In the 2022 Netflix documentary White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, millennial audiences are invited to walk down memory lane. The navel-gazing tune of “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit sparks nostalgia as we revisit our generation’s most coveted brand, Abercrombie & Fitch. This time, shocking truths are unveiled about its discriminatory marketing campaigns and hiring practices. Several former employees describe the brand’s celebrated “All-American” teenage look as exclusionary by design, especially for those who didn’t fit the look. The documentary recounts a 2004 class-action suit where many former employees of color accused the corporation of discriminating against them by preferentially offering positions to Caucasian males.
One former employee, Anthony Ocampo, wasn’t re-hired because there were “already too many Filipinos working at this store.” Jennifer Sheahan recounts being laid off with other Asian employees after a corporate representative observed the need for staff “who looked like the [white] Abercrombie models.” Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman, never had the chance to work at a store because she wore her Hijab to an interview.
The stories shared in the documentary dig deeper beyond the explicit discrimination and surface a certain feeling of uncertainty shared by many second-generation Asian Americans. It is that feeling of not being “American enough” to fit in and not Asian enough to relate to (or even participate in) their own culture. There is a word for this; it’s called Racial Imposter Syndrome. Popularized by a 2018 episode of the NPR podcast Code Switch, Racial Imposter Syndrome describes feelings of insecurity and self-doubt that arise when individuals' sense of their racial or ethnic identity doesn’t fit with how others perceive them. With a vague sense of belonging, they feel like an “imposter” trying to fit into a community that doesn’t fully accept them.