Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blacks in Editorials: Marginalization or Empowerment?

by Michelle Marques

Blacks in fashion editorials continue to be relegated to subcultural categories by the dominant culture and fashion industry. Many of these subcultures such as exoticism and minstrelsy serve to marginalize blacks and mark them as the Other in society. In 2008, Vogue Italia released The Black Issue which attempted to celebrate black women in history and the fashion industry. Despite the commercial success of the issue, many critics argued that the issue failed to incite significant social change.

The abundance of exotic editorials featuring minorities since The Black Issue is evidence of the lack of social change since the issue's release. These kind of editorials result in what author bell hooks describes as the "commodification of Otherness." These articles represent the dominant culture's fascination with the other and their desire to use this fantasy to affirm their power over minority groups. By placing minorities in these stereotypical roles, the "status quo" of society stays the same and power is maintained by the dominant white race.

The presence of minstrelsy in fashion editorials in today's magazines is highly controversial. These editorials marginalize minorities by celebrating the primitive and failing to exercise sensitivity to the historical implications of blackface. It can be argued that blackface stems from a desire of the dominant culture to have an intimate connection with the Other. However, the dominant culture has the power to enter the realm of the Other without giving up their societal power. They can transport themselves into the world of the Other via editorials like the one above while minorities continue to remain trapped in stereotypical representations of race in the fashion world and society.

Recently there has been a resurgance of powerful images of black power in fashion editorials. These editorials use references from the 1960's civil rights movement such as afros and black power fists to empower blacks in today's society. However, these editorials may fail to incite significant change. These editorials still appear significantly less frequently than stereotypical representations of blacks in fashion editorials. The overall comodification of blacks in the fashion industry may render these historical images of power meaningless to today's society.

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