Bad Behavior and Interpersonal Weakness
I am pleased to say that some theories are easier to prove than others. I have always maintained that within the context of the US, the fiercest advocates of “white supremacy,” are seeking to mask a profound inability to COMPETE. History reveals that this was the case in the American South in the aftermath of African enslavement. It was the same during the Jim Crow Era of American Segregation. The exclusion of Blacks from counties, towns, professions and commerce often followed demonstrable Black success. Ida B. Wells was drawn into a life of political activism after lynchings in Tennessee led to the deaths of prosperous Black store owners. Professional sports leagues banned Black participation for years while hiding behind the ruse of “physical superiority.” Things have not changed all that much.
A Question of Substance
Decades after the revelation that Africans had numerous pre-Columbian contacts in the Americas, this site suggests no such thing has happened. It is precisely this type of revisionism that deluded “white” supremacists into believing they were physically superior in the ring, the gridiron, the diamond and on the court. Of course, the myth extended beyond the realm of the body – but the evidence of such claims has always wanted for support. “Guy” actually posted pictures of Greek-era Egyptian coins as “proof” the Egyptians of antiquity were “white.” For historians and archaeologists, this is the height of absurdity. The ethnicity of the Ptolemaic Dynasty is neither under question or relevant. In this environment, facts are simply beside the point. The knowledge base for meaningful discourse is simply too one-sided. When Cheikh Anta Diop overwhelmed his colleagues at UNESCO in the 70’s, they had the decency to concede the point. Those scholars “knew what they didn’t know.” With Guy, it’s different. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He has no clue – so, like many of his fellow blind men, he makes proclamations about things which have not only been soundly refuted, but were actually predicated on the political agenda of long-deceased men with an axe to grind. The history of “white supremacy” is chock full of scholarly myths. From “Piltdown Man” to the recent faux-discovery of “whites” at Qustul, there is no end to the grand deception. And why not? The cost of the truth is too high.
Competition is supposed to be the principle which reflects the heart and soul of this nation and the entire Western enterprise. Blogs are a place of competitive ideas. Banning is little more than a grandiose concession speech.
From Harper’s Magazine (1898). The abbreviated version follows:
When I was a boy, in the back settlements of the
Mississippi Valley, where a gracious and beautiful Sunday-school
simplicity and unpracticality prevailed, the “Yankee” (citizen
of the New England States) was hated with a splendid energy.
But religion had nothing to do with it. In a trade, the Yankee
was held to be about five times the match of the Westerner. His
shrewdness, his insight, his judgment, his knowledge, his
enterprise, and his formidable cleverness in applying these
forces were frankly confessed, and most competently cursed.
In the cotton States, after the war, the simple and
ignorant negroes made the crops for the white planter on
shares. The Jew came down in force, set up shop on the
plantation, supplied all the negro’s wants on credit, and at the
end of the season was proprietor of the negro’s share of the
present crop and of part of his share of the next one. Before
long, the whites detested the Jew, and it is doubtful if the
negro loved him.
The Jew is being legislated out of Russia. The reason is
not concealed. The movement was instituted because the Christian
peasant and villager stood no chance against his commercial
abilities. He was always ready to lend money on a crop, and
sell vodka and other necessaries of life on credit while the
crop was growing. When settlement day came he owned the crop;
and next year or year after he owned the farm, like Joseph.
In the dull and ignorant England of John’s time everybody
got into debt to the Jew. He gathered all lucrative enterprises
into his hands; he was the king of commerce; he was ready to be
helpful in all profitable ways; he even financed crusades for
the rescue of the Sepulchre. To wipe out his account with the
nation and restore business to its natural and incompetent
channels he had to be banished the realm.
For the like reasons Spain had to banish him four hundred
years ago, and Austria about a couple of centuries later.
In all the ages Christian Europe has been obliged to
curtail his activities. If he entered upon a mechanical trade,
the Christian had to retire from it. If he set up as a doctor,
he was the best one, and he took the business. If he exploited
agriculture, the other farmers had to get at something else.
