There is no doubt that actress Thandie Newton is not only incredibly beautiful, but accomplished; however, like many other women of colour, she finds herself unable to grace the cover of ‘Vogue’ magazine. In an interview with Pride Magazine, she had the following to say according to Huffpo:
“Don’t get me started on black people being on the cover of big magazines. It’s so preposterous. I mean, I’ve been on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar four times; I’ve been on the cover of InStyle four times, but Vogue, not once.”
“And people say to me, I mean literally, people have said to me, ‘What have you got against Vogue that you don’t want to be on their cover?’ And I just laugh.”
“They [Vogue] don’t feel the need to represent because it doesn’t make any sense to them. It’s just baffling to me, but as usual America will dictate the ways things go and a magazine like Vogue will just follow America,” she said. “But it’s like, don’t you want to trail blaze?”
Vogue does not feel any pressure to have equal representation for women of colour because the media, just like every other social institution, aids in the maintenance of White supremacy. We have seen time and time again that women of colour are denied coverage that White women so easily get, and when they do finally make the cover of a magazine, they have to worry that the image will be so lightened that they will be unrecognizable. Women of colour are also repeatedly denied the opportunity for meaningful acting parts, but they sure are deemed desirable when the part of a maid is available. Even Thandie once played the role of a maid, in Interview with the Vampire, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.
Race is a large determinant of who gets positive attention in the media. When it comes to women, there can be no doubt that White women still represent what it is to be ‘woman’. They are held up as the most talented, attractive, maternal, sexy etc., while Black women are still relegated to the place of the world’s unwoman. The fact that White women continue to gain from the othering of women of colour, means that though many supposedly fight for equality, they are not moved as a group to recognize their racial privilege, or defend us.
Thandie is not the only woman of colour to talk about the erasure in fashion magazines like Vogue. Despite the big splash that an all Black version of Italian Vogue a few years ago, Black women are continually relegated to the sidelines. A simple look at the catwalk, shows that White women continue to be overrepresented in fashion shows.
Unfortunately too often, people cite the exception to the rule rather than the rule. Putting women like Michelle Obama on the cover does not negate the fact that women of colour are rarely featured, nor does it stand as proof that the fashion industry, or Vogue magazine is not racist. Erasure is a form of covert racism that is practiced on a daily basis. The very same people who would never dream of using a racial slur, have no problem excluding Black women, or actively denying us good and fair representation.
The common response to this is that Blacks should start our own magazines, if we want representation, but the truth of the matter is that a magazine is not an easy undertaking to start. No matter how talented a person is, the start up capitol is still necessary and since we know that Blacks are economically disenfranchised, the very idea that Blacks should just start our own separate magazines is ridiculous. We don’t exist on a level playing field, and this why proposals such as this, as a way to deal with erasure and racism is quite simply ridiculous.
I personally don’t read Vogue, because I am not interested in fashion, and I certainly would not support a magazine that cannot be arsed to have someone who looks like me appear on even a semi-regular schedule; however, I recognize what this lack of exposure is doing to young Black women. There is a reason why even today despite all the gains of the Black community, that Black children continue to prefer the White doll. Everywhere they look, everything that is constructed as good, pure and beautiful is White. From the television shows that they watch, to billboard and magazine covers they are shown, to be White is to be worthy of attention and adoration. No matter how hard a parent tries to invest a child with racial pride, they are fighting the institution of White supremacy, which is determined to enforce the exact opposite. We need Black women on the covers of magazines like Vogue, if our children are ever to see themselves as valuable. We need these covers to dispel the idea that Black women are just born unattractive. There is absolutely nothing neutral about erasure and until we address the fact that it essentially amounts to a value judgement based in racist ideals, we are going to continue to have a divided society in which some people are privileged over others, simply based in the Whiteness of their skin.