Issue Of The Week LVII: Is There Any Justification For Vogue Magazine’s Use Of Blackface?

May 6, 2013
Written by D. A. Barber in
National Collegiate Dialogue
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One of the many shots of Querelle Jansen in Vogue May 2013 issue. So, Vogue Magazine can’t find any black models? Photo Credit:

The current May 2013 issue of Vogue Netherlands magazine is taking some heat for attempting to pay homage to the contributions of black cultural icons by using white models in black face paint.

So is there a reason that Vogue Magazine can't find black models?

In their “Heritage Heroes” layout, the editors choose to dress-up white, blond Dutch model Querelle Jansen in black face paint and a black “Afro” wig in fashion shoots that are suppose to depict American-born French singer and dancer Josephine Baker, and Jamaican singer and model Grace Jones.

This is not the first time the fashion magazine industry has pulled this stunt.

The March 2013 issue of  Numéro L’Officiel featured an “African Queen” editorial using 16-year-old white model Ondria Hardin, which the editors said in a statement that it was an artistic statement “which insist on the melting pot and the mix of cultures, the exact opposite of any skin color based discrimination.” The magazine did a similar layout in 2010 when they used then 18-year-old French model Constance Jablonski in blackface and Afro wigs with a black toddler as a prop.

altThe October 2009 issue of Vogue Paris also published a photo spread with white Dutch supermodel Lara Stone in full-body black paint. That “special issue” was suppose to be dedicated to "Supermodels," but actually contained no black supermodels.

Much of the editorial in the current May 2013 issue of Vogue Netherlands touts designer Mark Jacobs’s past work for Louis Vuitton, when his inspiration for his Fall 2008, and Spring 2009 collections came, in part, from African-American cultural icons. One photo caption reads: “inspired by the style of the Parisian showgirl Josephine Baker, mixed with tribal influences.”

What do you think?

This article first appeared on

National Collegiate Dialogue


In a perfect world...

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-15 on

It would be wonderful to live in a world in which we could mimic each other in a respectful and honorary way. However, when white people used to own black people and then mocked them with blackface after they were freed, it is beyond inappropriate to use blackface in any way. It is disrespectful. It adds insult to injury, just as it was intended to do when white people first performed in blackface. This is an example of the insidious nature of our falsely claimed 'color-blind' modern society. Within this framework, white people can say, "There's no racial discrimination, so everything is okay, right?" No! It simply is not.

In many of these cases I

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-37 on

In many of these cases I don't believe that the magazines are trying to be racist or disrespectful, but you also have to wonder why they are doing this in a time where it has been such an issue. It might be the magazine trying to make a statement that they are not afraid to go outside of the norm and push the boundaries that modern society deems unfit.

I don’t think that the

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-21 on

I don’t think that the magazine is purposefully trying to make public racial statements. I feel like if they wanted to make a statement about racism and our society, they would have gone about it differently because blackface is historically oppressive, demeaning and racist. To me, a statement would be to have minorities, or African Americans in there supermodel issue. That seems far more of a statement on race, and not a recycled idea that brings nothing new in terms of standing up against racism.


Submitted by STBONF2013-10 on

For a company to have so much insight on the way people should communicate themselves to the world through their personal style, I believe that it would be a disservice to the company to say that they had not thought about the way this blackface would be portrayed. I believe that they did consider the effects, but were hoping they would be positive. This only furthers the idea that whites are superior to blacks in society, rather than just using a black model and stating instead that we are equal, as it truly is. A white person does not make a better black model than a black person. The concept that Vogue is trying to make seems to be that a white person is superior to any other race even when they are painted into a different ethnicity. We all know for a fact that this in no way is true.


Submitted by UCCS-S2013-21 on

The title of this post is really intriguing to me. “Is there a justification for Vogue magazines use of Blackface?” The first thing that came to my mind is that there are no justifications that make racism okay, or more understandable. Vogues response was that they were trying to pay homage to black cultural icons. Using blackface, a historically controversial, negative, oppressive and racist portrayal of African Americans seems like the exact opposite of paying homage. Just like the article says, “So is there a reason the Vogue Magazine can’t find black models?”
It really concerns me that this isn’t the first time this has happened either. They dedicated an entire issue to supermodels and neglected to have any African American models, but don’t have a problem with full or partial black body paint. We definitely do not see the reverse, a magazine dedicated to supermodels, with all black models with white faces.
My question is how can anyone justify the use of blackface when African American models exist and are readily available?

Just something to think about

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-27 on

I agree with the first part of your response. I do not think there is any justification regarding racist acts and when they occur, people need to be called out. However, reading more of your response, there were a few areas that I wanted to address. You questioned why Vogue could not use African American models for these pictures, but the reality is, there are very few high fashion African American models. If you look in the more couture magazines, it is usually full of white models because sadly, in our society, it is the white and skinny women who are seen as high-class fashion and beautiful. I do not believe that these pictures are right, but trying to see how Vogue justifies it, one could argue that at least African culture is being represented. There was a time that big hair and animal print was frowned upon, but the fact that it is incorporated into this high fashioned and very respected magazine could maybe be a sign that people are starting to see the beauty of other nonwhite cultures.
You also mentioned how historically blackface is negative, but I think we should remember that as time is progressing, people are giving a lot of historically negative and racist acts different connotations and a big example of this is the "N" word. I do not believe that using this word now is correct, but some people feel that by changing the connotation to be positive, the negative version loses power and maybe that is what Vogue wanted to do. Maybe by having these high class and beautiful ads done in blackface, they are changing the negative connotation of blackface into being something that is beautiful and represents a culture in a positive manner.
Like I said before, I do not necessarily agree with this ad, but reading your post made me think of these things and I wanted to share.

