A conversation I had with a friend who is an amazing creative Director and fashion blogger inspired this essay.
I asked a friend of mine why he never used black models for his magazine shoots and only ever seemed to have non white models on his mood boards and blog posts. He laughed for a second and as if common knowledge casually explained that by using black models, people would immediately think he was on the ‘black thing’. Before you roll your eyes and navigate away from this page, this essay is not about championing or campaigning for black models (and any models of colour). It is not an essay explaining why black is beautiful and calling for all artists to uphold blackness as a beauty equal to white. In fact this is not an essay about colour. With Black History month around the corner and Obama’s current presidency, this essay explores the idea of a colourless society. I am at the point where I am tired of being scared to write about certain topics because people may think I am a black campaigner. I am equally tired of black people reducing issues to the fact that they are black, and I am also tired of non black people pretending that they are black or have any understanding of blackness because they have read about black people or have black friends. All of the conversations surrounding colour are tiring. We are long overdue a change.
The influential Caryl Phillips states that labels such as ‘Black British’ are simply a convenience for people. In actual fact blackness is hybrid and a culture too vast for any label to justify. Taking Phillips view that defining a people by colour does not do justice to the multiplicity within the label then begs the question: how would we identify people? The most obvious answer is by their name. The problem is we are so used to grouping people in order to generate statistics, trends and draw lines under long reports written by the gate keepers. Until we lose the need to feel like we are in control of everything and compare groups, a colourless society can never evolve. I often think about how much the lives of countless people would change should it be universally acknowledged that colour is not important. The world is too vast, and people too many to think that simple labels count.
On the other hand, we do need ways to look at society and develop a smaller picture so that we can drive change. Whether we like it or not, black people do perform differently to non black people in certain areas and dare I say it…it does have a lot to do with them being black. Sociologists have identified a condition known as the ‘self fulfilling prophecy’. The self fulfilling prophecy is when you act as people have told you to; living up to expectations. The problem some black people have is an inferior complex and chip on their shoulder, believing that because they are black certain injustices are committed against them. I would be silly to say that is not true; day in day out non white people are mistreated in several ways but on the flip side many white people are also mistreated in certain spheres. The point of the matter is that we also would need to go a step further than dropping the labels, black people themselves would also have to stop feeling sorry for themselves.
So for now a colourless society seems way off but I have hopes that one day the bondage, pain and confusion caused by colour coding people will dissolve.
Happy Black History month!