What a lovely treat on this Columbus Day — Blake Lively has premiered a new photo shoot on her lifestyle website Preserve, the theme of which is (hold onto your butts) the Antebellum South. Yes, that's right, an editorial glorifying that period when the South wished to secede from the Union so they could govern themselves and continue to own their slaves. And this feature is not even subtly, nor vaguely racist in its celebration of the south, in a mint-juleps-on-the-plantation-porch kind of way; it is literally titled "Allure of Antebellum" and celebrates southern culture because it "evokes an unparalleled warmth and authenticity in style and tradition." Maybe Lively thought the feature would go quietly unnoticed among the news of her pregnancy, but damn, girl: I see you. And so do other people of color, and this shit is not only offensive, it's downright oppressive.
Preserve describes all the romance and grandeur of that terrible blight on American history as such:
The term “Southern Belle” came to fruition during the Antebellum period (prior to the Civil War), acknowledging women with an inherent social distinction who set the standards for style and appearance. These women epitomized Southern hospitality with a cultivation of beauty and grace, but even more with a captivating and magnetic sensibility. While at times depicted as coy, these belles of the ball, in actuality could command attention with the ease of a hummingbird relishing a pastoral bloom... Embrace the season and the magic below the Mason-Dixon with styles as theatric as a Dixie drawl.
Yes, let's all just embrace slavery, shall we?! Sounds fun and harmless, not at all like when Paula Deen proclaimed that she dreamed of a plantation-themed wedding. So what makes Lively's blatant erasure of history any different than Deen's? It's an especially apt question on Columbus Day, an archaic holiday that still celebrates Christopher Columbus and his "discovery of the New World," aka the slaughter and appropriation of Native American peoples (a movement is growing to change the holiday to Indigenous People's Day). Lively's whitewashed and romanticized photo shoot — which showcases Southern Belle inspired styles: oversized coats, layers, big-ass hats — is simply put, dangerous.
If I sound incensed, it's because I sure as hell am. I'm tired of the wide-eyed "misunderstanding" of history that celebrities continue to perpetuate (recent offenders include Taylor Swift for her "Shake it Off" music video). The Preserve editorial is not an innocent misstep; it is a display of racism, whether Lively intended it to be so or not. I am guessing that she didn't set out to create something so disgusting, but when we discuss race relations, intent does not matter. The damage is still done.
Not only is the photo shoot "too soon," but it proliferates that same sense of blind patriotism that ignores the horrors committed against people of color, especially African Americans, in the history of the United States. There will never be a time when a photo shoot like this is acceptable. I ask the same question whenever something like this happens (which is quite often): Why wasn't she stopped? Not only is Lively responsible, but so anyone else who stayed silent when presented with the nasty phrase "Allure of Antebellum."
What is the allure, exactly? A longing for a simpler time when life was made easier by the disgusting oppression and dehumanization of black people? It cuts even deeper to know that Lively has such clout and influence on style, and she's a beloved star, so this will probably be excused. In a time when race relations in America are perhaps more tense than ever — this month is also #FergusonOctober to protest police brutality against people of color — how is this acceptable? On Monday morning, Cornel West was arrested for joining a peaceful sit-in in Ferguson, while Lively parades a vision of an ugly history, an erasure of the evils of slavery. Where is the justice?
Bustle has reached out for comment, but has yet to hear back.