What’s up with all the olive-skinned, spiral-curled,
hazel-, blue- and green-eyed folks standing in for black people
in commercials and print advertisements these days?
noticed this trend for a while now – black models being phased
out in favor of a new ideal: taupe-hued beauties with coifs
that look like water wave #6. Gone are the likes of models
Phina and Beverly Peele and in are the… well, they certainly
cannot be called black, in the conventional sense. Even during
February’s Fashion Week in New York, famed model Tyson Beckford asked, “What happened to all the
black models?” And Naomi Campbell lamented, “Women of color
are not a trend. That's the bottom line.”
Well, we have Alek Wek, but arguably she’s
been positioned for aesthetic shock value, a safari on legs.
days, it’s ever rarer to see an ad for an “ethnic” hair product
or even so-called urban wear, while seeing someone who looks
remotely like me – honey-colored, nappy-haired, almond-eyed,
and leaving little question of which box I check – or gets
checked for me – on government forms. Flipping through a recent
issue of a popular black women’s magazine, in a Nivea lotion
ad, I spotted a lanky light-skinned lovely with a crown of
zig-zag curl #2, in the arms of a man who might be described
as tall, dark and handsome, but certainly not black.
A few pages over, my fingers landed on an ad
for Just for Me hair products, featuring a little girl with
a wet-n-wavy ‘do and beige flesh, who looked primed for plessage,
a la 19th-century New Orleans. Then
I stumbled over a Roca Wear ad, featuring a Hapa-looking,
A few minutes later, I turned on the TV and
shook my head as I saw the new McDonald’s “Cha Cha Slide”
commercial, featuring a bright-skinned boy with Duke kit hair,
who somehow just doesn’t fit in with his clearly black mom,
dad and sister at the kitchen table.
It’s becoming brow-raising to see basic browns,
deep onyxes, cool cocoas and caramels coloring the skins of
fashion and product models strategically hired to appeal to
people like me – African-American, middle class, with at least
a modicum of periodically disposal income. Missing in action
are also the naps and kinks; I’m even beginning to miss the
yaki and kinky-straight textures of recognizably native hair
coaxed into submission.
the appearance of blackness is attenuated, I am beginning
to feel alienated. Are real black people pedestrian, not worthy
of photo shoots, runways or product placements?
Nowadays, the media reveals an unsettling spectacle
– the systematic encroachment upon conventional blackness,
as agents of racial ambiguity increasingly replace it.
This is a new age, where appearances of trendy,
cosmopolitan biraciality are subverting the apparently staid,
boring baseline of the very blackness that injects the multiracial
montage with the phenotypic flavor that the masses increasingly
savor – that bend in the hair that produces the “perfect”
wave, that blast of brown that gives way to tan-envied tawny.
to some researchers, African-Americans, on average, are approximately
20 percent European. And when black folks get pregnant, because
of our history, we often say, “You never know what you’re
going to get.”
But this is getting utterly ridiculous.
K. Danielle Edwards, a Nashville-based writer, poet and communications
professional, seeks to make the world a better place, one
decision and one action at a time. To her, parenting is a
protest against the odds, and marriage is a living mantra
for forward movement. Her work has appeared in MotherVerse Literary Journal, ParentingExpress, Mamazine, The Black World Today, Africana.com,
The Tennessean and other publications. She is the author of Stacey Jones: Memoirs of Girl & Woman, Body & Spirit,
Life & Death (2005) and is the founder and creative director of The Pen: An Exercise in
the Cathartic Potential of the Creative Act, a nonprofit
creative writing project designed for incarcerated and disadvantaged
populations. Click here
to contact Ms. Edwards.