Allo, Blackface

Can I just tell you how much I loved the debate on that Louis Vuitton afro post of last week?

Sometimes I do respond with an automatic side-eye where maybe I should try to be more open in my approach. I tried to tread lightly and just put the question out there to the universe, so I especially appreciate those of you who stated your dissent with diplomacy.

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Fashion posts can be fascinatingly polarized. On one side are those like me, who are sometimes baffled by the fashion world’s exclusions and misappropriation of culture. Then on the other side there are the fashion apologists, who defend everything as being art and therefore completely acceptable.

One word kept coming up in the comments, and it’s a word that also came up in the news last week. Here’s a phrase I hope never to repeat:

Last week was a big one for blackface.

First, that most antique and offensive of caricatures got a big ol’ thumbs down from Harry Connick Jr. in Australia.

Now the October issue of French Vogue is continuing the trend, in a photoshoot starring Dutch model Lara Stone, photographed by Steven Klein and styled by editor Carine Roitfeld.

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Le sigh.

It’d be one thing if this “supermodel” themed issue was balanced with other models of color in their own photoshoots, or if they even — gasp — borrowed a page from an old concept on America’s Next Top Model, and switched the races of the models. I tried hard to think of what would make this less offensive to me, and I had a hard time coming up with anything…but maybe if there were a model of color styled similarly, it’d defuse my ire a little. But as it is right now, I must agree with The Fashion Bomb and Jezebel — a white model painted black is distasteful and evocative of a negative chapter in the world’s history.

Yes, it’s meant to be artistic. Perhaps it’s even meant to make some kind of deeper statement or commentary. I realize blackface has a different history outside of the US, but to me this photo shoot falls far short of its goal. It leaves me wondering — why not also use a black model in this issue?

Last week, I got quite a few comments saying “if it were blackface, I’d have a problem,” that kind of thing. So what are your views on this?

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Comments

  1. Yep, thiss crosses the line between arstitic and offensive, and it’s a fine line. Someone tried to counter HCJ’s actions with an old SNL clip where he impersonates Al Sharpton and his skin was darkened. Personally, I don’t find the SNL skit offensive. I don’t find the LV wig styling offensive, even though I question the description “brilliantly cartoonish”. Fashion week is full of outrageous styling. However, this I find offensive for several reasons, the most obvious being why not just use black models?

  2. I find it offensive. Black models still struggle to get work and the few succesful ones are pitted against each other. The runways and magazines are rife with Easter Euros. So to paint one black to make point does not make sense at all. I’m dissapointed in French Vougue and Coriine Roitfield.

  3. It’s offensive period point blank! It’s really not more to say than that. And even if this is French Vouge the French do know this magazine reaches beyond Europe and France in particular is guilty of it’s own discrimination against immigrants/people of color. No one should be ashamed to voice their opinion on this issue!

  4. As hard as I’m trying to rationalize this, I don’t think I have the energy to do so. What exactly was the motivation for this? Why that color and not, say, blue? Was it that they wanted a dark-skinned black model with stereotypically white features? I would love to know the rationale for this and it had better go beyond “artistic license”…

  5. I prefer online blogs now to glossies like these.

  6. This is offensive and such a slap in the face of every black model in the industry trying to get work…

  7. Okay, not feeling this.
    I was on the fence with those “cartoonish” Afros, but this is patently ridiculous and offensive.
    What’s the concept of her being painted black for these shots? Why couldn’t a black model do it? Why couldn’t she do it normally, not painted? There doesn’t seem to be any reason for this, and I just am not with it.

  8. The photographer is American so even if blackface doesn’t have the same history in France, what’s his excuse?

  9. alright…this is where ‘pushing the envelope’ is taken to the extremes. I’m hanging my head here at work because I’m just dumbfounded! I’m trying my best to see, or understand the message here….are they saying an actual Caucasian model bathed in blackface is MORE appealing/beautiful than an model of African descent sporting her AUTHENTIC skin color. Je ne comprends pas!!

  10. Le Sigh, indeed. There’s an obsession with all things black and sometimes “some” people don’t know when they’ve crossed the line while others don’t care…They just want to have that shock effect…and perhaps they welcome the controversy…at the expense of black culture.

