciously left hanging in the closet over the last 30 years.

    I am a bit surprised you and the Dr. don’t get invited to Funk Parties…. or is it, you just don’t accept the invitations?

    P.S. Mepps Lures is still buying and trading squirrel tails- just like they were 30 years ago- if your suburban fur trapper- gets tired of waiting for the generational transfer. Never mind, I doubt you can even cook, let alone often light an open fire.

    What was the point of this post of yours again? You the fish rising to the lure? Or no invite?

    Reply
  11. JAMES A DOERTY

    I’m struggling with the site’s rules here. I really want to throw verbal (paint) on PETA. For many reasons. My street corner is one of those places where people with petitions hang out, confusing old retired guys on the way to their afternoon libation. Paid they are, not even minimum wage, to spout the most astonishing nonsense and get in the way.. Then there is the furry cuddly commercials on TV. I once fell for puppies in a street market in Kaoshung until somebody said the were food. Perhaps it is a bit questionable to catch and kill just for a head trophy but the trophy hunter dudes seem to go for endangered species so easy enough to hate them. . Does PETA think we shouldn’t breed animals? But I ramble. My real issue is foie gras . Where to begin this rant? I pick the evidence that the ancient Egyptians harvested geese too fat to fly for their delicious livers. Fat because back when the Nile delta was flush the geese migrated there, and ate and ate until until they couldn’t fly. So now the fowl farmers feed them into effortless stupor. Wear the coat. Eat the animals. Harvest with care.

    Reply
  12. Skink

    “I’m struggling with the site’s rules here.”
    “But I ramble.”
    “Where to begin this rant?”

    Do your own words have meaning to you?

    Reply

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