Read Janelle Monáe's Defiant Speech About How Growing Up Working Class Shaped Her Iconic Fashion

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It’s already been a pretty huge year for Janelle Monáe. Not only did she have roles in two critically-acclaimed and Oscar-nominated films (one of which won best picture, mind you), but her activism has been getting bigger and bigger platforms. Last night at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards, she was recognized for her efforts and delivered a powerful speech about how growing up working class shaped her iconic fashion sense and her politics.

Monáe was honored by the CFDA Board of Directors, alongside Gloria Steinem and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, for her work with the Women’s March back in January. After Gloria Steinem discussed the history of gender roles and the importance of reproductive rights and Cecile Richards doubled down on Planned Parenthood’s motto to “care no matter what,” Monáe discussed how her family shaped her iconic fashion, her grassroots organization Fem the Future, and what women’s rights really means. As quoted by Vogue, she told the audience:

My relationship with fashion—and this is one of my favorite events to come to, this is my second year—began with my music as a way of paying homage to my working class family. As a kid I had to get very creative because my parents could not afford the latest fashion, so as you know in the video, my mother was a janitor, my father was a trash collector, and my stepfather, just like my dad, worked at the post office and they worked really hard to provide for my sister and me and they they wore those uniforms proudly, they helped build this country. They served their community with such great pride and I stand here in my black and white giving honor to them. The idea of being a part of something much greater than me has always motivated my decision-making.


As I think about that historical moment at the Women’s March and I was scared—when you have thousands of people looking at you and saying, ‘Yeah! Give us something, give us some answers!’ But as I think about that march in Washington, I am reminded of all of those faces that I saw, I saw so many people from different walks of life: young, old, gay, straight. I saw different religious backgrounds, it didn’t matter because they were together as human beings, and that’s the one thing that left with me. I’m reminded that human beings, as human beings, it is going to be our responsibility to take care of one of another.


Women’s rights are human rights. LGBTQ rights are human rights. Poor folks’ rights are human rights. Immigrant rights are human rights. Minority rights are human rights. So as human beings, let us never forget that none of us are free until all of us are free.


She explained that she never wanted to be a politician because “artists get to be honest, we get to tell it like it is through our work,” and implored the crowd to stand with her to speak out against sexism, racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia.

We’re not worthy of the ArchAndroid that is Janelle Monáe, but congrats to her anyway.

Isha is a staff reporter who covers pop culture, representation in media, and your new faves.

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