Black culture, yes please! Black history? Hell no

Some of you who perhaps have been following my blog for a while now, would have seen an increasing trend. Yes, I have been writing more blog posts about the plight of the ‘black (wo)man’, a quandary which some have become tiresome of—from a somewhat reasonable cause to, as in the words of one individual, now a mere irritant of feeling like we owe ‘them’ something.  (Exhibit A)

But the plight still goes on because the racism still goes on. What disgusts me, more than anything are the campaigns we see in the media. These images which supposedly ‘define’ beauty.

france

This little facebook compilation is from a photoshoot in 2013, published in the French magazine Numéro. It caused a massive dissension (which is still ongoing on social media platforms today), with white model Ondria Hardin posing as the ‘African Queen’ in this feature spread. What shocked me even more than the fact that they decided not to use an actual black model from the 1,000s of international consortiums, is the fact that just three years earlier the same exact ignorance landed them once again in the cross-fire of the slippery-slope of cultural appropriation. 

In 2010, Numéro published a cover featuring Constance Jablonski, who was once again beautified in blackface (make up and styling used to make an individual appear black). Lesson learnt? Obviously not. The justification for this artistic direction just gets even better. Journalist Kenya Hunt, interviewed the head stylist for this particular shoot (see photos below) asking her what her intentions were behind the images. Her response was this: 

“I wanted to kind of comment on what is going on now with (white celebrities) getting all of these black children, Madonna, Angelina Jolie and now Sandra Bullock. So that’s where that came from…And the Afros? It was pouring rain the day of the shoot and her hair was a mess. The only wigs the hair stylist had in his bag were these Afros from another project so I worked with what we had. He put them on her and I though they looked fabulous and that was that. The reaction to all of this has been so bizarre.”[1]

Ironic that the hair stylist had only afro wigs in his bag when the probability of him working with black models is very slim (given the nature of the industry), more so the fact that he would have definitely been well aware that he would be working with a white model for that particular shoot, and what’s even more ridiculous is that the weather wasn’t factored in. Of course getting the baby model with an afro was just a nice touch to it all and had no correlation with afro wigs which just ‘happened’ to be in his bag. Guys, we’re just reading into this too much. 

This however is no new phenomena. For the last two decades, black culture has become increasingly popular in music culture and the fashion industry- bits and pieces of the culture being chopped and extracted, torn away from its organic setting and shoved onto the corpses of its surrogate mother.

milan
Milan fashion week

(Picture: Right) This year at Milan’s fashion week, artistClaudio Cutugno decided to take the ‘all-black’ theme to another level. Now before anyone gets offended, Cutugno has already apologised for any discomfort that he might have unwillingly caused: 

 

“I think it is a pleasure to have the chance to answer the criticism about the make up I decided to use…the collection was inspired by Emilio Isgrò artworks. He was literally erasing parts of the text of some books, he was putting some black ink on top on some words he wanted to erase so to let some words come out from the text and be underlined. As well as this, in ancient Greek, the meaning of the words that were underlined was related to the tradition of wearing black veils around the heads when women needed to say goodbye to their husbands. This also today is a tradition which in Sicily is used when women needed to say goodbye to their husbands. This also today is a tradition which in Sicily is used when women go to burials. So the black make up we decided to use was actually a translation of the black veil. I chose not to use the real veil because I did not want to cover the whole faces of the models. 

I am extremely sorry if many people thought this make up would result offensive and also that I am racist, but that was not my intent. I am extremely respectful of the Afro American culture and extremely sorry for each type episode of racism.”[2]


sicilian

Admittedly, I couldn’t find very many pictures of

sicilian-1
Italian actress

this ‘traditional’ veil which he refers to and coming from an Italian background of mainland Southern Italy, women would traditionally wear all-black with a black headscarf to mourn the lost of a husband (at least for a month if you don’t want to be the talk of the town). I did however find this picture of a Sicilian actress (right) all ‘covered up’ in this fashionable veil. A picture of a Sicilian lady, who was however wearing a ‘veil’ (which really is just a headscarf) makes me wonder if there is just a gap in the translation of ‘veil’ from ‘velo’. Maybe calling it a ‘fazzoletto’ (which also means tissue) or ‘bandana’ isn’t grand enough.  Either way, neither of these head garments seemed to cover up the women’s faces as much as that glittery splat. 

 

As Shakespeare said, all is well that ends well; Cutugno did apologise for offending the Afro American culture, so who cares if it didn’t express any regrets for the wider offence towards black people? One little step at a time my friends. 

If there’s no contention which arises with the modification of racial features or traditional elements in a fashion campaign, you can rest assure that there will be some be some hoo-ha if a black model is used instead. 

Photos via buzzfeed

Just minutes after these photos were published on instagram, an individual commented on Mac’s photo with the following remark (which has since been deleted): 

“Black women will never be as beautiful as white women. The only argument blacks have is they have more melanin like that matters [crying emoji]. Yes white women can get injections and when they do, they are basically flawless. You dont have anything over them anymore and that why you get so pissed off. Keep lying to yourselves thinking you dark asses look better. dont even come at me with the ‘all white feature were first started by blacks’ Even if that was true, WHERE THEY AT THO? Keep projecting your jealously on white women though, Id rather be a cracker with injections than look like the majority of you oily yet ashy at the same time people. Acting like you don’t bleach your skins, get nosejobs, get contacts, and dye your hair blond.”[3]

The disillusionment here seems also so absolute and real that I am lost for words. 

