Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Colour of Beauty: White Girls That Are Painted Black

The following documentary looks at the struggles of Renée Thompson, a beautiful Black model attempting to gain a spot in New York fashion week.  Despite the fact that she is clearly beautiful, the racism in the fashion industry has been insurmountable.

Justin Perry, Renée’s agent makes it clear why he believes Renée has a chance to succeed when he says:

The girls that are really just being featured in everything, they really have unique features for African Americans. You know the very skinny nose the very elegant face. They really look like White girls that were painted Black. That’s beauty you know through the industry’s perspective, to agents perspective. When they see that, when they see a girl that can look different by skin pigment and still have great features like that it is sellable.


What the agents and designers seem to dance around throughout this short documentary is that they are actively practicing racism.

Jeanne Beker the host of “Fashion Television” had this to say:

There still seems to be this crazy kind of racism, I hate to call it that . A kind of consciousness in the fashion world, that sometimes you do see, you know a Black girl on the runway it’s almost out of a tokenism. Everyone’s pointing fingers. Some people might say that it’s the agents that are to blame, they’re not scouting these girls, they’re not encouraging them, they’re not signing them. Maybe it’s the designers right off the bat; designers should insist that this is my aesthetic. Like for ad campaigns hire girls that can just bring a little more diversity to the table.

While she may hate to call it racism, that is exactly what it is.  When agents, and designers are actively saying that they “need a Black model but she has to be a White girl dipped in chocolate,” it speaks to a specific rejection of all things Black.  African American features are not seen as attractive and Perry, Renee’s agent confirms this:

You know when you come in with big eyes, big nose, big whatever, big lips, things that are common traits in African-Americans it doesn’t work. But for those lucky few girls that like Renee, they have White girl features an it’s kind of messed up but that is just the way that the industry is.

It is only like this because Whiteness is in control of the fashion industry that there is a refusal to admit that they are using their power to promote a White aesthetic. While they may claim not to be racist themselves, their actions serve to further White supremacy. It it any wonder that a young age Black children learn to overvalue Whiteness?

The Black woman has long been seen as the ultimate un-woman and despite the supposed advances, race and gender continue to leave Black women at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Fashion is but one manifestation of the ways in which we continue to be “othered”. Black women are called angry when they rightfully lash out against blatant racism, because we are expected to accept our second class status without complaint.  That it is exhausting to constantly wage a battle to be recognized as human and therefore valuable, is not considered.  We are constantly told that our tone is why Whiteness does not listen; however, Black women are well aware that  White supremacy is dedicated to maintaining the race and gender divisions, because it serves to cement power.

Renée Thompson knows very well what she is up against:

It does get very discouraging. It gets to a point where you feel like you are constantly justifying your worth and what you can contribute to the business. You can only take so much beating up everyday and constant rejection, or that fear every time you walk through that casting door that you are going to be reminded that once again you’re a Black girl. Quitting seems to me like you’re giving in to that racist facade or that you’re giving into saying that, that’s okay that you think that. It’s not okay. It’s not okay that you think that I am different or lesser than. It’s not, so I’m going to stay right here and be a sore in your eye until you recognize what I am good for.

In the U.S there is a backlash because of a fear of a loss of White privilege, and yet in every avenue Black women have not approached anything resembling equality.  We earn less, we die earlier and we raise our children largely in poverty.  In the media we are portrayed as licentious whores, crack addicts, desperate, or angry, and yet we struggle on in the face of a determined effort to ensure that we remain voiceless and invisible.


It is not surprising when we learn at the end of the film that Renée has failed in her effort to get a job for fashion week.  Dallas J. Logan, a fashion photographer points out, “Nobody wants to invest money in a Black model to do Gucci, Prada and Valentino, because they’re Black and Black doesn’t sell. Point blank, money is green and White people have the money and they are going to buy from White people”.  

Until the day in which equality becomes more than some pseudo liberal buzz word, and an actual concept that society embraces, Black women will continue to struggle.  There is nothing post racial about the world in which we live. Whiteness may have  changed the language of oppression, so as to appear covert, but it still exists to ensure that Blackness is understood to be inferior. Due to a combination of sexism and racism, Black women continue bear the brunt of the brutality of White supremacy.