By Chris Hoenig
The fashion industry’s ignorance of the fact that Blackface is offensive continues, with Vogue‘s Italian edition publishing a spread featuring a model in Blackface.
The series of photos in Vogue Italia, titled “Abracadabra,” features model Saskia de Brauw in a variety of ethnic costumes and face-paint colors, including orange and black.
The photo spread continues a disturbing trend among fashion magazines, which ignore the offensive nature of Blackface. Vogue has published at least two spreads that feature models with painted faces, including a spread last year in its magazine in the Netherlands and a 2009 shoot in its French edition. Blackface models were also featured in spreads last year in Numero and Metal magazines. Jeanne Deroo, beauty editor at ELLE France, also posted a picture of herself in Blackface to her Instagram account late last year, and later said she didn’t realize her “costume” was offensive.
“I did not realize the seriousness of my act when I went last Saturday night to a private party with the theme ‘Icons,’ and where I chose to embody Solange Knowles, of whom I am a fan,” she said in a translated apology via Twitter. “I am deeply sorry and would like to offer my apologies. I would also like to indicate that this photo published in a private setting has nothing to do with the editing of ELLE magazine, and I regret the harm it has caused the magazine for which I work.”
Such a statement from a fashion-industry exec is rare, and why editors insist on continuing with such an offensive tradition instead of hiring Black models remains a mystery (though the fashion industry doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to Black models either, often lightening their skin).
The fashion industry’s ignorance turns a blind eye to the history of Blackface—originally used in theater by white actors to portray and mischaracterize Blacks—and has given many the belief that dressing in such a way is acceptable. Last year alone, multiple colleges faced the fallout from student parties that included offensive Blackface costumes. Actress Julianne Hough also publicly apologized for dressing in Blackface for a Halloween party. A Volkswagen commercial that aired during the 2013 Super Bowl also featured an actor in Blackface.
A YouGov poll released last November shows just how little many Americans know about the offensive nature of Blackface. More than 40 percent of those polled think the practice is acceptable, but the numbers show a clear disconnect between Blacks (68 percent say it’s unacceptable) and whites (32 percent say it’s unacceptable, 46 percent say it’s okay). Blacks (76 percent) and Democrats (58 percent) both think it’s unacceptable to portray any racial or ethnic stereotype in a Halloween costume, while more whites (44 percent versus 35 percent) and Republicans (59 percent versus 31 percent) actually think it’s more acceptable than offensive.