Okay… this is where my emotional, intuitive, reactionary mind picks a fight with my rational, analytical, objective mind. Buro 247 published an online interview with Dasha Zhukova, the Russian editor-in-chief of Garage magazine, who was photographed atop a chair made of a life size scantily clad black woman frozen in a very compromising position.
I am trying to be fair about the existence of this Black Woman Chair aka art piece created by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard. It’s one of a series of installments inspired by the work of artist Allen Jones as a commentary on sexism and racism. To be fair there are other “furniture” pieces in this collective that feature white women in similar compromising positions.
But take the Black Woman Chair out of its collective, plop a white socialite on top of it (or her), and instantly another layer of meaning rises to the surface. The one who’s on top becomes part of the art piece. What becomes the message? Dominance over subservience? Privilege over bondage? Superiority over inferiority? Actually there may be brilliance in this transformation of perspective. If a black man sits on the Black Woman Chair, what would that say? How about a white man? A black woman? In a gallery this chair is provocative art. As Dasha’s prop in a photo op, it becomes racist.
The backlash has been extreme. In an issued statement, Dasha had this to say “…I regret allowing an artwork with such charged meaning to be used in this context. I utterly abhor racism and would like to apologize to those offended by my participation in this shoot…”
Miroslava Duma of Buro 24/7.ru wrote on Instagram, “Dear All, Buro 24.7.ru team and I would like to express our sincerest apology to anyone who we offended or hurt…”
Really now? Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking when they do stuff like this.
What do you think?
If you’re asked to write a recommendation, give a LinkedIn endorsement, or you want someone to write one for you, take some composition tips from Frederick Douglass, one of history’s greatest abolitionists and orators. Frederick Douglass’s statue was recently unveiled June 19 at the state Capital in Washington D.C., an honor long overdue. Douglass was an impressive writer and an edifier of those he admired. In 1868, Douglass wrote an exemplary letter of endorsement for his fellow comrade freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, who was extraordinary in her own right. A biography had just been written about her daring exploits as the conductor of the Underground Railroad. She was referred to as the “Moses of Her People”.
I bet Frederick and Harriet would have been tight LinkedIn buddies, don’t you agree?
Read and take notes.
Rochester, August 29, 1868 – “Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy. Your friend, Frederick Douglass.”
— Excerpt, “Letters Of A Nation,” Ed. A. Carroll
- Frederick Douglass statue unveiled in Washington DC (thegrio.com)
- Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist, Bad-Ass (thetruthaboutguns.com)
- Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River Raid (moorbey.wordpress.com)
Is India Arie truly loving the skin she’s in? I can’t think of any other artist or celebrity whose skin tone is tied so significantly to what they do and who they are. The realization of that fact struck me a few days ago, as I read about the brouhaha over the image from India’s new single, Cocoa Butter . India sports a hot bronze and black mini against a bronze background. Her skin glows golden brown instead of her usual dark cocoa. Questions fluttered throughout the Internet whether India succumbed to the “lure” of skin lightening treatments. She is the example for all women who refuse to subscribe to society’s standard of beauty. Didn’t she write Brown Skin, I Am Not My Hair and Video? The very thing that I think kept India from winning any of her seven Grammy nominations in 2002, is the very thing that makes her an icon: The unapologetic embracing of her brown skin and all that goes with it. It is what keeps us waiting patiently for her occasional hit singles. And to think she would renege on what is true. What a profound betrayal that would be, and an irreversible screw-up of her brand.
What she sings, how she sings, Who she is, right down to that mahogany skin is what we identify with. This is India’s brand equity. It defines her image in the minds of her fans and admirers. Can skin tone be so important that it becomes not only the person but the persona? I thinks so. Just like logos have a consistent style code e.g. specific colors, font, size, etc. So does one’s image. That person is a walking logo. In India’s case, her hair, features, and yes the tone of her skin, has always stayed congruent to the message in her songs. Straying from that, ruins her brand.
- Who is your target?
- What do you stand for?
- How do you communicate that message to the “who”?
India’s brand has enjoyed a point of distinction, that has stayed consistent throughout her career. India’s brand has been successful because it’s authentic. Altering any of it is disrespecting the brand…and us.
