Before anything went “viral,” the “It’s a Black Thing. You Wouldn’t Understand” T-shirt went viral. During my ’90s college years, everyone I knew had one or wanted one, or had an opinion about the message—whether the T-shirt was simply cotton printed with words, an emblem of black pride, or a divisive tool that should be banned in schools. You could see it at historically black colleges and universities, and it was sold on street corners or in stores that peddled leather Africa medallions, black soap, essential oils, and mixtapes.
Decades later, I still have my “It’s a Black Thing” T-shirt as apparel–artifact. I bought one secretly at a black expo, despite my parents’ objections; they thought it would attract undue and unfriendly attention in my Southern hometown (and they were right), but I thought I was grown, and I liked it.
Since then, other shirts with something to say have made their way into my wardrobe: at least three #BlackGirlMagic selections; an “Unapologetically Black” shirt from Black Youth Project 100; a 10-year-old “Black Nerds Unite” shirt; and a vintage purple jawn that features an iron-on decal (remember them?) of a melaninated Barbie with a Farrah Fawcett–style winged hairdo. And I’m not bragging or anything, but I do have a #BlackGenius one, too. Each one declares some facet of my identity: Black, female, bookish, quirky, unconcerned with dressing up, and more than happy to wear my support of Black institutions across my chest.