Since there was no way to successfully compete with him in any
vocation, the law had to step in and save the Christian from the
poor-house. Trade after trade was taken away from the Jew by
statute till practically none was left. He was forbidden to
engage in agriculture; he was forbidden to practise law; he was
forbidden to practise medicine, except among Jews; he was
forbidden the handicrafts. Even the seats of learning and the
schools of science had to be closed against this tremendous
antagonist. Still, almost bereft of employments, he found ways
to make money, even ways to get rich. Also ways to invest his
takings well, for usury was not denied him. In the hard
conditions suggested, the Jew without brains could not survive,
and the Jew with brains had to keep them in good training and
well sharpened up, or starve. Ages of restriction to the one
tool which the law was not able to take from him – his brain –
have made that tool singularly competent; ages of compulsory
disuse of his hands have atrophied them, and he never uses them
now. This history has a very, very commercial look, a most
sordid and practical commercial look, the business aspect of a
Chinese cheap-labor crusade. Religious prejudices may account
for one part of it, but not for the other nine.
Protestants have persecuted Catholics, but they did not
take their livelihoods away from them. The Catholics have
persecuted the Protestants with bloody and awful bitterness, but
they never closed agriculture and the handicrafts against them.
Why was that? That has the candid look of genuine religious
persecution, not a trade-union boycott in a religious disguise.
The Jews are harried and obstructed in Austria and Germany,
and lately in France; but England and America give them an open
field and yet survive. Scotland offers them an unembarrassed
field too, but there are not many takers. There are a few Jews
in Glasgow, and one in Aberdeen; but that is because they can’t
earn enough to get away. The Scotch pay themselves that
compliment, but it is authentic.
I feel convinced that the Crucifixion has not much to do
with the world’s attitude towards the Jew; that the reasons for
it are older than that event, as suggested by Egypt’s experience
and by Rome’s regret for having persecuted an unknown quantity
called a Christian, under the mistaken impression that she was
merely persecuting a Jew. Merely a Jew – a skinned eel who was
used to it, presumably. I am persuaded that in Russia, Austria,
and Germany nine-tenths of the hostility to the Jew comes from
the average Christian’s inability to compete successfully with
the average Jew in business – in either straight business or the
Over at Rachel’s Tavern, there is an interesting discussion about racism in the fashion industry. Several international news agencies are reporting that fashion designers, magazines, manufacturers and modeling agencies are engaged in the practice of racism. Excerpts below from articles linked by Rachel…
From the Washington Post:
Agents complained that some designers won’t even consider black models for their shows. Editors of publications aimed at black consumers described the politics of booking models for their covers. Some black models fear being pigeonholed as too ethnic, a label that can prevent them from being featured prominently in more mainstream publications. And a lawyer dissected the difference between making an aesthetic choice, which is legal, and a biased one, which is not.
A little context from Deutsche Welle:
It was in 1964 that fashion designer Paco Rabanne sent a black model walking down a runway for the first time. She wore a wedding dress made of white plastic.
“It was an awful scandal,” Rabanne said. “After the show, American fashion journalists came backstage and almost spit in my face. They said haute couture is reserved for white women and not those girls over there.”
From the Daily Mail:
A summit is to be held between fashion designers, model agency bosses, politicians and race campaigners amid claims the fashion industry is guilty of racism.
It will examine why black and Asian models find it so difficult to break into the industry and comes as a talent contest to find a supermodel “of colour” is launched in London.
The summit is to be hosted by Dee Doocey, the Liberal Democrat culture spokeswoman on the London Assembly who ran an international fashion company in the Nineties.
She said today: “I don’t think I was ever sent a model who wasn’t white – it wasn’t racism but total and utter ignorance. It’s very difficult for anyone to break in but for anyone who is just slightly different it’s impossible. It’s a tragedy.”
The Top Model of Colour competition will be held at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium next month. Sophia White, one of the organisers and head booker at Mahogany Models, said: “There are very small percentages of models of colour at any of the top agencies and it shouldn’t be like this.
Thoughts? (a little fuchsia for the fashionistas)
At the Jil Sander show, for example, the models were so homogeneous that they were virtual clones: overwhelmingly tall, thin, pale and with hair ranging from platinum blond to honey blond to the occasional warm brunette. There is such a runway tradition of “white preferred” at this house — going back to when its namesake was at the helm and continuing with current designer Raf Simons — that one wonders whether anyone at Jil Sander has noticed that brown people actually exist.
Similar whiteouts occurred on the runways of Prada and Marni in Milan and at Calvin Klein in New York. The explanation for these choices always comes down to aesthetics, which is a designer’s prerogative (my emphasis). The models have been chosen because they fit easily into the samples. Because they have a certain look. Because they convey a single, uninterrupted message on the runway. Because they do not distract from the clothes.
