When diversity isn’t so: The ELLE Germany #blackisback issue

And now we’re on it again. With their “Black is back” magazine, ELLE Germany leaves us with more issues than just “the November issue”

 

 

Amazing movements of diversity and inclusivity are making their way through the world. In big fields such as the beauty industry we’ve seen people like Rihanna and Glossier taking huge steps towards a more embracing take on the classic. Young people are demanding equality in the workplace, on the runway, in politics and on social media. 

 

But the fashion industry is still missing the mark. Quite often. 

 

The Gucci blackface scandal; the absolute lack of models of color on the first new-Celine catwalk; the misidentification of Muslim American journalist Noor Tagouri in Vogue magazine, which opened up the topic of the general of misidentification of Muslims and people of color. 

 

And now we’re on it again. With their “Black is back” magazine, ELLE Germany leaves us with more issues than just “the November issue”. It’s pretty hard to point out anything they did right, actually. Not only did ELLE Germany choose to use a white model on the front page of the issue, they, similarly to Vogue, misidentified model Naomi Chin Wing as model Janaye Furman. 

 

This  is bad enough already, but the most eye-catching horror is the overall use (and mindset) of “BLACK IS BACK”. Fashionista writer Dhani Mau puts it extremely well:  

 

“Yes, ‘Black is back,’ as if being Black is a trend that cycles in and out of fashion. ‘Black is back’ appears to be the theme of the entire issue, mostly referring to the color in terms of clothing, but clearly the editors of Elle Germany decided they’d just fold some human beings into the trend.”

 

 

For me, this shows a disturbing take on diversity; as if it’s the perfect thing to sell magazines. Which it is, to an extent: Because we are all still demanding it. 

 

 

But it can only work if it is done in a sincere and authentic way and not as a PR stunt. The ELLE Germany debacle shines a light on the underlying issue that is the exploration of people of colour in the fashion industry.

 

So, circling back to the million dollar question: Would this have happened if we had more people of color, different religions, sexualities and beliefs in the industry? Imagine how many bad apologies to “anyone that we have hurt or offended” we could’ve avoided by now if institutions such as Vogue and ELLE employed a diverse staff? 

 

 

 

You are allowed to make mistakes, but you are sure as hell going to have to figure out how you are going to be better

 

ELLE Germany’s lackluster apology, published shortly after the issues were pointed out and the shitstorm commenced, is clearly not enough. Just look at the comments and the general feedback. You are allowed to make mistakes, but you are sure as hell going to have to figure out how you are going to be better. And it seems like an Instagram post with an apology is not enough. 

 

We spoke with Saudi Arabia-born, Germany-based creative, stylist and photographer Storm Westphal about her take on the ELLE Germany issue. 

 

 

“Didn’t it ring a bell when they wrote it? Is there so little understanding of racial issues?”

 

 

“People claim that you are not allowed to say anything anymore. Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say that, I would rather state it as a request for you to please, do think before you speak. Are your words going to be offensive to someone?

Is what you are trying to say maybe too personal? Then try and rephrase it.

 

2019 has given us the chance to think and question all the actual problems that have been relevant for ages. And now we finally have to confront these issues, focus on and talk about them, while learning to be sensible towards different kinds of topics. Not saying the first thing that comes to mind is part of reflecting on our thoughts first. These topics may never have had an impact on you personally and you might not have any kind of connections towards the issues, but it is happening to so many people around you, who are sensitive to the topics, sentences and words. Because they have had so many different experiences than you. 

 

For me it is not understandable that a magazine like ELLE Germany can actually print such an unthoughtful statement and such badly researched pages. Black is Back… let that just sink in for a bit. Didn’t it ring a bell when they wrote it? Is there so little understanding of racial issues? The apology was a joke and can not be taking serious. Sorry Sabine Nedelchev, I didn’t believe a single word you wrote.

 

We are in a constant fight against racial issues, body-shaming and LGBTQ+ (and many many more) prejudice, we are still waiting for full acceptance. But when it comes to advertising it seems like we all just become a trend, we become their personal issue and they use us for good marketing. I do believe that some companies do really mean it, but in reality: We feel used.”

 

 

Picture from Shutterstock

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