The fashion industry seems to display its obsessiveness with “black face” every so often. A recent example was a photo shoot Beyonce did to mark the 90th anniversary of L’Officiel, a Paris based magazine. The March issue of that magazine was themed “African Queen” and supposedly paid tribute to the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.
This week, black face has reared its head again, this time in a more subtle bronze and in the form of a 16 year-old white model called Ondria Hardin. Ondria Hardin was painted in a deep bronze in an editorial for Numéro magazine called “African Queen”. Yes, you guessed it. It seems these fashion magazines have a strong aversion to going beyond the proverbial “African Queen” in their desire to portray Africa in all its exotic “ways.”
The question on most peoples’ lips once again is: Could they not have used a black model or even better one that has roots in Africa? And oh by the way, a look at the who is who of African models should indicate that there is no shortage of African models around. Could any of these not have better represented the “African Queen”?
I take a different view. Why should they?
Fashion magazines and the fashion industry as a whole is run on what their audiences and readers want to see. If a white “African Queen” is what gets them excited and brings fulfillment in what I suspect are pretty dull and trivial lives, then so be it. By the same token if black people or Africans are that bothered about seeing pretty representatives of themselves in the world’s renowned magazines, I’m sure one that caters to that need would have sprung up and been just as successful. The fortunes of white owned record labels started dwindling once hiphop stars such as Puff Daddy (well PDiddy these days), Jay Z and countless others started owning their own record labels. Guess why? More importantly when was the last time you heard about a talented black artist not getting or being given a shoddy exploitative record contract because of their race? I wonder why……
Rather than asking why they did not or more accurately do not use black models, should we not be asking ourselves why, what is certainly an obscure magazine that many of us had never heard of until today, should be able to garner such attention from what to me seems like a stunt to gain publicity?
What is it that still makes us so sensitive to black face today given that the likes of Michelle Obama have more of an impact on what people around the world think of black people than black face caricatures ever will do? Why do we not quit looking for something to be outraged about every day? Why do some people never able to dislodge themselves from this permanent state of perpetual grievance?
My view is this:
Perhaps this stunt was some sort of artistic statement? Maybe this photo shoot was made with the aim of shoring up the magazine’s sales? Maybe the magazine really did want to portray a subtle modern day black face by going all bronze face? Maybe the readers of the magazine are bonafide racists who do not want to see or read about people who do not look like them?
Whatever the reasons are (and we’ll probably never know the truth), what I keep thinking to myself is this! This may be outrageously shocking, but unfortunately predictable from the “Fashion Industry” and those who run it. It is clear to me at least, that every so often this subject will come up. Past protests and expressions of outrage have not and in my view will not stop this mischief. Yes, I describe it as mischief because I refuse to dignify this stunt with undeserved importance.