Blackness is physically diverse. But there is a temptation to declare what ‘true blackness’ or ‘true black beauty’ looks like. Supermodel Iman experienced this when a 1976 Essence Magazine article by editor-in-chief Marcia Gillespie referred to her as “a white woman dipped in chocolate”. Iman, who has been consistently vocal on racism in the modeling industry, recalled in a recent interview with Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis how offended she felt;
Iman revealed that she first learned about the quote when asked about it by a Time magazine writer. “I’m a very political person and I think things through clearly, even when I was 18 years old,” she said. “And I definitely did not want to talk to this white [Time] journalist about a war with me and a black magazine. I was going to bring the war to [Gillespie].”
Iman said she addressed Gillespie personally, telling her, “ ‘Probably, I’m more black than any black person in America.’ I mean I don’t have any white in me. I’m pure Somali,” Iman explained. “So to me, I took offense to that. I don’t look like a white woman. I look Somali.”…
While Iman was feeling the heat from African-American critics, she noted that “the white side was saying, ‘Oh, you’re different. You’re better than everybody else.” However, she could see right through those left-handed compliments. “If I didn’t know the nuances of the politics of beauty and how you can use it by separating people and humiliating people… that constant friction was not lost on me,” she said.
Iman told Mallis that she entered the industry as “a fully-formed black woman,” and that’s how she was able to navigate through negative stereotypes in fashion. But some 40 years later, not much progress has been made — young black models are still speaking out on racism in the industry.
Ladies, what are your thoughts?