Model Ebonee Davis, star of Calvin Klein's newly released Fall 2016 campaign, has penned a powerful open letter on the role the fashion industry plays in perpetuating systemic racism.
Writing in Harper’s Bazaar, Davis links the treatment of black models and models of colour during Fashion Week to the police brutality that recently led to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
Bringing it all back to simple inequity, Davis argues that messages carried by images and stories in the fashion, media and advertising industries, have the power to bring about real and necessary change.
“As artists in the fashion industry, we are the embodiment of free speech,” she writes. “We set the tone for society through the stories we tell – fashion, the gatekeeper of cool, decides and dictates what is beautiful and acceptable.
“And let me tell you, it is no longer acceptable for us to revel in black culture with no regard for the struggles facing the black community.”
Recalling the ways in which she once tried to “assimilate” into the fashion world by straightening her natural hair and wearing weaves or extensions, Davis draws parallels between poor treatment and media representations of black models, and the ways in which black Americans are often treated in society as a whole.
“The correlation? Inequity,” writes Davis.
“It is the same systemic racism that sees beauty products for ‘black’ hair end up in a section of their own (‘the ethnic aisle’), that sees black men more likely to end up dead after a police encounter than any other racial group.
“Systemic racism began with slavery and has woven itself into the fabric of our culture, manifesting through police brutality, poverty, lack of education, and black incarceration. The most dangerous contributors? Advertising, beauty and fashion.”
The lives of two black men have once again been reduced to hashtags. They are fathers, sons, husbands and, above all, human beings. I think about the man who raised me as a single parent. My father; a black man. I think about my younger brothers and how their lives are in danger for no reason other than the color of their skin. I NEED black lives to MATTER for them because THEY matter to ME. I wouldn't be in this world without the strength of a black man. #BlackLivesMatter Side note: I wish I didn't have to say this. However, I feel it very necessary. The terms #ProBlack and #BlackLivesMatter do NOT imply "anti-white". Unlike pro white ideology, which is rooted in violence, racism and white supremacy, pro black ideology is only being used to uplift the black community and achieve justice and equality. Not to oppress and destroy.
In a rallying call to all corners of society, Davis highlights the need for media agencies to move away from damaging stereotypes, and echoed the sentiments of Barack Obama’s recent speech in which he said: “This is not just a black issue, not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue. All fair-minded people should be concerned.”
Calling on the fashion industry, Davis writes: “We must band together to neutralize the phobias surrounding black culture. Rather than perpetuating trite stereotypes that vilify people of color, we need to produce positive, accurate and inclusive imagery.”
She advises hair and make-up artists to be inclusive in their skills and kits, and asks models, designers and agencies alike to call out injustice and racism when they see it.
In her closing paragraph, Davis touches on the issue of cultural appropriation, asking everyone to look beyond racist stereotypes:
“Most importantly, love black people as much as you love black music and black culture. Until you do, society will continue to buy into the false notion that people of color are less than – a concept already deeply embedded in America's collective psyche which is reinforced again and again through depictions in media.
“The time for change is now.”
Read Ebonee Davis’ full letter over on harpersbazaar.com