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Must be the Company


Note: I know the spacing around the photos is crappy. Every edit eats the line breaks.



I’m part of the Black Milk clothing fandom. The neat thing about BM is that they do all of their marketing by social media, through their fans—they spend nothing on advertising, as far as I know. It’s all by word of mouth: by FB share, Instagram selfies, and any other love-and-share tool. A few months ago they had a PR fiasco:

Click to read

For a socially-driven company, you’d think they wouldn’t make such obvious blunders.

The marketing head, Cam, rectified this error and fully apologized for it. The current problem is that while the main page is now better run, the problems that led their social media team to make this error are still fully entrenched in their officially sanctioned community groups. Those groups are what BM promotes as their selling point: it’s not just clothing you’re buying, you’re also becoming part of this community. We even have a name for ourselves: sharkies. Even though they are officially sanctioned groups, no professional from the company oversees the groups—they’re run by fan volunteers who have no training and no guidelines other than their own judgement. That judgement has turned out to be extremely poor, the same that led to the May fiasco by the company itself.

I have found many good friends and wonderful people in those groups. The problem is that the moderators answer to no one but themselves, and they conduct much of their business behind the scenes with zero transparency to the rest of the community–completely counter to marketing head Cam’s statements on what makes a good company. A recent incident made it abundantly clear that it’s like this in the whole community, that it’s not a single sour group as I’d originally thought. I’m going to go through the important bits of the incident rather than slogging through the entire slimepit of the thread. For those with access, the thread has not been deleted and is still standing last I checked. Going forward here, black are problematic comments, red are okay (for my purposes here, not necessarily deeming them angelic), and moderators/admins are in green regardless of what they say.

The original post, screenshot #1.

The original post, screenshot #1.

Posts like this—political, current events, opinion—have been popping up more frequently. Most of the groups are not restricted to just company-related topics. There’s nothing wrong with discussing these things. The problem is the type of people these topics always attract, and the way that bad admins choose to handle souring situations. You can see it’s already started going downhill not five comments after the original post.

The first point of trouble, not five minutes in.

The first point of trouble, not five comments in.

“Not to be racist.” Nothing said after that phrase is ever acceptable. Let’s have a look, though.

This person says a bunch of baldly racist things, and then claims they’d never say such things—but, obviously, just did. Remember, now, these community groups are worldwide. There’s no restrictions on who can be in them—and this particular one is not a local or country group. Thus this person doesn’t even have the defense that they wouldn’t say it to a covered Muslim’s face, because it’s highly likely that there’s covered Muslims in the group reading this thread. They wear clothes just like you do.

I find it interesting that this person isn’t afraid of the current fashion obsession with tunics, ponchos, trench coats, and parkas/hoodies. Those, of course, are all white people’s clothes, not associated with a particular race. Not to mention that Christianity has nuns who wear bilious habits and all manner of Christian priests who wander through hospitals in similar giant robes. There’s no mention of fear there. The truly obvious isn’t mentioned until a full day later: that when talking to people over the internet, you can’t see anybody’s face and you could be talking to anybody making any claims with no way to verify anything. With all the cyber crime and identity theft lately, surely this person knows that physical distance means nothing. Even in person, it’s not like being able to see a face is helpful in judging intentions. Nobody has magical face recognition powers, where one look gives you the name and social security number of the person you’re looking at. It often doesn’t give you reliable descriptive powers. Seeing a face is a psychological comfort, like a child holding a favorite stuffed animal—and these people know this. They know there’s no real safety to be had. Yet it’s another three hours before anyone suggests banning only Muslim coverings is unfair, that instead we should ban all face coverings, including Halloween masks. Still no one suggests banning nuns’ habits, restricting priests in hospitals, banning tunics and ponchos—because Christian clerics and white women don’t mean any harm, but Muslim people…oops, that’s racist.

I state these things not to argue with those people but to make the point that in no way are these statements “neutral” or “just opinion”. These are not acceptable things to be saying in a “safe space” group.

Admins stepping in.

Admins stepping in just after the first racist comment.

Just after that first obviously racist comment, the admins step in to remind everyone to be respectful. They recognize that it’s racist; you don’t step in when people are having a congenial discussion. You’d think that this was a warning to cease the racism. As the thread goes on, though, it’s quite clear that the admins don’t mind the blatant racism at all—what they’re doing is to make sure that nobody calls the bigots “names”, ie, “bigots”. That’s “being negative”, and this group is all about “positivity”. The mods copied these tactics right out of the awful playbook BM used during its May PR disaster.

