Thursday, 26 June 2008

Black is the new... black?

Image courtesy NY Times

So, last week I managed to lock myself out of the house. I had two choices: I could sit by the front door until the bloke got home or I could take a walk. Since the Nethers is actually quite picturesque and walk-worthy, I opted for the latter. So far, so ordinary.

While walking down the hill, some kids in a sporty yellow car zoomed past and shouted something at me. This is not unusual. Young people, I've found, like shouting. It's their hormones.

So I did the adult thing and ignored them. It took me three more steps before it registered: those kids had just called me a nigger! My initial reaction was suprise. Then resignation.

If you're a black person in a predominantly white society, you understand that racism exists. This doesn't mean that you walk around looking for men in hooded coats to lynch you while burning a cross on your front lawn. It's just there.

People will hate you for no particular reason. They'll wonder how come you're so smart/stylish/pretty because you're not supposed to be. It's irrational - negrophobia if your will. And irrationality cannot be reasoned with. I'm not about to try. That's their problem.

I don't let it get to me much or let it stop me from getting on with my life. I know that there are racists who will get in the way of that. I also know a hell of a lot of people who aren't racist and I'm happy to play those odds in my favour. That's just... life.

I'd all but forgotten about the whole sorry affair until I got a text from my friend K today telling me that I must buy the July issue of Vogue Italia.

Why? Because for the first time ever in any glossy magazine, Vogue Italia is dedicating a hefty 100 pages to black models. I am not even going to run through the range of arguments for or against this. But here is a range of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Fuck you, Vogue Italia. It's well-meaning, condescending, liberal bullshit like this that pays lip service but doesn't actually achieve anything at all. I don't want a token black issue of Vogue. There are plenty of black fashion magazines. Blacking up for a month then going back to business as usual is not solving the problem. At best, it's idle tokenism. At worst it's idle tokenism. Either way, it's idle and it's tokenism.

  • What I want is to open any issue of any glossy magazine and see that people like me exist alongside everyone else. I want to see a mix of all women of every age, shape, size and hue, ALL THE TIME! I am not holding my breath.

In the end, it all comes down to the bottom line - as long as the negrophobes are calling the shots in fashion (and by that I mean those who run, invest in, make money from and buy fashion) then black will continue to be equated with unattractive and unlucrative. I think I can make my peace with that. Just. This irrational state of affairs can't last for ever and I can wait.

In the meantime, I'll be buying my July copy of Vogue Italia to see all those beautifully shot pictures of black models because - guess what? - in my world, black is beautiful.

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I like pretty dresses, high heels, the colour red and good writing.