A white girl in blackface is not diversity

Story by Taylor Kuether, Managing Editor

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In a March 2013 fashion spread in Numero magazine titled “African Queen,” the model featured was 16-year-old, blue-eyed, blonde-haired Ondria Hardin. Hmm, sounds counterintuitive to feature a white girl in a fashion spread called “African Queen,” right? It gets so much worse: Hardin was in blackface.

Do I need to spell this out? WHY would a fashion magazine use a white girl in blackface rather than an actual black woman?

Despicably, this isn’t the first time the magazine has done this: In October, Numero used French model Constance Jablonski in a spread that featured her in an afro wig and dark makeup, toting a black toddler around. Wow, Numero, a black baby? Why didn’t you just use a white toddler in blackface? You use it egregiously everywhere else.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just one magazine. AnOther magazine recently featured white actress Michelle Williams on its cover, wearing traditional Native American dress.

This is already problematic in that the magazine is using traditional wardrobe in a way that has nothing to do with the garments’ intentional Native meaning but rather for costume. And I haven’t told you the worst part yet: Williams was in redface. Yes, her face was painted to make her look like a Native American.

Why are we using offensive, painted-on diversity rather than ACTUAL diversity? In the last fashion season, 968 models walked in a runway show at least once, according to StyleMinutes.com, a website that tracks models’ appearances in runway shows. Out of the 968 models, 848 were white women.

These runway shows are meant to showcase designers’ new collections, styles that will ultimately trickle down into affordable replications available at Target, Forever21, and wherever else we mere mortals shop.

If there’s no diversity at the top of high fashion, there’s no diversity to trickle down, and the world will continue to utilize predominantly white models for fashion at all levels.

By using only white models, the fashion industry is reiterating that only white is beautiful. We all know this isn’t true. Beauty comes in any and every color. And yet, white models are used as the standard of beauty and other races are peppered in as “exotic beauty.”

Can we stop exoticizing other skin colors? Being “exotic” inherently means being different from the norm, being rare and even strange. None of that definition reflects the world we live in: according to the most recent US census information, 63 percent of people in the United States are non-Latino white.

That’s a little more than half. I am part of that 63 percent, but I do not consider the other 37 percent “exotic.” By using non-white models so sparingly in the world of fashion and magazines, we are tokenizing their use as something special  and rare.

We need to get comfortable with diversity. I don’t want to look at a fashion spread and be pleasantly surprised to see a race other than white on the pages; rather, I don’t want to have any reaction at all. It should be the norm.

And I especially do not want to pick up a magazine and find a white person in black/red/yellowface has been substituted for an actual person of color. In a fashion spread titled “African Queen,” I want to see someone of African descent on the pages.

 

 

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