Megamodel Liya Kebede - the only black girl that consistently books
runway, editorial, makeup contracts and ad campaigns.
On Monday, October 15th, Bethann Hardison (former model, model agent and the mom of actor Kadeem) led a panel discussion concerning the lack of black models on runways, in ads and on editorial pages. This problem has been, in my eyes, a problem since the days when Tyra, Naomi, Veronica Webb, Beverly Peele, Deon and Brandi Quinones all shared great success at the same time during the 90's.
Present and discussing the issues were designer, business woman and huge influence on me, Ms. Tracy Reese, casting agent James Scully and model agent David Ralph. Sadly to say, other than Ms. Reese, the only other major designer in attendance was Vera Wang (more should have been there, that is part of the problem). Many factors were discussed, but my take can be summed up in this email I sent to a good friend who prompted me to think about the 'bigger picture' of this issue - the lack of love and respect that we have for our fellow humans , or, our lack of humanity.
I read in WWD about the conference and it is so sad that in 2008 that we still have to have these conversations about race. I agree that it is about a lack of humanity - this is just one instance. It is evident in our destruction of the environment, continued war and terrorism, etc. I think that any form of discrimination is more about self hatred and insecurity and I believe that if we each addressed our own issues and shortcomings, we would not need to make someone else feel like crap and we would be able to embrace everyone as equal, beautiful and worthy.
How this could happen in NYC, one of the most diverse places in the world, is beyond me. I always feel so torn in this business because it is about discrimination to a certain degree (discrimination against fat people, short people, people of color, poor people, non-blondes, etc) and that is NOT what I am about at all. I just feel like I have to try to do my part to change that and that maybe I can offer something different that people need. For me, it is about more than just dresses. It is about helping people to feel good about themselves and trying to add some beauty to the world.
I absolutely agree that there is a lack of women of color on the runway, but there is also a lack of people of color in the design room, in the modeling agencies, behind editor desks, and all of the influential places where people make the decisions about standards of beauty. The power and control of setting those standards is extremely intoxicating and dangerous and when you have people who have limited, close minds with no regards of the greater picture, well, you end up in the situation we are in right now. I don't even know where to begin to solve it other than being fair in my own work. That's at least a start.