I know this sounds silly but one “color-of-skin-as-a-brand” example that comes to mind just as strongly is the Grinch, if his green turned beige, that would ruin his whole grouchy Seuss-y vibe.
India Arie quickly squashed that nasty rumor with a laugh via Twitter and Facebook. Here is what she wrote on fb:
Love to all #SoulBirdsWorldWide are you ready for this #SongVersation ?
Personally speaking! I’m happy to say I have NOT BLEACHED my skin LOL! ROTF at the thought.
1. I wouldn’t endanger my health that way
2. i’m so in love with myself I have no DESIRE to BLEACH myself. Lol
3. The GLOW you see IS (magnificent) lighting
4. THE LIGHT you see, Well thats all ME!!
Politically speaking racism/colorism in the black community is a MUUUUUUUCH larger #SongVersation #skinversaton
THAT I’d LOVE to “shed light on”..that conversation IS REAL, …let’s keep talking. #SongVersation #soulbirdsworldwide
Big love to ALL #soulbirdsworldwide
Do you think the skin bleaching rumor damaged India Arie’s personal brand?
Are we going back to disparaging images selling products? Paladone, A company based in the UK recently introduced a new line of sponges that’s got critics hopping on their soap boxes. The company recently introduced “King of Disco” and “Diana Wash” Washing-Up Sponges, pads shaped like afros perched on top black male and female figures. The company’s spokesperson says the sponges are designed to make an everyday chore like washing up more fun. But The Unite Against Fascism general secretary Weyman Bennett said, “This is not appropriate for the 21st century to show images like that. It reinforces negative stereotypes and ideas.” Bennett also feels that it opens the door for people to produce racial stereotypes and that’s not something society wants to see. “We’ve worked very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Bennett concludes.
I did a little investigating and discovered Paladone offers a set of four brushes: “King of Disco”, “Diva” (replacing “Diana Wash”) “Punk” and “Groovy” who are white. Does the addition of white characters dispel the racism argument?
What do you think of the Paladone Washing-up Brushes? Take my poll.
- Afro-styled dish sponges deemed racist (thegrio.com)
- racist afro washing up sponges go on sale in UK (innerstandingisness.wordpress.com)
- You Decide: New Afro Dish Washing Sponges – Cute or Offensive? (clutchmagonline.com)
- The Diana (Afro) Washing Up Sponge – Do you like? (valleyfontaine.wordpress.com)
Renown artist Elizabeth Catlett, who passed away April 2 at age 96, created timeless work that captured the beauty, struggle and strength of women of color.
Our truth lives on in her work.
BE.U.tiFUL: BE U to the FULLest!
- Elizabeth Catlett, Kathleen Flenniken And The Porshce 911 Carrera S. (cadmefoghlamthainniu.wordpress.com)
As we end Black History Month, I want to pay homage to the Black is Beautiful movement that began 50 years ago this year. The belief in many world cultures that black people’s contributions are insignificant and their physical features inherently unattractive, was challenged over a half century ago by South African author/activist Steven Biko in his Black Consciousness testament. A groundbreaking event that reinforced this consciousness soon became the catalyst for change in the Black Power Movement. Black is Beautiful steadily built momentum until it became the proud cry of blacks throughout the diaspora, especially in the United States. And it was achieved decades before Facebook or Twitter.
Challenging European Aesthetics
In 1962, a group of designers, musicians, artists and writers called The African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS) collaborated on an unprecedented fashion event that fueled change in the perception of black imagery around the world, The Grandessa Models Naturally ’62 debuted January 28 at Harlem’s Purple Manor. The theme: Black is Beautiful, a provocative statement of its time, with the subtitle, “The Original African Coiffure and Fashion Extravaganza Designed to Restore Our Racial Pride & Standards. Among those responsible for this event was Kwami Braithwaite, President of the National Council of Artists (NCA) New York Chapter; Carlos A. Cooks of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement, models Jimmy Abu Williams and Black Rose Nelms.
