Written by: D’Shonda Brown
The #ShopBlack Interview Series is a new installation that shines light upon budding and booming Black-owned businesses ran by millennials and Gen-Z’ers who are heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Introducing America Hates Us, a Black owned brand sweeping the nation with its controversial apparel commentary that is just right for any person of color or marginalization group to wear on any given Caucasian holiday. AHUS has been featured in WWD, Bustle, Extraordinary Negroes, and more, so you can see how the word has spread around about this thoughtful Brooklyn-based brand. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Tareq G. Brown, AHUS Co-founder, Autumn Myers, AHUS’ media correspondent and lead writer, as well as the AHUS team as they dive deep into socioeconomics, the politics behind media and fashion, along with the importance and influence of hip-hop in their work for this special “Independence Day” interview.
First and foremost, thank you for taking the time out to answer these questions and speak to me about your brand. How was “America Hates Us” conceived, and how was it first received when it was released?
(Tareq): No problem and thank you for reaching out to us. Funny enough, it was conceived in a criminal courthouse in New Jersey. I had been wrapping up my clerkship at Passaic County Superior Court in Paterson when a friend called my cell. He had an idea. He ran a few successful clothing brands out of Brooklyn, and asked if I was interested in starting one with him. But different than his others. Fresh into my 30s, I reflected back to a younger me that once tried my hand at an apparel line, “Classy Dude”. It was a feeble attempt to say the least that never got off the ground. So his offer was a second opportunity for me, redemption for my 19-year-old self.
Outside of close friends and family, the reception was relatively quiet. Occasionally we’d get hate mail from white dudes, suggesting us Ni**ers go back to Africa, kill ourselves, or argue racism no longer existed in the country. We optioned for the grass-roots approach: strictly social media and word of mouth, and no payment to others to promote or wear our pieces. We started with three designs: Make America Hate Again trucker cap, Dick-tators tee (with the first names of notable dictators on the shirt) and Free Palestine tee (with the text written in Hebrew).
Things were quiet until election night, November 8, 2016. With everybody and their mama (except us) believing that HRC would win the election, piggybacking off the history made with its first Black President, the country was deeply disappointed. By happenstance, both interest and popularity in us grew. Immediately sales of two of our pieces (red trucker hat and Dick-tators tee) became a hot commodity.
We have people out here like Jordan Peele creating movies like Get Out and Us about systemic racism and the deterioration of the political state of America. How does your apparel deliver this same message to the masses?
(AHUS Team) Interesting you say, “deterioration”. Deterioration implies that the political state of America, at one point in history, was good. This mirrors the, “Make America Great Again” rhetoric that conservatives emblazon on their hats and shirts. We ask, when has the country (or its political state) ever been good/great? Further, who has it been great for? Not Blacks. Not Native Americans. Not womxn. Not those in LGBTQIA communities.
We love Peele. (Saw both films twice.) He’s remarkable and is making necessary contributions to highlight the state we’re in. The best thing you can do to your oppressor is point a mirror at them. And by oppressor we’re not referring to Klansmen, Proud Boys, anyone in The Whitehouse or any of the other 1000s of white supremacist groups out there. They’re lost. They don’t get an ounce of our energy. Instead, we point the mirror at the, “I’m not racist” folx. The ones knee deep in white privilege and believe not burning a cross or a Black church is adequate to be an ally. It isn’t. In fact, if you’re not practicing in anti-racism work daily, you’re part of the problem.
Our apparel serves dual functions. It communicates messages that we hold dear. Messages that are not new but have been expressed by Black and Brown voices for many generations. It also acts as an agent for sparking thought and conversation. Because there is nothing subtle about our designs, it either triggers disdain or general agreement/curiosity. Both reactions leave open the door for potential discussion. We, as a nation, skirt around such subjects like racism, misogyny, police brutality, homophobia and transphobia, etc. That idea of not rocking the boat or not making others feel uncomfortable is weak-sauce. Being comfortable has gotten us to where we are at.
Wow, I think I speak for everyone when I say your shit is bold! I mean, “Slap Your Local Racist” has got to me one of my faves from your line. How important is it to put a real voice and a real message behind a brand when curating it and developing a unique and loyal audience?