I'm a modern-day Cassandra.

I’m a modern-day Cassandra.

Black Milk and its fans are far from the only clique on the block. I can find thousands of online communities better than this. Living in fear is not something I’m going to fight for.

Deja vu.

All but calling Muslim women blood-thirsty monsters is perfectly acceptable though. Describe the thing but don’t say the name. Are we in kindergarten?: “Mommy said stop touching, and I’m not touching you! [as the child waggles his finger a micron from his sister’s face] Still not touching you!”

Google “bathroom panic“.

It’s apparently necessary to explain the very basics of etiquette. I’d thought it was just the USA that was this embarrassingly ignorant and transphobic. And if you’re going to claim that refers to rape, let’s take a minute to recognize that no matter what country you’re in, at least 80% of sexual crimes are done by your nearest and dearest, not the mythical stranger in a bush. Men don’t need to hide to do violence to women. Society lets them do it because “boys will be boys”. Not to mention there’s this thing called makeup and a dress that lets anyone be feminine if that is their desire. You don’t need a special mask.

I’m ashamed to say that not one person called out this comment. Not the admins, who are well aware that BM wants to market to men, and who full well know that there are a number of male sharkies. Not to mention our trans fans. You’d never know they were trans unless they told you, and they’re not likely to do that given the atmosphere. You’d never know if the person in a selfie had a penis unless they told you (and remember, people assigned male at birth can identify as a woman, so having a penis doesn’t mean they’re male):

Laverne Cox, assigned male at birth. You’d never know.

You scared? The BM community welcomes you wholeheartedly. But then again, the company itself is actively recruiting these scary people who like to dress in “women’s” clothes. Which do you believe, the company who wants to sell to you or its fans who think you’re a monster?

This is not the kind of community I want to be in. This is not what I signed up for. It’s blatantly obvious that the rot I’d encountered in other groups was not a one-off incident, but rather indicative of the core values and basic ethics of all group admins. Lack of ethics, I should specify. Remember, these are officially sanctioned groups. Does that mean these fan volunteers are acting with the full backing of the company? Or does the company not know that things like this are happening? I’d hope it’s the latter, but given they’re five years old, I highly doubt they don’t know.

This is not the kind of community a lot of other people signed up for, either. It’s toted as a welcoming safe space, but it’s not. Most of the groups will kick you out for so much as suggesting BM has done wrong. I was kicked out of a previous group for that; I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently my notifications list those remarks as my last comments there.

Are we in kindergarten?

The other group I was kicked out of was because I had stated that a “sexy” photo—a professional model shot, not one of any member, and I can’t seem to locate a copy—didn’t look particularly sexy because it was clear that her clothing was far too small. This was the same group whose members were too afraid to speak up about the May disaster for fear of being kicked out. The photo clearly showed the dreaded quad-boob from a too-small bra and those ripples that clothes get when they’re stretched too much. Other people agreed with me.

This was called body shaming. Seriously? Since when is stating that the clothes don’t fit “shaming”? The only way that’s shaming is if you believe that being above a certain size is gross: “I’m a size small! I’m not a size large! I’m not I’m not I’m not!” Cue foot stamping. You can look perfectly sexy in any clothes, whether they’re a large or a small. Claiming you have to wear a small, that you can’t be sexy in a size large, is shaming.

On the upside, I now understand why social justice has a reputation of being oversensitive: a lot of people lack the judgement to tell the difference between actual meanness and value-neutral statements. It’s your own judgement being projecting onto that model, and that says quite a lot about how these supposedly “body positive” groups view bigger people. It also gave further support to my criticism that BM isn’t intending to make bigger sizes available—the criticism that got me kicked out of the first group. I wasn’t sad to leave either group.

You can’t post a photo for discussion and then ban people for civilly disagreeing with your opinion. That’s actually what the admins claimed to be policing in the bigot thread, remember? Remember all those people banned by BM for civil discussion of the May incident?

Admins stepping in.

Apparently this “respect” only applies if the admins agree with your “differing opinion”.

BM had been known to employ shady bans for criticism on its company page in previous years, and apparently the community groups had always done that. Still do that, it’s just that nobody can call them on it because most people don’t see this coming, and so don’t have the screenshots to back it up.