Singer/actress Abbey Lincoln and musician Max Roach, were charter members who performed at the events. The Grandessa models challenged European aesthetics by showing off their natural textured hair, full features and no makeup as they graced the runway in vibrant African designs created by local fashion designers. They took Harlem by storm. It was the birth of what would be an international phenomenon.
Black is Beautiful Reaches Tipping Point
By 1966, the Civil Rights Movement rose to a feverish pitch, which propelled the Black is Beautiful movement. Given the swell of Black unrest, this was the year the Black is Beautiful event reached a tipping point. Negroes and coloreds throughout America were proclaiming their blackness without shame or apology. It’s interesting to note how it trended without digital technology. AJASS designed books, magazines, and pamphlets touting the Black is Beautiful experience. It spread quickly by automobile, train, airplane and ship via travelers determined to shift paradigms. The Naturally extravaganzas toured such cities as Chicago and Detroit. The Black is Beautiful movement soon became part of the radical mainstream. Brothers and sisters of a darker hue were now in demand for TV and advertising.
African inspired clothing and jewelry were the rage. Blacks abandoned hair chemicals and conks for naturals and afros. Black people not only said they were beautiful, they believed it.
New Movement Reclaiming the Beauty of Blackness
The Black is Beautiful movement lasted nearly two decades but faded in the 80’s. Why did it go out of style? Did the natural hair backlash in corporate America have anything to do with it, or the Jheri curl and designer labels? Did integration, assimilation, or emerging multiculturalism contribute to its demise?
Black pride and standards have regressed since the 60’s. Though the current generation have held on to the “Black”, not all see it as beautiful; hence the upsurge in weaves and bleaching creams. But despite the backsliding, there is a black light at the end of the tunnel. The spirit of Black is Beautiful is making a comeback through the growing number of black women who are forsaking chemically treated hair for natural styles. Black is Beautiful today speaks to women of many hues and hair textures as evidenced in P & G’s My Black is Beautiful campaign. I have the feeling that this quiet resurgence will have a more lasting impact.
Back in the days prior to the Civil Rights Movement, bleaching black skin was an accepted taboo. Advertising in major black magazines like Ebony and Jet, use to extol the benefits of using bleaching creams. The message was clear: You were prettier, more acceptable to society and desirable to men if your skin was lighter and brighter.
But the tumultuous 60’s rolled in. Coloreds and Negroes discovered their black was beautiful. The expressions Black Power and Black Pride stirred up America like a tornado. “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” was heard from sea to shining sea. For the first time, African Americans gazed in the mirror without shame and embraced their dark hues, kinky hair and fuller features. Finally, they would overcome the hatred, perceived inferiority and unworthiness that 400 years of negative propaganda perpetrated. As a daughter of a civil rights activist, I thought Black is Beautiful would last forever.
But then the Oo-La-La 80’s emerged. The European look was back in vogue for black people. Keen features and lighter skin were once again the desired look.
In the 21st century, we are still grappling with skin color. In the age of multiculturalism, whitening creams are making a comeback. People of color all over the world are bleaching their skin including Africans, West Indians, Latinos, Asians and African Americans. Did biases against dark skin people ever really go away?
Evelyn Nakano Glenn, a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a NYTimes.com post on skin whitening. “…It is not as if dark-skinned women are imagining a bias…Sociological studies have shown among African-Americans and also Latinos, there’s a clear connection between skin color and socioeconomic status. It’s not some fantasy. There is prejudice against dark-skinned people, especially women in the so-called marriage market.”
Don’t fit in, you don’t get in. How that standard crept back into African American culture baffles me. I still can’t believe Black is Beautiful is the exception, not the rule.
There is a price to pay for bleaching your way into societal acceptance. Skin lightening creams are dangerous to your skin. Many brands contain steroid corticosteroid and mercury, which over time can cause blemishing, burnt marks, thinning of the skin, eroded protection against UV rays, hypertension, cancer, liver and kidney failure, even death.
Many celebrities are alleged to be bleaching their black skin…
Is this a new statement of haute style and beauty or a retreat into self hate?Are we going backward instead of forward? What do you think of Blacks bleaching their skin? Would you do it?
Take our poll.