Black faces, white fashion and ‘Blackface’

Oh my. So, there I was, sitting innocently in my room, thinking we were living in progressive times in less offensive times. Heck, was I wrong. Updating myself on all fashion-nonsense I stumbled across this (okay, you may have already seen it – and beware, it ain’t ‘pretty’):

“Huh?!” you probably go (well, I did), thinking: “are they shitting me?” Yep, that’s actually what they do.
Over at isatrends.at I read that 8.6% of the models booked during New York Fashion Week were black or women of color. That is a whopping percentage of models who were/are white. Now mind you, we might just wonder: “Oh, how come anybody could think then, that white models don’t get enough work?” Yeah, exactly, who would ever…? Apparently the folks over at Numero thought so. Poor white models.
Got an idea: let’s paint her black, but not really. More like: give her an afro-wig, tan her skin very (very) dark. Oh, and make it look like she’s the mum of a black baby. But yeah, not that anyone would mistake her for a real black woman.  Because that would be….? Eermh, yeah. I’m at a loss.
Numero folks apparently go to great lenghts to not hire a black model, all the while wanting to represent what they imagine to be black. Let me put it like this: They are not exactly coming down from their high horse of white privilege and cultural assumption, they rather take a wild ride on it (probably hoping no one will notice). Actually, they probably didn’t think about that at all, which makes it even scarier. Everybody like: “Hey, you know what would be fun…” and no single person coming like “ermh, maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all….”

Is this Blackface (which you can learn about here, here, here and here) is the question attached to these photos floating around the internet. Yep, I say, it is. It’s ridiculously offensive. Can’t you just hear them say: “Nah, it’s not Blackface, cause we portray her in a positive way as a mother…” yadda yadda. No, it is Blackface, because you once again refuse to let a model of color be the center of your editorial in a world where structural racism is rampant. There is a history of Blackface, appropriation of cultural signs without understanding any of the content of the code, and white privilege that is still continuing to structure our everyday lives. And you do nothing about it, probably boasting how the spread celebrates diversity, without resulting in any real diversity at all, spitting in the face of those, who’d like to be your diverse model, but are not, cause you chose to portray diversity with a white model. That’s so astoundingly off the track for anyone who pays attention to the racist structures that we live in, it makes me want to scream.

And puhleaze, don’t give me any of the “she’s not black, only tanned” crap. There is no denying that everthing about her outfit and make-up implies screams “supposed to be black” or “ethnically other” (cause obviously Numero does not count on a readership of color. How…uh…diverse…?), it’s not just meant to be cute. At least not in the meta-kind-of-way.
Of course, it is very intruiging to have a look at what we can do with our body and its image. It is interesting to assume a different appearance, dye our hair, apply make-up and whatnot. But just because all of that is connected to outward appearance does not mean that it doesn’t come with cultural baggage attached. It would be perfectly fine to do so, if we lived in a world where black models get as many jobs as white models, where black people are not harrassed, oppressed and bullied by white people, and where black people could just as easily apply white makeup and pose like a white person without invoking and reinscribing practices of whitewashing or being brutally reminded of centuries of oppression and ridicule. Mhm, we don’t live in this world, so I’d say: “No.”

To end this post on a more positive note I’ll give you a shoot that features a black woman. This shoot is gorgeous, I love the styling and the model’s look, there are two three issues though: Curiously, this shoot appeared in the L’UOMO VOGUE, the Italian Vogue magazine for men, which makes sense in that it’s about tuxedos (and is actually cool in a gender-bending sort of way), but could make us ask if women of color are not considered to be woman enough to appear in the issue targeting females (though admittedly, I don’t know who got featured in the women’s issue). Ironically, this shoot is by the same photographer – Greg Kadel – who shot the editorial that I dissected above. Urgh. And unfortunately, I’m unable to find the model’s name anywhere in the magazine. Does anyone know?

Secondly, the shoot is called black and white etiquette, obviously a pun, since the clothing is all black and white, all the photos are shot in black and white and… yeah, and. The model is black and the audience is apparently imagined to be white. While this also leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to some extent, it is also kinda cool in that it explicitly highlights the issue and makes the reader aware of the different layers of meaning. So, yay … ?

Notice two things here in the last picture: I am a horrible photographer and didn’t even manage to adjust the colors to match the other photos and they used the same picture twice within this spread. Ermh, okay. Blame the economy.

(c) of the pictures: 1st shoot – Numero magazine, 2nd shoot – L’uomo Vogue, all shot by Greg Kadel

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3 thoughts on “Black faces, white fashion and ‘Blackface’

  1. Also die ersten Fotos sind wirklich furchtbar. Wobei ich ihnen eher eine Geschmacklosigkeit und Intelligenzminderung attribuiere. als tatsächliche Intention. Leider handelt es sich da einfach um ein Business, wo der Trend alle Mittel heiligt. Ähnlich ging es mir im Sommer hier in Berlin zur FW, wo alle meinten schwarze Albino-Modells wären das Coolste und der letzte Schrei überhaupt…..Da der Kontext in dem Mode konsumiert wird primär keinen multimodalen (politisch,gesselschaftlich, intelektuell) Diskurs enthält ist der Frust darüber aber eigentlich auch wieder inadäquat….simpel gesagt: bringt bei den Holzköpfchen eh nichts sich darüber zu ärgern was sie da frabriziert haben.

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