(Autumn) Thank you. It is essential to have an authentic voice because these are significant issues. You can’t fake the funk, especially with the loyal base we’ve grown. We are passionate about all the stances we take and our messages mirror real voices. But as we mentioned, these messages aren’t new. Folx have long been advocating against police brutality (Blue Lives Murder) and Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement (Believe Women) has been shared by millions over. Moreover, people resonate with things, issues that are familiar. The erasure of Black and Latinx stories (White Lies Matter) is nothing new. We’re simply producing designs with our audience in mind. Hence, it is a form of loyalty to our audience that we’re participating in. Paying attention to what they’re saying and covering their concerns in our designs.
Our realest design is Believe Women. The idea was conceived from interning, while in law school, at an anti-trafficking clinic in Manhattan for survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. They communicated that they feared no one would believe them and that prevented them from reporting assaults. Others shared, however, that when they reported, whether it be to family or law enforcement, they weren’t believed or taken seriously. Hence, we made the design with all of that in mind. It serves as a badge that for all who wear it, that we will believe survivors and not subject them to any further hardships.
In the hip-hop world, we’ve had many artists that touch upon racism, colorism, equality like Kendrick Lamar back to NWA. How do you feel about the current state of music is affecting our ability and crave for taking a stand against racist America? Do you think it’s encouraging us by putting the fire in our stomachs that we needed?
(AHUS Team) We feel the current state has had a huge effect. Just look at what happened to 21 Savage. He spoke some real shit (“been through some things, but I couldn’t imagine my kids stuck at the border”) and boom, like that, ICE was at his (car) door. Today’s artists do care and know the world is listening. The retaliation, being arrested on an expired visa, was disproportionate but also very Amerikan.
Moreover, plenty of artists have been vocal. The possibility of retaliation, however, likely curbs them from speaking more or curbs others from speaking at all. This in turn, likely affects their audiences that witness the bullshit and are impassioned more to champion behind the ones that are speaking up. Patrice Cullors, of Black Lives Matter, and others were instrumental in the petition against 21’s deportation. They understood he is more than just an artist. They recognized he is a man that was instrumental to his community. He also has a family that he provided for and to rip him away from his family (also very Amerikan) was a demonstration of anti-Blackness.
How has hip-hop culture influenced the birth of “America Hates Us”?
(Autumn) Greatly. We are a collection of 80s/90s babies. Brought up on Wu-Tang, NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, Pac and Biggie. Hip-hop has always been the CNN for what’s happening within the Black community. For as long as we can remember, these artists and groups painted a very raw image of everyday life for most. In the early 2000s, the culture took a brief pause on the messaging for equality. However, as social media grew more as a primary news source for injustice, the genre once again welcomed in new artists to be these truth tellers of injustices in marginalized communities. Hip-hop has always been our way of protesting against uncivil treatment. Because hip-hop is both multifaceted and profound, we had to be that same way with our messages.
What’s next for your brand and how can we expect to see it flourish and expand over the next couple of years?
(AHUS Team) Currently, we’re teaming up with some really dope folx out of Los Angeles on a project for the homeless. Although pervasive homelessness in the country cannot be remedied overnight, we are doing our part to offer as much humanity to those we often forget and ignore. We’ve also partnered up with Frederick T. Joseph (the man behind The Black Panther Challenge), making him our brand’s first ambassador. Fred does amazing work and we are honored to officially have him on the AHUS Team.
Lastly, we flourish because of follower support and encouragement. Yes, it’s great when folx shop on our website, too (americahates.us/shop) but that alone doesn’t keep the engine going. Flooding our DMs and inboxes with kind notes motivates us to do more. It inspires us that we’re heading in the right direction. Reading that we may have put someone on, or debunked a toxic myth once believed or made someone’s day better makes everything we do worth it.
AHUS can be found on Instagram, @AmericaHatesUs and, you can also shop their apparel now available for purchase online at americahates.us/shop . Autumn M. can be found on Instagram at @itsautumn.