It has been revealed that the controversial exhibit in New York City’s Union Square earlier this year that prompted passersby to touch black women’s hair was actually part of a larger exploration into responses to black physicality, including a brief documentary (see Pt. 1 above) and a panel discussion. The documentary explores, among other things, comparisons of the exhibit, “You Can Touch My Hair,” to the exhibition of Sarah Baartman centuries ago, and includes the voices of women opposed to strangers touching and posing with black women on display.
The controversy surrounding Devina DeDiva’s racist posts against Megan Young, the Filipina who was recently crowned Miss World 2013, exploded all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds a few days ago. For those of you not privy to what DeDiva stated, see her Facebook feed below:
DeDiva’s words, while hurtful and racist, is so similar to sentiments I’ve heard expressed before that I was saddened but unsurprised. When the Philippines’ labour export policy has, since the late 1970s, been reliant on the export of women to work in households around the world, it is no wonder that ‘Filipinas’ are equated with domestic servitude.
Image from Rick Owens spring 2014 presentation, courtesy of New York magazine.
The lack of racial diversity in the fashion industry has been a hot topic of late. So too, fashion’s celebration of bodies that few women–even models–can realistically obtain. So, Rick Owens’ spring 2014 presentation in Paris (see a slideshow of images at the link), which featured snarling, mostly-black members of a step team (Howard University’s Zeta Phi Beta sorority), with thick thighs and curvy middles, should have been a breath of fresh air–a blow against homogeneity.
Kinitra Brooks, pop culture professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, helped me put my feelings in perspective when she said, “I had a mixed reaction. I found the theme of Vicious and the hyperbolic mean-mugging highly problematic. Particularly in regards to the stigma types of strong and angry black women. And then, I was hypnotized by their beautiful shades of skin against those earth tones and their legs, my God their legs! They were so muscular and full of purpose and supported their bodies as they performed all types of physical feats. I read an article that spoke of the women as blessing the audience with their awesomeness and then exiting in such a way that said, ‘Bye now! We are way too cool for this place.'”
As happy as I am to see fresh faces on the runway, unfortunately, I can’t fully appreciate these women, as my friend did, because of how the Owens show was steeped in racial and gendered stereotype. The models’ aggressive expressions and movements seem designed to play into old myths of black women as bestial and hard. I would have appreciated it if Owens had presented those models sans theatrics. As it is, the show seems not a celebration of diverse beauty, but as if the designer thought, “Hey, what’s the opposite of the ethereal and beautiful white women who typically line catwalks? Thick, angry black chicks. Edgy!”
Indeed, Owens called the show his “fuck-you to conventional beauty.” And there we have it. The Owens show is less an expression that women of diverse races and body types can be beautiful, than a designer using brown bodies to present what he believes is anti-beauty to flip the fashion script. I think, this is not so much progress as business as usual.
But now, the white-makes-right faction of American society is making a comeback. Pissed over the fact that the racial demographics of the U.S. are turning against them, the white right of America is in full backlash mode. You may remember this viral video of an uprising at a Town Hall meeting hosted by Delaware Representative Mike Castle.
The birthers in this video are the kissing cousins of tweeters labeling our new Miss America a terrorist. In fact, angry birthers and racist tweeters complaining about the rockin’ brown blush on the cheeks of our new Miss America are just the foam on the crest of a wave of white resentment that is rising, and quickly, over the fear that white Americans are losing control of American culture, including cultural symbols like Miss America and the standard of beauty, femininity, and American accomplishment she represents.
Make no mistake, this Miss America scuffle is just one small battle in a much larger war over the meaning of “American” in a country whose future depends on the full inclusion of people of color, but whose history and contemporary political fights are all too often about limiting citizenship rights and genuine American cultural identity to white males.
“So, I asked my news director … over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.’ He said ‘Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that because of your Asian eyes, I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, you look disinterested and bored.’
“So, what am I supposed to say to my boss? I wanted to cry right then and there. It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all of my life I wanted to be a network anchor.”
— Julie Chen, host of “The Talk,” on her decision to get plastic surgery early in her reporting career
The former Miss New York and Miss America crowning Miss. New York as the new Miss America, via NY Daily News
Keyboards just have a way of bringing out the racist in everyone. Gotta love America.
But a harsh reality is that Miss America, would never be Miss India. They’re about as messed up when it comes to colorism as other people are. A former coworker always discussed how her darker Indian family members were discriminated against, and even her own mother warned her to keep her daughter out of the sun so she wouldn’t get dark. She also used to joke about the Fair & Lovely skin lightening commercials that permeate the airwaves in India. Coincidentally, Fair & Lovely is a product of Unilever, who also makes Dove.
As Lakshmi Chaudhry, sarcastically but truthfully, wrote on First Post, “That gorgeous chocolate may play as exotic in the West, but in India, we prefer our beauty queens strictly vanilla — preferably accessorised with blue contact lenses.”
I’ve always given side-eye to Fashion Fair Cosmetics ever since I started wearing make-up. To be a part of the Johnson Publication empire–the people who bring us Ebony (and its online equivalent) and Jet–their make-up was not only too rich for my wallet but never quite fit my skin tone. (You’d think, of allllll the companies, Fashion Fair would have a shade that fit the full spectrum of Black folks and well, right?) And, to be honest, the brand itself made me think of its relevance to my mom’s generation–the fresh-off-the Movement, up-the-corporate-ladder Baby Boomers–not mine.
One of my favorite Tumblrs, black beauty, featured photos submitted by Tumblrer Indigo, who dressed in an homage to legendary artist Frida Kahlo. (The headline comes from the caption she wrote to describe her picture.)