This was almost three years ago. They had a history of shady bans, which came to a head this May.

This was almost three years ago. They had a history of shady bans, which came to a head this May.

The rot might be gone from the company fan page, but the community groups are still infested with it.

The stupidity on the Muslim bigot thread just kept getting worse. I knew this was the dealbreaker: I was going to ditch the community. I wasn’t interested in trying to “fix” any of this, not with the horrendous bigotry that was allowed to stand while the mods had banned so many people for far smaller infractions. Knowing I was leaving, I didn’t bother to mince words or play their “I’m not touching you” kindergarten games.
me 14
The people who’d prompted this were well aware that they had a personal problem, that their fears were completely unfounded. They still insisted that they be allowed to force other people to conform to their whim. Keep in mind that this is far beyond the “reasonable accommodation” granted by law for actual debilitating phobias.
If I could have forced others to cater to my fears, I’d have just had a bunch of people tossed from CMU. Problem solved. Not to mention my fears are based in reality, not spun out of a bigot’s imagination. The current Title IX violations across the country would have never happened.

A couple comments later, that particular bigot backtracked after being piled on by a few other people.
binky backtrack
But they dove right back into bigotry by the end of the thread on the next day, and created offense where there was none. Here, another member is pointing out why certain statements—making it very clear that it’s the statements, not the people—are not nice. The person takes offense anyhow.
return bigot
Can’t call bigots bigots, that’s negative namecalling. This is the kind of people that the BM community groups are increasingly attracting. I’ve heard that the main groups, the huge discussion group and the larger country groups, are nothing but catty whining and bitchiness. No thank you. And now we have proof it’s in every group, so this can’t be blamed on it being hard to moderate bigger groups.
convo 15
It’s just that Muslim members don’t deserve the same respect as everyone else, and therefore we can treat them like terrorists without calling that the “disrespect” it is. It’s just an “opinion”, yo, totally harmless bro, not at all bigotry. The mods, however, deserve unquestioned devotion and therefore you can’t call them bigoted assholes even when that’s the behavior they’re modelling. Makes you wonder if these people would allow black members to be discussed as “those disgusting wastes of tax dollars” or a gay members as “backward devil worshippers”. After all, that’s just an opinion, it’s not at all a personal judgment of anyone in the group, not a personal attack, and all opinions must be respected. We’ve already decided that Muslim women are blood thirsty monsters; why not branch out to other minorities? Perhaps that’s why I’ve never seen many sharkies of those two groups, let alone seen many minorities at all—and perhaps that’s why these “opinions” are left to stand untouched.

me 14 2

The Disney ban spree was BM’s PR disaster discussed earlier, at the beginning of this post. It’s ironic that the admins are pulling the same moves they were so upset with the official company page for doing.

And if we’re going to nitpick rhetoric and intentions such that bigots aren’t bigots, then at least acknowledge the real facts of what you’re claiming was “name calling”: the *notion*, which is an idea, of being afraid was called childish, and “psychological tantrum” describes an irrational, personal fear, which is exactly what a panic attack is and is exactly what said panic-haver described their fear as. That particular bigot even turned around to say exactly that, as discussed earlier.

Let’s put forth a more relevant example and see just how far their selective enforcement goes.
mel 17
There’s one of the people personally affected by these “opinions”. And there again, nothing is said about “people who negatively judge others based on fear-mongering stereotypes”, aka bigots. Kindergarten games.

All throughout this, there’s kindergarten nastiness and the mods cautioning people to “be nice” and asking anyone who’s “bothered” to talk to them privately.
defense 18
Someone else finally said it. I’m not delusional, this really is happening. Let’s make this relevant to the group we’re in, a group specifically made for larger ladies.
It’s clear to everyone in the thread that this is not my opinion, that this is stated for demonstration purposes. I wouldn’t be in this group if that’s what I actually thought. Duh. Not to mention that’d be a truckload of self-hatred.
Apparently it wasn’t clear to the admins, who are supposed to be paying attention to the people they’re ragging on, who are supposed to make sure they understand what’s going on before they go off on a member. It’s enough for them that they just don’t like you, though. Coherence and logic don’t matter, as we’ve seen.


The bottom comment here is flat out ironic. “Without considering others”? Who on earth may have been doing that? And since when is human rights an “opinion”?