The question of the exclusion of Black and Asian fashion models is compelling on many levels. Months ago, I posted about the pervasiveness of white supremacist imagery in the world of cosmetics/beauty/fashion. And there was this:
“What is compelling about this is not the assumption that this type of marketing is odious. That’s hardly the point. The issue is that Africans, Asians and Latin Americans consistently remark that their nations are free from the “racial animus” or “color consciousness” of the United States. The comments are made in the face of some serious conflicting evidence. There is broad appeal for these products. Sales have spiked and the demand curves suggest new and more innovative campaigns to satisfy more and more customers.”
The international image industry (for the sake of this conversation will include no less than cosmetics firms, fashion designers, magazine editors, modeling agencies, etc.) is able to SELL products to persons it excludes from various positions of labor critical to those industries. There is no question that there are many complex historical reasons that white firms are able to capitalize on the creation, packaging and distribution of “whiteness.” After all, under the current dynamics (demographics of firm ownership, industry buyers, suppliers, advertising executives, etc.) the best case scenario is not an authentic expression of African and Asian and Latina images – but a gilded ( as in, to make superfluous additions to what is already complete) representation through “white” eyes. Models of color would have their images packaged in a manner that reflects the prerogatives of ownership and industry leaders.
The contradiction prompted me to consider parallels in other industries. This is difficult because the role of a fashion model is not wholly analogous to that of other “performers.” For example, fashion shows are not completely analogous to concerts or athletic competitions. One significant distinguishing feature is that fashion shows are generally for industry insiders. Consumers do not buy or wear runway fashions. Consumers wear derivatives of what is developed on the runway. This is but one aspect which complicates comparison.
With that said, models are not the same as singers or football players. If in music and sports the product is the recorded song and the game, respectively, it cannot be said that models are as fundamental to clothes as singers or quarterbacks. In a real sense, models are the assembly line (and these shows resemble that remark). In this dehumanizing business, models are like so many machine parts. And for me, Robin Givhan’s words highlighted the visual: “homogenous”, “thin”, “pale.” Are we talking about long, slender tubes of aluminum lined up at JFK or are we talking about human beings in the primes of their lives?
There is a difficult empirical question here. Can beauty be quantified? There is no doubt that there are different standards of beauty around the world. Not all of those standards are informed by culture or geography. Still, it should be obvious to see the interest that the image industry would have in making it’s current standard universal. It opens up markets. The image industry has recognized this and responded accordingly. There is broad appeal for these products. Sales have spiked and the demand curves suggest new and more innovative campaigns to satisfy more and more customers.”
For me, the fundamental question is one of the protection of Black labor and Black consumers. I do not believe there are any permanent protections for any form of labor – let alone Black labor. Models of all culture groups are in an unenviable position (believe it or not). So, with respect to these industries, I maintain that Black models will never have more than seasonal appeal (a.k.a. “Flavor of the Month”) because the world view of supremacism and its exemplar racism preclude the current industry leaders from operating in a non-racialized, non-hierarchical context. Simply, as long as the owners and consumers perceive themselves as “white” they will prefer to see “whites” as models. There is no rocket science here.
Would Black models have more than seasonal appeal if Blacks owned competitive firms in the image industry? Probably. The dynamic of racism would still exist. However, the potential and tendency for Black-owned firms to hire Black labor is greater than the that of white-owned firms. So, what would it take to build such a firm? That’s beyond my area of expertise – but I know there are more than enough women of color with the knowledge, revenues and connections to get this done. There are enough models, modeling agencies, magazines, manufacturers and component parts for the initiation of a coordinated approach. Perhaps most importantly, there are enough consumers whose mental health would be greatly aided and abetted by economic activity organized around authentic images for women of color.
Sometimes it’s not a bad thing when you don’t get an invitation to the party.
There is something to be said about 1957. There is something to be said for maturing firms serving consumers with an organic connection to one another. (If you “read this” as an endorsement of compulsory segregation at the foot of white supremacists, you need to a re-read or two.)
I believe that the Black people have the capacity to change their material conditions by focusing on what matters – and considering what lies beyond the protection of a few jobs. The image industry, as it is presently constituted, is wedded to segregation of images and creating caricatures of Blacks and Asians. Today’s world, with all of its open source technologies and distributed media, provides an unprecedented opportunity for authenticity and collaboration. It is not contingent on goings on in New York, Paris, London or Milan.
There are millions of people already engaged in this work, but a critical mass has not been reached. Many are underfunded and working in isolation. And there are many people who are doing quite well for themselves. Nonetheless, the courage to roll the dice and take a bold, audacious, coordinated and capitalized (monied) step into this arena with the goal of establishing NEW, REAL IMAGES of women will come from an unexpected place. It always does.