  11. what is the rationale of *painting* a woman this skintone as if it doesnt exist in nature?
    as if there arent models walking around with that gorgeous hue with out the help of bodypaint?

    its a shame to see that even after the ‘black’ vogue hoopla our complexions are nothing to them but a publicity stunt— or only acceptable when it can be washed of!!

    fail.
    backwards thinking fail.
    laziness fail.

  12. this has been done before in other shoots, its not the first time. wouldnt be surprised if you see it becoming a bit of a trend. every instance I have seen of this has been in eastern europe, so I honestly dont know what to think of it. there is art and makeup arts and I appreciate art as much as anyone. the greatest makeup artist of all time, pat mcgrath is a black woman and I would be EXTREMELY interested to hear her comments on this!

  13. i didn’t get the point of this. i didn’t even remember the reversed race photo shoot from ANTM but i agree that if that was the premise, it’d make more sense.

  14. warrior11209 says:

    This makes no sense and is offensive. All the negative history that comes with blackface- the photograher should know better. If they wanted dark skin – use a Black model and do not resort to this visual baffoonery.

  15. Stephanie says:

    I am appalled by the photo’s. The only statement that I got immediately was that a black model wasn’t good enough and that black people would look better with white features. It’s sad that others continue to mock us and use ignorance as the excuse.

  16. Fascinating! The photographs are definitely provocative. It will be interesting to hear how people in France respond to this. If it was the US, Vogue would have the biggest boycott of their lives. I wonder if you can stage a boycott on Conde Nast or whoever the publishers are? Then again, this definitely makes me want to go buy a French Vogue for the record. Ugh.

  17. Hmmm…where to begin. The production with the afro’s was cartoonish but it wasn’t that offensive to me. However, this is just ridiculous! I think non-blacks think they can do and say anything no matter how distasteful and stupid it may be. And yes I meant stupid because they are not ignorant to the facts of whats right or wrong, they know exactly what they’re doing.OUR BLACK is BEAUTIFUL and others can only pretend to be as UNIQUE as we naturally are!!! It’s not a compliment in the true sense of the word but think about it..”they” are truly fascinated with us aren’t they?

  18. bosslady312 says:

    sooooo….why couldn’t they use a black model????

  19. Nicolette says:

    Maybe because I am 21 I view the world differently. I don’t understand why they painted a white model black. But I don’t see the point of letting evey little thing whether it was meant to be racist or not cast a shadow on my day. This still doesn’t change the fact that I am proud to be black regardless of others actions.

  20. This photoshoot was so completely unnecessary. There is no room in this millennium for modern blackface. What were they thinking? This isn’t art. Blackface was, is and (as far as I’m concerned) always will be offensive. You can’t dress up painful aspects of history in couture;then call it art and expect everyone to be fine with it. If they wanted a Black model, there are a few who would have loved the work.

  21. brightstarr82 says:

    In my attempt to be as objective as possible, I still come to the conclusion that this is distasteful and disrespectful. However, I am not particularly offended as I do not believe this was the intent. Yet, I do not understand how anyone can attempt “blackface” without understanding the historical nature and its implications.

  22. The comments at Jezebel about how this is “art,” or “avant-garde,” ignores the deeply problematic history of European avant-garde movements that were completely invested in colonial/racial aesthetics, e.g., primitivism.

    Also, please check out my co-author Minh-Ha’s take on these images over at Threadbared!

    http://threadbared.blogspot.com/2009/10/blackface-and-violence-of-revulsion.html

  23. naturalglolady says:

    No respect for us at all
    (black people), when does it ever to end?

  24. Now for what ever reason I was not particularly moved my the afro wigs in the LV show. (I hate it as a halloween costume or any other joke without question.) As a part of the LV “fashion” show it felt inline with the idea that hair is brilliance and can make the dullest shine. I am so proud of my own Afro that I chose to associate it in that way. A very loose argument at best.

    However, this blackface is completely unacceptable, offensive and marginalizes people of color. This is plain old “BS”. And subsequently it makes me recant my lackof alarm at the LV show’s afros. I am now offended by by both shows.

    I see it as a mockery of the request to see more Black women on the runway.