Called it. On both that they’d get upset over making the “opinions” relevant to them and that they’d go behind the scenes to make everything “all better”, to make themselves look in the right: both of these were posted after they’d kicked me out. This is unacceptable behavior from people who are supposed to be peacekeepers. This is literally them getting upset over my yelling at them to stop while they continue to spew hate.

Seriously. Kindergarten.

They then went on to pretend that nothing happened, that they didn’t escalate the situation and fail to do their job, and failed to report to the group that they’d banned me. If I was so disruptive, there’s no reason to hide behind the scenes.

Remember we’ve just gone through a whole day of people being bigots, saying nasty things, and the admins defending them while harping on the people calling the bigots for what they are. Yet they pretend that none of this happened, that my calling them out came out of the blue during a nice Southern tea party. They’ve now established that anyone who calls bigotry for what it is, is not welcome here—they’re literally siding with bigots against their targets. That standing up against bigotry is “being negative”, while bigotry itself is acceptable. These are the people representing Black Milk’s company. These are the people setting the tone and values for the community that BM wholly relies on to sell its product. It’s only natural to conclude that the company itself holds these same values: bigotry, childishness, and meanness.

I guarantee you there won’t be any more fighting in this thread. The bigots’ status is affirmed, they’ve beaten down their detractors, and that’s all they ever want. The next time bigotry pops up, they’ll proudly state their “opinions”, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be expelled. It’s their victims who’re on the chopping block if they dare to defend their basic human rights.

The mods later messaged me privately and tried to justify why they banned me, referring to both the “naughty words” I’d used and for failing to be properly deferential to the admins who were defending bigots. Sounds a lot like what everyone was up in arms about when the official company page pulled the same thing.

They incriminated themselves and neatly proved my point that this rot is entrenched everywhere, so I’ll share those messages. They keep referencing that I’d been banned from other groups “for the same thing”, as if that somehow supports their assertion that I’m “disruptive” and “disrespectful”. Seriously? You’ve just admitted that you agreed with and still support every previous instance of your poor judgement. My behavior? I’ve talked numerous people out of committing suicide and talked my way out of being expelled by a hostile college administration that was intent on covering up their own illegal behavior, including my assault. I was made the mod for another fashion group after I’d doubled the size of the group. Check, check, check. I’ve fixed a lot of things other people couldn’t. It seems that “my” problems only occur around BM admins. I can’t imagine why that is.

Cam is the head of marketing at BM.

Cam is the head of marketing at BM.

They just keep doubling down. Over and over. I neatly lay out chance after chance to redeem themselves, but they can’t catch on and just keep on confirming exactly what they stand accused of. As I state at the end, this is not the behavior of people who are minimizing disruption—it’s the behavior of bullies and people with poor judgement who are trying to defend themselves when they’re caught red handed. This is far from the protocol you want in a community that you promote as part of your company.

I’m done with the “officially sanctioned” communities. Was I overly caustic? Eh. Not when you consider that I was responding to flaming bigotry. This is not a research project on company culture; this is my personal life. I’d not have even bothered saying anything if I hadn’t known there were people affected who couldn’t speak up for fear of the same petty vengeance I suffered.  If this bridge burned because of that, so be it. As I said back in May, I’d rather know what kind of people I’m dealing with than sit in the dark.

I’m not selling off my clothes; they’re just clothes. They don’t hold sentimental attachment. I am considering not buying anything more, even if they did come out with the rainbow bright skater I’ve wanted for forever. Anything bought now would be tainted with the knowledge of these attitudes behind the company. Ick, ew. No. I’m not wearing that nastiness.

I’ll give the community one last shot: several of us have started a true safe space, not just nominally safe. You can evaluate my judgement as a moderator yourself with this post. If you too want a safe space, want to be part of the community without all the skulduggery, we’re making that happen at the Black Milk Sharkie Sanctuary.

bodyscape banner
What’s the end game of all this? People should know what they’re getting into if they’re here for more than just the clothes. The people already there should know what their admins have done behind the facade that everything’s dandy. I’d also like to know whether the official BM company stands behinds its mods’ actions. Is this how you want it run? Are these the transphobic, Islamophobic, childish values that you wish to associate with your company? Do your partner brands want to be associated with this—Harry Potter, Star Wars, Doctor Who, LOTR? Is this princess-like behavior, Disney? Is this how you want your fans to be treated?

