Daily Distraction: A former Abercrombie staffer on the brand as a microcosm for America

Writing in The Cut, Hannah Zaheer describes how the privilege of calling herself 'all-American' made her complicit in a system she didn't fully understand at the time

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
A model prepares to greet shoppers at Abercrombie & Fitch in New York.

In a recent essay for The Cut, Hannah Zaheer recalls the time she spent working as a sales associate for Abercrombie & Fitch as a 19-year-old freshly immigrated to North Carolina from Pakistan in the late '90s.

Zaheer's essay arrives on the heels of the new Netflix documentary, White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, a film that traces the, um, rise and fall of the New Albany-based company, which adopted exclusionary business practices in pursuit of its carefully tailored "all-American" image. (The brand has since taken responsibility for these practices in an Instagram post, which reads in part, “We own and validate that there were exclusionary and inappropriate actions taken under former leadership.”)

"Prejudice seemed to be coded into the 'all-American' model at Abercrombie & Fitch. I don’t know if I was hired because I was perceived to possess a not-too-brown look, though I don’t come close to presenting as white, or as the store’s token attempt at diversity. I do know that I was permitted to pass, provided I successfully flirted with the resident hottie in the front window, took no offense at Muslim-virgin jokes, understood that a touch or a grab here or there was an acceptable compliment, and mutely stood by if I saw or heard things that made me uncomfortable," Zaheer writes. "The privilege of calling myself 'all-American' made me complicit with a system that I did not fully understand and imprinted upon me values I would later reject. In a twisted way, I cannot think of a more appropriate orientation to America."

Read the entire essay here.