I recently read about a bit of controversy with Numéro magazine because they featured the above picture in an editorial.
The picture features 16-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed model, Ondria Hardin, who was covered in bronzer for the shoot. The magazine was then criticised for their decision to use a white model instead of “a more ethnic” one. This went so far that the magazine had to issue a statement apologising, saying:
“The artistic statement of the photographer Sebastian Kim, author of this editorial, is in line with his previous photographic creations, which insist on the melting pot and the mix of cultures, the exact opposite of any skin color based discrimination. Numéro has always supported the artistic freedom of the talented photographers who work with the magazine to illustrate its pages, and has not took part in the creation process of this editorial….Considering the turmoil caused by this publication, the Management of Numéro Magazine would like to apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this editorial.”
Needless to say, a debate sprung up faster than you could say “bingo!”. Reading through the comments underneath this story, it was interesting to see all the different view points.
- Some African American readers were offended because they felt this was a representation of “blackface“. This, is a form of theatrical makeup popular in the 19th century, where performers created a stereotyped caricature of a black person. The usual stereotype being the “happy-go-lucky darkie on the plantation” or the “dandified coon”. (Can we really compare this to blackface?)
- Another reader explained that people are offended because they chose to use a blonde, blue-eyed, American model in bronzer, to represent a continent that is predominantly black. (Should they then have used an African model?)
- A (presumably white) reader asked the question, Why are black women mad when they make a white model look more African, but white women are not mad when African women are modelled with blonde weaves and bleached skins?
- A few other African American readers felt that, whereas “blackface” was used to caricature and therefore make fun of Africans, this was not intended in the same way. One said that, seeing as the model looks gorgeous and African American women have been using make up to look “whiter” for years, this shows some level of equality and she’s happy to see other races trying to emulate the African look. “Let the white girl play in black makeup! We got more important shit to worry about!” (Is it really a compliment, or does taking it as a compliment show a lack of pride in how you, as an African woman, are portrayed in the media?)
- Another reader felt that this was being blown way out of proportion, because (suprise, suprise), “there are white women born in Africa too!”
That last comment, my favourite one by far, got me thinking…
So maybe she’s not representing a black women. Maybe she’s representing a white, African woman. Maybe she’s representing the idea that, with all the white women tanning and black women bleaching their skins, very soon there will be no difference between us. Or…Maybe she’s representing the blending of cultures and influences that is inevitable in a continent that is full of so many different people. Is it not all in how we choose to see it?
Yes, the white people came to Africa from Europe and the Americas, but how many centuries and how many generations must pass, before their children’s children’s children (who are born of the soil and the unique blended culture), are considered Africans? And if they are considered Africans, why can they not be African queens? Are white people born in Africa going to be considered migrants until the end of time? (the same way a lot of different cultures are still considered foreigners in America today). And if that is the case, how does this viewpoint bode well for Africa’s children and their future in any way??
Africa’s story, is so full of blood and anger and hatred and division…so can’t we, just this once, choose to see the glass as half full?
My question for today is, why can’t little black girls AND little white girls born of this continent, dream of being African Queens?