You’d think they’d have gotten all the rot back in May and not just hid it under the carpet, but here it is again. Get all of it this time. Show us you’re better than this.


2014/11/17: The real problem here isn’t that this happened. It’s that BM markets itself as a social company–its fans are its representatives. Of course all companies will have viciously bigoted customers and ones with suspicious ethics. But non-social companies aren’t represented by their fans, and therefore they must police only their employees. If a few fans decide to hold a neonazi rally with a Nike logo plastered everywhere, Nike isn’t responsible for that. Even then the company would be quick to denounce that behavior because they know how people think. When a social company’s fan representatives do the same thing, those people aren’t given that pass–they’re seen to speak for the brand. Being a social company means that your “superfans” are now just as accountable for your image as your own company employees. For BM, the behavior of their untrained, unprofessional moderators who allowed bigotry to stand now appears to have the backing of the company itself.

Nothing has been done about this behavior, neither on the mods’ part nor on the other members’ part. Given it’s been over a month, I’d wager nothing will be done. BM apparently does not mind being associated with bigotry and deliberately obtuse behavior. At least take the “official” designation off of those cesspools. That would remove most of the accountability and  responsibility. Every brand has its own fan page and online communities, but they’re smart enough to only officially acknowledge the pages they control and have professional moderators for. Everywhere else is given the well-known caution of “don’t read the comments”, if any other community is even officially acknowledged. Most companies won’t, for exactly this reason. Official gaming communities have yet to solve the cesspool problem. Just as the gaming community has a hostile reputation, this too reinforces a callous demeanor for BM. They’ve been known for it in the past; it came to a head this May, and it still runs wild just under the surface.

I won’t say don’t buy from them. It’s only clothes, and those are lovely. This is a PR blunder, like having a friend who won’t apologize for stomping on your designer shoes. Just don’t expect any more ethics from BM than you would any other company despite their facade to the contrary. It’s a great marketing tactic up until stuff like this happens, at which point you lose your capital with a lot of your original fans and morph into yet one more label indistinguishable from all the others.

2015/01/25: For being an online retailer, BM doesn’t put adequate descriptions of its products on the site. Sizing can change, it’s inconsistent between products, there’s no charts for the different types of products–all very basic information you’d expect. You can email customer service, but that takes days to respond, they might misinterpret the question, they might not get back to you in time. The only way to get adequate information is to be a part of these communities.

You have to put up with people yelling at you for “asking repetitive questions”, for “not asking in the correct format”, in the correct place, on and on. There’s so many rules you have to follow just to ask a basic question. People have been kicked out for these things. So, not only do you have to be a part of these communities, you also have to invest idiotic amounts of time in them in order to not be expelled so that you can maintain your access. These barriers are a crappy way to run a company, especially when they don’t police them appropriately and allow nasty bile like the above to poison it. Either you wade through this crap or you don’t get vital information about the clothes. BM has recently announced some new products, and I’ve realized that I really don’t care to go through all these hoops just to get information that should be on the dang site in the first place. It’s not worth the time. It’s certainly not worth having to wade through a feeding frenzy with open season on everyone who isn’t the embodiment of a slim white teeny-bopper sorority girl.

They’ve also said that they aren’t going to add any more “official” groups. That means they won’t have a staff person contact the admins to make official announcements. Making a new group like I’ve tried to do here is now pointless, because you will not be given the necessary connection to be part of the community. It’s their ugliness or nothing. Easy choice for me.

2015/04/17: BM is changing the format of their releases and how they handle distributing information. They’ve said that all the info, question answering, and interaction will be done via their FB page, not through the groups. It looks like the group participation won’t be necessary anymore to get vital information.

2015/05/18: It seems that several of the groups have changed admins. I’ve been unblocked in all but the original, main discussion group. Not sure when that happened, but today FB started suggesting those groups to me again so I’m assuming it was fairly recently.

2015/05/21: The fan page hides comments they “don’t like”, such as any asking for bigger sizes–which is something they’ve promised for years. Many of the other fans comment in body-negative ways, and BM will like those comments–to the shame of the person who made the request. They haven’t changed at all, and arguably have gotten worse. They’ve just found better ways to get away with it instead of being stupidly blatant about it, as they had been historically. You get the same response from customer service if you ask them to fix an item that they’ve insisted hasn’t been changed, wasn’t sent to you wrong, but for some reason doesn’t fit you when everything else like it does.

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