By Amy Jackson
Racism is a wound and no one wants the bandage removed. Are “we” afraid of what such a wound looks like? Perhaps if it were uncovered and given a little air it just may heal. The infamous “we” is not really interested in that idea. We would prefer if racism stayed in its Pandora box in an “out of sight out of mind” theory. The mentioning of racism sets everyone on edge. It makes white people feel they must be in defense of themselves and that everyone is pointing the finger at them. It makes black people vomit the old musty feelings of toiling ancestors. Then if it causes so much pain then why are “we” quick to the pull the racism trigger? Will Americans in particular ever be able to discuss racism diplomatically without the drama or will everyone continue to bicker and insult each other? It’s baffling that an action which demeans all people can cause such passionate frenzy by just being mentioned. Racism, like Rumpelstiltskin, should have remained nameless and shrouded in the darkness of the forest. Then in the advice of Rudyard Kipling no one would have to bear the white man’s burden.
Several weeks ago, French Vogue caused a controversy. The particular scene of the crime in question can be found in this month’s issue. French Vogue’s October issue celebrates the reign of the supermodel. Concerns arose when Steven Klien’s fourteen page spread was barred. The model used in the spread is the beautiful Lara Stone. No, it’s not her size or the clothes that are being criticized for being risqué. In fact, it’s her face under siege. Stone’s face is painted black while garbed in ethnic clothing. Some are crying racism while others are offended that people see it as racist.
Blackface originated in American vaudeville acts. These particular sketches began to appear in the 1830s. Blackface was used to both describe and demean African-Americans. In these particular skits blacks were portrayed as lazy, oversexed, ugly, dumb, and content with the conditions of slavery. It seems one of America’s many demons has come back to haunt her and the world again.
Europe is infamous for its insensitivity concerning the use of blackface. Are Europeans clueless and unaware of the devastating history of blackface and it affects? Do they just not care? When do we cut to the punch line and say this isn’t funny anymore? Should French Vogue be condemned as racist because they chose to paint the face of Lara Stone black? Lara Stone, is after all, a model. Models are faces that convey messages, sell products, and inspire. What could French Vogue’s message be? French Vogue who is known for its wild child ways could simply be making a fashion and art statement. Her face may be dirty from a long walk or camel ride in the desert. Perhaps French Vogue was trying to convey the harshness of winter with the black face paint and Stone’s piercing blue eyes symbolizing the forthcoming spring. If you choose you can view French Vogue as racist or you can choose to see for what it is, an artistic endeavor. Perhaps if we remove our racist radar we could abjectly enjoy several really beautiful photos. Things should not always be taken so literally but instead with a frugal grain of salt. Art is expressive and many times bizarre. Until Carine Roitfeld, the magazine’s Editor-in Chief, makes a statement explaining the why’s, the world will never know just what French Vogue meant or if anything at all.
However, the fashion world is no stranger to racism. It’s quite prevalent in that world and it’s obvious that black models are scarce. American Vogue featured an article on the fashion world and its racism concerning black models. A year ago, American Vogue came under fire when they placed Giselle Bundchen and LeBron James on the cover for the annual Shape Issue, which highlights fit non-model physiques. Many black readers found the cover offensives because to them it resembled a King Kong pose. Matters were not lightened when it was noted that James was the first African-American man to appear on the cover. It must be noted that no model of African descent was used in the celebration of supermodels in French Vogue.
It’s best to say that French Vogue should have included a model of visible African descent. Maybe French Vogue can do a part two and cast Liya Kebede as an Eastern European with a snow white face. Then everyone could throw in a gray flag and forgive and forget. Perhaps we should let the race card catch its breath before it’s used again. Better yet, a monument should be erected in racism’s honor stating here it lies and may it rest in peace. We should also give Roitfeld the benefit of the doubt and realize everybody makes mistakes. Perhaps in time she may right what some see as wrong. Roitfeld stated the photo shoot was used to satirize Stone herself who has buck teeth and is bigger than most models. In the spirit of curiosity what do you see? When in doubt just paint it black.