What Blackface Is Not: Numéro’s Tacky “African Queen” Spread With White American Model
Here we go again! French fashion magazine Numéro once again makes itself a target for backlash, this time covering 16-year-old White American model Ondria Hardin in dark makeup and turbans for a misleading spread titled, African Queen.
This isn’t the publication’s first go ’round with racially insensitive controversy, so it makes you wonder if, by now, it’s not done on purpose.
In 2010, they came under scrutiny for a spread featuring White French model Constance Jablonski all bronzed up and crowned with an afro and posing with a black baby.
So we’re guessing café complected models Arlenis Sosa, Ataui Deng, Ayan Elmi, Chanel Iman, Fatima Siad, Grace Bol, Gracie Carvalho, Joan Smalls, Lais Ribeiro, Marihenny Rivera, Nwa Bote, Senait, Sessilee Lopez, Sharleen Dziire, and Tina Johnson are all just too busy.
Cultural Misappropriation, Not Blackface
The immediate reaction has been to call this blackface, but it takes a little more than dipping White models in darker hues to qualify for that degrading label.
There’s often no minstrelsy whatsoever in these spreads but it speaks volumes of how Whites are obsessed with dark skin, burning and painting themselves to be darker, but would rather not employ even the lightest shade of negro.
While you may be personally offended, this spread isn’t making fun of African beauty as much as it’s attempting to copy it… and failing. This is done so often that you’d think we’d be used to being emulated, fetishized, stolen from, and disregarded.
The same question arises every time high fashion is put on blast: “Why don’t they just use Black models?”
Answer #1: They don’t want to and they don’t have to.
Last year we came across a study which exposed the outrageous reasons given by agencies and stylists who refuse to use minorities unless necessary:
“…it’s also really hard to scout a good black girl. Most black girls have wide noses and big bottoms so if you can find that right body and that right face, but it’s hard.”
“Me personally, in my opinion, there really is no good, good, black girl around.”
At the end of the day, publications and brands like Victoria’s Secret know that even if they blatantly disrespect Native Americans by draping Karlie Kloss in a sexified version of native attire, they won’t lose any customers. Have you stopped shopping there?
Answer #2: Why bother?
The same study included this gem from a New York City stylist, who of course prefers to remain anonymous:
“Okay let’s say Prada. You don’t have a huge amount of black people buying Prada. They can’t afford it. Okay so that’s economics there. So why put a black face?”
And while high end brands like Gucci, Versace, Ports 1961, Etro, and Emilio Pucci all used at least one Black face for its recent Milan Fashion Week show, Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls, a whopping 82% of the models used by all brands throughout New York Fashion Week were white.
9.1% were Asian, 6% Black, 2% Latina… yet bookings of Black models have nearly doubled in four years, according to Refinery29.
These facts led Jezebel‘s Laura Beck to question the message all of this sends to minority girls who aspire to work in some facet of the fashion industry:
“It’s impossible to look at this and not ache for young women of color who want to pursue careers in modeling (and arguably, fashion by extension).
When they don’t see themselves on the runway or in magazines, it could be very easy for them to think, ‘huh, I guess modeling isn’t for me.’ Then the status quo reigns, and the runways remain monotone. If jobs for “African Queen” photo spreads aren’t going to black women, what hope is there?”