Sadly, it’s not only the case that dumbwits make these comments in the virtual world of social platforms. We all know it’s easier to say idiotic and hurtful words behind a computer screen (arguably I’d doing the same thing right now), however it takes some real vacancy and ignorance to say things on an international, political platform. I have no doubts however that our politicians are more than capable: 

black-lipsFrench minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossigno refuses to apologise for the comparison made between Muslim women wearing headscarfs and ‘negroes’ accepting slavery, and asserts that the only apology due is for a ‘slip of the tongue’. Not to worry though, slavery is always a good reference point to see how progress we have or have not made. (I hate to sell myself cheap but I would hate even more to get death threats for my sarcasm- which let’s face it is the lowest form of humour anyway. So yes, this is sarcasm)or one thing we no longer keep people in human zoos (well at least without their consent). Ota Benga and Saartjie Baartman are of another era, a distant past. The last time in fact anyone talked about having human zoos ‘seriously’, besides Jerry Fredrickson in February of this year–he suggested that a Native American encampment should be added to the ‘Lake Superior Zoo’ in Minnesota–was in the 20th century, but we’ve all ‘developed’ enough ethically to ensure that something as ‘crazy’ as that won’t happen again right? 

Maybe Chris Rock has hit it spot on the nail when he says in his interview with the New York Magazine that it isn’t ‘society’ as a whole that has progressed, actually it’s white people. It’s hard to say that society as a whole has ‘progressed’ when the majority of those in power and more importantly, those in power who are making the decision, are white. Yes, Chris is right in saying that President Obama in office doesn’t exemplify the advancement of society, rather it shows the growth in the mentality of white people. Black people have been around for a pretty long time, and I agree with Chris when he says that there must have been someone in the bunch who could have done a decent job. Still, when I think about the fact that in 2013, Italy’s first black (female) minister Cécile Kyenge had been compared to an orangutan by a former government minister and had bananas thrown at her on the podium, I find it hard to see this ‘progression’ that we are assumed to have made. 

I’ve already addressed the issue of black hair and hairstyles in a previous blog post and so will not do so now. I would still however recommend checking out this short video, as the question of ‘progression’ of attitudes towards black hair(styles) is still an ongoing one and this video (I think) encapsulates the fundamental complication of black hair(styles) entering the mainstream bubble.

The plight still goes on because there is a whole side of history that is missing. Even the fact that ‘Black History Month’ exists as a thing is testimony to this. I used to feel such pride and joy in having black history month in school because I felt like it was ‘my people’s’ time to shine, the one month when the attention was on us. When I started to attend my secular secondary school and realised that black history month was no longer a thing, I felt deprived and divested that such a crucial chance for self-awareness had been denied. Now reflecting on it, black history month should have never been a thing. History should include EVERYONE’S history and not just the privileged or the writers of (mainstream) history. And yes you can say, Sophia cry me a river, women in the ancient world didn’t get a say either, boo-hoo, but if you’re thinking this then you have utterly missed my point. It is not about ranking and validating one history over another. It shouldn’t be at a special time of the year, or removed from a school syllabus. Cruel acts in history repeat themselves because if they are untold no one can learn from it. 


balckfacef-1We are just beginning to appreciate the other side of the untold story. The recent discovery of the ‘Black Victorian family’ is proof of this, that there was a lot more happening in the Victorian times than just Queen Elizabeth and her virginity. Harriet Ross Tubman is another example of a relatively lost name in history. Only much recently has her efforts been commemorated with the (planned) stamping of her face on the $20 in replacement of President Andrews Jackson. This woman was one of the many incredible figures in history who helped to guide slaves out of plantations in Maryland, she was a nurse, political activist, military tactician and a spy for the union. 

I cannot express how much of a rebel this woman was, however this short and entertaining YouTube video does a pretty damn good job: 

(warning: there is a lot of swearing)

The list of missing history and the misplacement of culture is too long to cover in this blogpost and unfortunately my knowledge is too limited. I’m always trying to educate myself more about my own heritage and no longer take the backseat when it comes to the media’s portrayal or omission of it. This blog post is in no means trying to create any further division between ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’ (because goodness knows we don’t need anymore of that!) Truly and sincerely, I intended this to raise some awareness of one of the many ongoing issues of social equality in society, and hopefully to get those inquisitive brain cells of yours stimulated. 

Life is an ongoing education and I really hope this is one of the topics you decide to look into further. 

RESOURCES: 

http://fashionbombdaily.com/was-it-blackface-more-pictures-from-costance-jablonski-numero-shoot/http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/25/numero-magazine-african-queen_n_2761374.html 

http://perezhilton.com/cocoperez/2010-09-24-numero_magazine_accused_of_doing_blackface_on_model_constance_jablonski/?from=post 

http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/12/1/7313467/chris-rock-interview

http://www.buzzfeed.com/augustafalletta/mac-instagram-black-model-lips#.cvnN2jP40

http://www.vibe.com/2015/02/white-models-faces-painted-in-sparkling-blackface/ 

http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photos/life-color-black/#/actress-veil-allard_59997_600x450.jpg 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/30/french-womens-rights-minister-laurence-rossignol-accused-racism-negro 

http://thefreethoughtproject.com/100-years-today-ota-benga-black-man-held-bronx-zoo-missing-link-ended-life/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/08/cecile-kyenge-quest-for-tolerance

http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/12/1/7313467/chris-rock-interview

http://fusion.net/story/293715/harriet-tubman-was-a-badass/utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fusion
https://www.facebook.com/43130411218/photos/pcb.10153578661081219/10153578660391219/?type=3&theater

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