  25. I just don’t get why people continue to do this. I am not too familiar with the history of slavery and racism in France other than there was slavery in France. From my brief googling I found that there is a history of tv shows that used characters in blackface in Europe so I don’t think they can claim ignorance. The American photographer should be ashamed. When will people get it? Pushing boundaries for the sake of shock value is marginalizing and does not move society forward.

    And honestly, the makeup doesn’t even look that good to me. They should have just used a black model.

  26. I can’t wait to read kadeem’s mother,Ms. Hardison’s take on this. She is a powerhouse in the modelingworld and has been trying to fight racism in the international industry. Keep your eyes open for commetary from her.

  27. This is when someone with sense at Vogue should have said we are not doing this. They knew this was wrong and did it anyway. Just plain foolishness.

  28. Blogreader says:

    I think it’s a reference to the Black Madonnas. Certainly intended to be provocative, but I don’t see this as blackface.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna

    http://images.google.com/images?rlz=1C1GGLS_frUS315US315&sourceid=chrome&q=black%20madonna&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&hl=fr&tab=wi

  29. Two wods: common sense

    Use common sense. Why provoke. I had the same thought that however areesting the photo; it makes more “art sene” to balance with a baclk mocel painted white. Now if that sounds ridiculous,then hece my point. It doesn’t sound like a good idea to do. It is elegantly done. althoughf in sepia or black and white but I’m not getting the point if it is not a n offenseive point. Meaning, if it is not offensive, what iis the point? Even if half of her face was of a non-back color; that is artful. Then have other people of ohter colors with half of their face or al of their faces a non-black color. That is interesting. That provokes one to think about color or art of fashion. If French Vogue needs some ideas, E me at otingocni@aol.com (no kidding)

  30. Black models are not struggling to get work, I mentioned this to a group of black women this morning crying over these photos of a white women in black face. Black models are getting work but everyone is here wasting time talking about this photos instead of looking at blogs or website that showcase black models. Does anyone even know the recent ads, editorials and magazine covers that black women are gracing ????

  31. Glam – where in my article did I say that black models are “struggling to get work” -? I never did. My point is, this was an ill-advised photo shoot that could have been done differently. And yes – I do look at blogs and websites that showcase black models. Thanks for asking.

  32. Afro bella I never stated that “you” said that, someone left a comment on your post stating that black women are struggling to find work. And that is 100 % false.

  33. liliabella says:

    SHAME ON YOU , French Vogue!!!
    You should be boycotted!! Instead, your sales of this tasteless issue will skyrocket!!The clearly white features painted black can never live up to the real deal, besides offensive.
    Too bad on such beautiful fashion.

  34. Yep. It’s offensive.

    Come to think of it, so are black women when we don those long, straight wigs and weaves in an attempt to pay homage to that which is characteristically “white.”

  35. Why couldn’t they just use a black model? That is my problem with it. There are plenty of beautiful black models. It is offensive and it will always be offensive! Blackface represents that black people are stupid, lazy and buffoon-like. We should always rejects this type of representation.

  36. It’s pointless and offensive. It’s making all kinds of statements, but an “artistic” statement is not one of them.

  37. To Elle who responded about common sense I agree with you but as my Me-Ma says often “common sense ain’t common” and doesn’t this prove that statement true.

  38. Elizabeth says:

    Well I’m Dutch and a black girl, but I really don’t see anything rascist about it.There isn’t any mocking of black people involved. The first impression I got from the picture was…hmm, interesting.

    However there isn’t any further information in this post about what they wanted to reach with the spread, so I think this is kind of taken out of context.

    Anyway, I saw the same subject on another (American) site and a lot of white people found it distasteful.I guess it’s true that there is a difference in viewing on these kinds of subjects between Europeans and Americans.

  39. Glam your 100% false is inaccurate as are most off of the top of the head statistics. Black models do have a harder time in the fashion industry because being black itself is considered a particular ethnic “look” that designers may or may not want. Thus the disproportionate representation of white models compared to any other race. For white models there are numerous “looks” for black models… not so much.

    I’m really curious about the different responses to this image as opposed to the images with the afro styled hair in the earlier post. I’m wondering why there seems to be a perceived difference between the idea of blackface on skin and on hair. Could someone expand on how the hair issue is different from skin? How the hair can be avant garde and skin outright offensive… I’m actually curious as to how people are differentiating between the two.

