Early in 2020, I commented on The Root about the implicit bias and intentional othering photographers seem to always use when styling and taking images of Black people. I mentioned cancelling my Vanity Fair subscription after the January 2020 Hollywood Issue where Annie Leibovitz, that famed photographer known for ‘capturing the essence’ of her subjects and making beautiful masterpieces, framed dark-skinned Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi, Black Panther T’Challa’s best friend) in jet black while whitening his eyes only! Suspiciously, my letter to the editor was not published and, though there were several months left on my subscription, an old credit card from a years ago order was found and my subscription renewed at an exorbitant price I’ve never paid.
I’ve been berated for my vociferous defense of dark-skinned people and our portrayals and depictions by a few. I’ve been gaslighted by lighter-skinned Blacks and biracial people who vehemently deny their privilege and elevation in ways that blonde white women would never even attempt to lie to brunettes about. I’ve long made a thought experiment to note how often those with the most melanin are depicted as animalistic in jungle prints and settings with harsh lighting, weird makeup and crazy hairstyles never seen in real life, wearing highly saturated colors and posed as animals. Or how the venerated purveyors of style seem to always pluck the most unusual-looking representative Blacks as models and proceed in a concerted effort to style them exclusively as space aliens, androids and nether world creatures! We’ve all seen African models with the silkiest, smooth, almost-black skin wearing thousands of dollars worth of couture, in luxurious palatial settings with their natural hair uncombed and no makeup whatsoever. Just reinforcing the idea of the ridiculousness of a wealthy, classy, gorgeous Black! Or our luminous sisters and brothers are placed in an alternative universe, usually outer space, with crazy, jarring metallic makeup, no eyebrows, no shoes and other questionable choices that seem designed to reinforce the idea that Black people are not human and not of this Earth.
Yet, similarly unusual looking and difficult to manage pale whites, redheads or just...let’s admit it...supremely unattractive white people can be viewed by the world as beautiful and handsome because their images are SCRUPULOUSLY manufactured by only the best, most expertly qualified makeup and hair artists, stylists, photographers and after-effects artists who build their reputations spinning gold from dross. Or the publicists and studios who’d file a lawsuit to prevent publication of an unflattering, poorly-lit, ‘natural’ unmade-up visual of Julia Roberts, Glenn Close, Laura Dern, Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg or John Cena!
If representation matters, it does so in person, in audio and definitely visually. Depictions that don’t show our pigments and skin tones, our bodies, in the most beauteous manner subliminally perpetuate the racist notions that help others to dehumanize and subjugate and abuse us. It’s part of the reason Black women aren’t world-renowned and praised for our multitudinous beauty. It surely accounts for the continued acceptance of the caricature of the angry Black person who ‘roars’ when their voice is raised. Or that a person who being beaten by numerous armed police is said to ‘possess super-human’ strength by not immediately succumbing when any human or animal would fight for air - or their dear life!
We’ve even internalized and accepted this failure to portray us as we should see ourselves. Actors, models and even athletes accept that there won’t be an expert wig and weave master on set. That there won’t be foundation makeup in our shades and complimentary styling. Or that ‘natural’ means not only no makeup but no color correction, blemish or dark spot removal. And it absolutely must mean the dark-skinned Black must wear a afro! And the beat goes on.
I’ve been saying it for decades and I said it here. But y’all don’t hear me ‘do. Until white people notice: