More Blackface Bias and Insensitivity in the Fashion Industry

This month a Gucci black turtleneck sweater was condemned on social media, as was a Prada blackface-looking ornament. Katy Perry blackface-like shoes are being pulled.Vogue misidentified journalist Noor Tagouri, and now Vogue Brazil is apologizing for an offensive racial photo.

Yahoo News and TMZ are reporting that Katy Perry is removing shoes from her footwear collection because shoppers complained that one style resembled blackface.

The $129 shoes no longer will be sold.

Yahoo included a statement from Perry and her company:

“The Rue and The Ora were part of a collection that was released last summer in 9 different colorways (black, blue, gold, graphite, lead, nude, pink, red, silver) and envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism. I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain. We have immediately removed them from Katy Perry Collections.”

As if to make matters worse in the fashion world, Vogue Brazil has been accused of a race-based insensitive photo showing style director Donata Meirelles celebrating her birthday on a throne alongside black women in traditional dress, CNN has reported.

Journalist Fabio Bernardo posted this photo of Meirelles, sparking more outrage about inherent bias in the fashion industry.

According to CNN, Vogue Brazil apologized “profusely for what happened and hopes that the discussions generated have served as a learning opportunity.” The company plans to create a forum to help identify biased and exclusionary content.

These were the latest in a string of apologies in the fashion world.

Social media erupted upon seeing an $848 sweater resembling blackface, prompting Gucci to pull the product from its catalog and online and physical stores.

Film producer Tariq Nasheed tweeted …

In covering the story, the New York Times recounted a series of stereotypical blunders in the fashion world.

Dolce & Gabbana was excoriated for advertisements laden with stereotypes about Chinese people. Zara has featured a skirt with a character like Pepe the Frog, a figure embraced by far-right groups. Prada adorned bags with charms, part of a line of goods called Pradamalia, that resembled black monkeys with outsize red lips. And the Swedish company H&M dressed a young black male model in a hoodie with the phrase “coolest monkey in the jungle,” setting off protests at South African stores.

Prada also tweeted an apology about its blackface-looking ornament with a statement that read, in part, “The resemblance of the products to blackface was by no means intentional, but we recognise that this does not excuse the damage they have caused.”

The company’s statement also noted that it would create an Advisory Council to guide its efforts pertaining to diversity, inclusion and culture. In addition, it would donate proceeds from its ornament to an organization dedicated to fighting for racial justice.

That apology was better than the one Vogue issued after misidentifying Libyan-American journalist Noor Tagouri , 24, with Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari, 36.

Living Media Ethics covered the incident earlier this month in a post titled, “In Vogue: Journalist Tagouri Misidentified as Pakistani Actress.” The magazine issued this apology:

Its apology lacked two of seven basic ethical components of a correction, as described in Living Media Ethics:

  • Identify the error (what it was, when/where it occurred).
  • Correct the record.
  • Do so as soon as possible.
  • Do so prominently.
  • Provide an explanation to the audience or clientele.
  • Disclose how the error could have been avoided and/or how it will be prevented in the future.
  • Issue an apology to those damaged by the false disclosure.

In attempting to address the cultural problem of such a mistake, the magazine stated: “We also understand there is a larger issue of misidentification in media–especially among nonwhite subjects [emphasis added].”

Some viewers on social media criticized the use of the term “nonwhite,” wondering why the magazine didn’t simply say “people of color.”

Living Media Ethics dedicates a chapter to correcting bias and stereotypes, noting consequences for content and products that offend others. Here’s an excerpt:

Mistakes. Your report, photograph, advertisement, illustration or campaign will contain misconceptions and inaccuracies tarnishing your own and/or your company’s reputation.

Substandard quality. Your misconceptions and inaccuracies may cause your story or campaign to fall short of expectations, costing your outlet subscribers, patrons or contracts.

Professional embarrassment. When your work is deemed racist, you become the focus of media attention and implicate your employer and coworkers by association.

Personal liability. When your work contains race-related misconceptions and/or inaccuracies—such as believing allegations made by sources or over-billing or shunning clients because of their ethnic heritage—you or your firm can be sued, depending on factors involved in each case.

Undermined morality. Even if your work succeeds, appealing to prurient interests who embrace stereotypes, you contribute messages to society that cause other people pain, suffering and humiliation.

Unanticipated disturbances. The pain, suffering and humiliation caused by your report, photograph, illustration, advertisement or campaign can lead to protests against your employer or boycotts against your product or client.

Let’s hope the fashion industry and media that cover it are more sensitive to the issue of stereotypes–not only in Black History Month–but throughout the year, every year.

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