*The fashion spread "African Queen" initially ran in February 2013, however it's rearing it's ugly head on social media, and you know me, I had to go in on it.*
Images: StyleBistro.com - See full spread HERE
Ajak Deng. Alek Wek. Arlenis Sosa. Chanel Iman. Danielle "Dani" Evans. Georgie Badiel. Iman. Jessica White. Joan Smalls. Jourdan Dunn. Kimora Lee Simmons. Liya Kibede. Lyndsey Scott. Naomi Campbell. Selita Ebanks. Sessilee Lopez. Tyra Banks. Yasmin Warsame. Ubah Hassan.
19. Nineten stunningly beautiful black models. Models that have rocked the catwalk for everyone from Valentino to Victoria's Secret. Nineteen black models, all ranging in color, from sun kissed gold to the most beautiful ebony black hue you've ever laid eyes on. From just starting out in their career, to veterans in the game.
I didn't have to look hard to find those 19 models. Do a Google search for "black models" and these images are second on the list. So if I didn't have to look hard - little old me sitting at my desk in Arizona - if I didn't have to look hard, why was it so hard for Numero magazine to find a black model for their African Queen spread ?
In February 2013, Numero magazine ran a photo spread of a young white model in black face, and titled it "African Queen". Yes. You read that right. Young white model. Black face. 2013. Chew on that for a moment. We (black women) must be in short supply all around the globe because they had to come aaaaaalllllll the way from FRANCE to NORTH CAROLINA to find Ondria Hardin, a (then) 16 year old white model, and put her in thinly veiled black face (or as they're calling it - "bronzer") to portray their African Queen. Don't believe me? I present to you Numero Magazine's "African Queen":
Ok. In the words of DJ Kool - Let me clear my throat.
I refuse to take anything away from Ms. Hardin. She is a beautiful girl, with a crazy successful future ahead of her. Also, models rarely, if ever, know how or where their images will be used. Their job is to pose for pictures in beautiful clothes, and that is exactly what she did. Kudos to her for showing up and doing her job flawlessly.
Numero magazine and the photographer? Gimme a freakin' break! To try and apologize their way out of it by blaming the photographer, and the photographer saying he didn't know what the title was going to be (see ABC coverage where the finger pointing happens here) - well that's a: adding insult to injury, and b: just plain irresponsible. As the editors, how did they see this and think "Wow - this is great! Run it!" ? As the photographer, how did he snap pictures of this model in black face and say "Wow - that's beautiful! Keep posing!" ? Maybe neither the editors or the photographer descend from a race that has such a painful and horrifying history. Is it because they don't care? Was it a 2 hour lapse in judgement during makeup application, another 2 hour lapse in judgement during shooting, followed by another 2 hour lapse in judgement during the issue layout meeting? Is it because they deem black women useless and unpretty and a million other "un" things I'm too annoyed to think up right now? I don't know. I have no idea. But I do know irresponsible work when I see it.
It is bad enough that we have fashion magazines telling young girls that they are too EVERYTHING: too skinny, too fat, too pale, too dark, hair is too long, hair is too short, nose is too big, chin is too small, etc, etc, etc. However, it seems that with this spread, Numero magazine has walked away from the "too" conversation, and just simply said "we don't want you". If a young black girl in France was wondering if she could make it in the modeling business, Numero just gave her their answer: Nope. Not with us you can't.
However, it is important to note that it's not just print media erasing us from the general landscape of "art".
I've been watching memorable television since I was 4 years old, and by memorable I mean television that I remember looking at and thinking "she looks like me - kinda". *Memorable shows: The 80's - The Jeffersons, Gimme A Break, What's Happening, The Cosby Show, 227, Good Times, A Different World; The 90's - Fresh Prince of Bel Air, In Living Color, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, Family Matters, Martin, Sister Sister, Living Single, Roc, Jamie Foxx Show, The Wayans Bros., and Moesha; The 00's - Steve Harvey Show, The Bernie Mac Show, Girlfriends, Everybody Hates Chris; TODAY: Scandal, Extant, aaaannnndddd......
Now rumor has it that there are shows coming down the pipe for Kevin hart, Donald Glover, Craig Robinson, and Anthony Anderson, and I hope that's true, but take a look up there. It went from 7-11 shows with people that looked like me in the 70's, 80's, and 90's, to 4 shows in the early to mid 2000's, to 2 shows TODAY. And the 2 shows today don't center around a black family, but have black women at the helm as characters - so I'll begrudgingly take it (because Lord knows I can't get enough Olivia Pope). But where are the images for me to show my kid? Where's her Claire Huxtable? Where's her Ashley Banks?
Let me be clear - I'm not for blackwashing television, or whitewashing television. But I do want to be seen. My daughter wants to be seen. Young black girls in France want to be seen.
Just not as someone's blackface representation.
As I look back over the pictures I cannot help but think about the slow and methodical belittling of one's self worth that is happening to young black men today, and how these images tie right into it. They remind me that the battle is the same for our young black girls. The only difference is it's not the cops, and it's not a gun.
It's the media.
*Memorable Television NOT on cable television