  40. its confusing for me (personally I thought the LV afro wigs were offensive as taking a symbol of black power and mocking it as “cartoonish”) and there is no question no one would ever even attempt this in an american publication. I think there needs to be an explanation on the part of the art director here, along with a critique by blacks (american, european or otherwise) in the industry. thats not to say that other people should tell us what to think for ourselves, but I think they have the responsibility to provide us with an explanation.

  41. designdiva says:

    I was offended by the LV afros and now I’m offended by this. This is how it starts, next thing you know there will be blackface and “Pickaninny” characters everywhere–again.

  42. While I am mostly on the fence about this, there are some things I would like to discuss.

    First, skin tone does not inherently indicate nationality and culture! We all know it is not unusual to see black women with skin lighter than that of many white women. In fact, one of my friends is an African American albino, and throughout her life she’s had to deal with accusations of not being “black enough”, whereas she learned very early that skin tone at its most basic level is pigment, not identity.

    Blackface is undeniably a very dangerous concept to dabble with, and surely it will always be near-impossible to forget the racist connotations that often accompany it. But to me, it is also definitely a concept, rather than simply the presence of dark paint on light skin. Here, the model is not painted with exaggerated lips and bugged-out eyes, as happened in old minstrel shows and other disgusting circumstances. Does that make it okay? No, though I think this shows it’s important to consider context and intention. There is no meaning without context, and I don’t think we have all of the context right now.

    To those who ask why French Vogue didn’t simply use a black model for this shoot, I say that the point of this was not to make a white woman look black or to suggest that facial features associated with Caucasians are in any way superior. Lara Stone painted black is not competing with black models. Reality just doesn’t seem to be the aim, and I doubt there were any malicious or racist intentions.

    Modern fashion has been characterized by risk-taking and fantasy. For every hit there are innumerable misses. I haven’t decided what this is personally, but I hope French Vogue at least had the common sense and were prepared to have this stamped as a miss.

  43. My mouth fell open and my head fell to one side when I visited the link to threadbared and saw the OTHER recent atrocity: the Carlos Diez show @ Madrid Fashion Week. What IN the world???!!!

    http://threadbared.blogspot.com/2009/10/blackface-and-violence-of-revulsion.html

    Bella, pls follow up on that foolishness as well. This spread from Fr. Vogue was sad in my opinion, although I do wonder at the entire context of the spread. They could have used Black models for crying out loud. But this…other…foolishness…why?

  44. Looking at these pictures and the prior post about the Afro wigs, I wonder if any “imitation” of black people is seen as racist and offensive. Given the history of blackface, these pictures are at best racially insensitive, but I wonder if it could be possible for there to not be any real racism behind such expressions of “art”. It is more provocative, at least to me, to use a white model with darkened skin then it is to use a naturally dark model. If these were pictures of black models, while I am sure they would be beautiful, I would more then likely pay little attention to them, if any. But using a white model now has the name of the model, photographer, even the editor all over the internet. It seems like there are some brilliant people over at French Vogue who know how to effectively drum up buzz for their magazine.

    Had the blackface model been hanging from a tree eating a banana, or any other racist display, I would be wholeheartedly against it. Being that she is just standing there in some clothes the pictures are just in poor taste.

  45. I think this is such an important issue and I would like to pose the question, what if the situation were reversed? what if they used a black model and painted her white? what would your opinion be and why?
    would that not be equally, if not MORE offensive?

  46. Back in May I remember seeing an asian model with a afro and painted brown skin for the Mac Style Warriors Collection and no one seemed to notice. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it…as long as it is done beautifully.

  47. A lot of people are obsessed with Black people and their skin. They just dont wanna admit it.
    There is no place for black models, even in Africa. I wish black women would get this through their heads already. Who cares anyway, this looks wack?

  48. I actually love the look, and think the models look great in the afros. The black model, especially looks like a doll. I think it is great, and is apart of fashion. I do not think that they were trying to poke fun at black people or our hair. It actually makes me want to rock an afro!! Not that big of course….. Nevertheless, I loved the look

  49. as far as painting the model black, I do not see a point in that. Why not just get a black model….

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