An Honest Talk About Diversity

Black Fashion

There’s no such thing as absolute beauty, at least not according to Aristotle—if only he spoke for the casting directors of last month’s Spring/Summer 2015 runway shows from New York to Paris.

Since Bethan Hardison teamed up with supermodels Naomi Campbell and Iman to launch the Diversity Coalition in 2013, the new buzzword in the fashion world has been “diversity.” There has been a proliferation of articles and hashtags dedicated to this topic, and yet, diversity on the runway isn’t happening as quickly as we’d hoped.

The colourful infographic posted by thefashionspot.ca summarises diversity on the Spring/Summer 2015 runways in New York, London, Milan and Paris:

  • Caucasian models represent 82.4 percent;
  • Black and Asian models each came in at 6.8 percent; and
  • The ambiguous “Latina” represents 1.8 percent of the pie.

Season after season, fashion designers and casting agents use the “Blacks don’t fit the fashion aesthetic” excuse as a defence when someone points out the scarcity of Black faces on the runway. So, I have to ask, is white skin the only predictor of beauty?

André Leon Talley, former American editor-at-large for Vogue magazine, once said, “It’s not the designer that’s racist, it’s the system that’s racist. It’s the system of intolerance.” While I may not agree with all the points made in Talley’s original statement, he’s right about the fashion world’s ‘system of intolerance.’

To better understand the forces involved when people refer to this ‘system,’ let’s look at some of the findings presented by Christian Rudder in Dataclysm. In this book, Rudder explores human behaviour based on data collected online. He illustrates a few points using data from various social sites. One of the many disturbing points made in Dataclysm happens to be that white American men don’t like Black women—and that’s exclusively based on skin colour.

Rudder cites sociology professor Osagie K. Obasogie,  who conducted a study based on blind dates—literally—it was a sample of 106 people blind from birth set up on dates with people they didn’t know. The findings? Well, once the blind person found out their date was Black, it was over. Obasogie’s conclusion: “Blind people’s attitudes on race reflect a lifetime of cultural absorption, as opposed to any visual reality” (Rudder,112).

Every blog with a report on diversity for last month’s shows has come to the same conclusion: More! More! More! However, we all know that lasting change generally happens in increments. To really get those wheels in motion, it’s time to have an honest conversation about the gorgeous dark-skinned wooly-haired women standing in the middle of the room. I recently came across the ‘Black is beautiful’ hashtag on Instagram, and I really want to know what that means in today’s culture. Are we making a declaration or asking a question? Does art imitate life, or do we imitate art? Taste and preferences are learned, and where do you think that starts? Let’s make it the runway!