Education of Blackface seems necessary

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-9 on

I think that the use of Blackface in American history is a very important thing that is obviously not being taught well enough in this country or around the world. I keep seeing articles that talk about people using Blackface, but none of the articles explain the context or time period of when Blackface was prevalent. I think it is time that we are all reeducated on the images that represent a time in America where Blacks were being treated unequally in many ways. I think it is unacceptable for someone to use or be apart of Blackface in some way, I don't really care how "artistic" it is supposed to be. Not using Black models in Vogue is one issue, but replacing the Black models with White models wearing Blackface is an entirely different beast of it's own. I don't believe someone who fully understands the history of Blackface and other tools like, Mammy and over exaggerated characters of Blacks, would do things like this. People just need to be educated.

Education is lacking

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-31 on

I agree with you in that our education system is lacking if there are still people out there who do not think that blackface is degrading and totally wrong. I also have to wonder about common decency. Historically, blackface was used to portray an exaggeration of the stereotypes that whites held about blacks. It was used to keep whites in a position of superiority. How any one could feel that there is any way to justify its use in our society is beyond me.

not okay

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-11 on

This article mentions that this is not the first time that this stunt has been pulled. It was controversial the other times that they used white models in blackface, but yet they continue to do it. This tells me that there is a lack of respect for black people and what historically blackface has meant to the African American community. If the magazine wanted to pay homage to black cultural icons than it would have made more sense to use actual black people. I don't think there is any justification for being so blatantly offensive. It is impossible to claim ignorance if they have been made aware of the issue before.

You make a very important

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-41 on

You make a very important point that when white models use blackface it is not considered an honor by African American women that whites are portraying them. I personally feel that blackface is the fashion industries way of discriminating.

It is difficult to imagine

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-8 on

It is difficult to imagine how the team behind this magazine justified this without considering the obvious offensive nature of it. While I think it is important to discuss the blatant oppression and discrimination that still occurs (and in the same fashion), it is also important to remember the more subtle prejudice that hide just beneath the surface. In Tehranian's Whitewashed, he discusses how people of color, particularly of Middle- Eastern decent are not portrayed by people of that ethnicity. Instead, movies and TV shows depict other races (usually those displaying more caucasian features) to play these roles. This is not some foreign anomaly, this is happening everyday.

I don’t feel there is any way

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-15 on

I don’t feel there is any way to justify using Black face. It has historically been frowned upon. I think the idea that they used White models to celebrate the accomplishments of Black women is just insulting. I agree with the article in wondering why they couldn’t use Black models. Is there a shortage of Black models? To me that is to say that yes some Black women accomplished great things, but we can’t find any Black models to meet our standards so will use White women. It’s completely insane! The fact that they don’t see anything wrong with the use of White women is just a clear example of another way racism has infiltrated another institution (the fashion industry).

No Justification

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-31 on

I do not think there is any justification for Vogue to use white models in blackface when paying tribute to past black cultural icons. It defeats the purpose of what they are trying to do in the first place. I do not think there is a shortage of black models, but even if there is who says they have to use models? I am sure that they could have paralleled modern cultural icons with those of the past and it would have made for a much better issue. There are many strong black women in our society who could be made over in the image of past cultural icons. Putting white models in blackface was a degrading move that served no purpose other than to create controversy. How would white people feel if they paid homage to white cultural icons by using black models covered in flour? I am sure that editorial would never make it to a finished issue of the magazine so why do we still find it acceptable to treat black people in such a degrading way?

I don't understand why Vogue

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-40 on

I don't understand why Vogue couldn't just use African Americans for the shoot. If the purpose was to support African Americans, it would have made all of the sense in the world to include African Americans to represent themselves. Society seems to make these common and knowing mistakes very often, and seem to not care either. If they cared, they wouldn't continue to do the same things. It is completely inappropriate for the magazine to allow such things and it needs to be stopped.

I agree with you. It does not

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-30 on

I agree with you. It does not make sense to me either why a shoot dedicated to African American people would not include African Americans. Also, it is not the first time something like this has caused an issue so why is it happening again?


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-30 on

Calling something art does not safeguard it. Just as proclaiming, "well it is just my opinion but" right before someone says something offensive does not make it less hurtful. Art should not be censored and it not always safe, however despite what Vogue Magazine likes to think, they are not a pure artistic avenue, in my opinion ; ). They are a mainstream magazine and while they tout themselves as high fashion which would put them above the layman, the magazine is sold at every grocery store and news stand around the world. They are not making a commentary on social issues but attempting to praise specific individuals without representing them. They missed the mark and produced images that impact and harm people.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-41 on

This is nothing new in the fashion industry it has been happening for decades. For most of us it is cut and dry that these magazines if paying tribute to African Americans should actually use African Americans in their photo shoots; however, the target audience of Vogue is white women and in order for the magazine to ensure this target audience will still purchase their magazine they use white women painted black. They possess white features so this is more acceptable. I feel as though this is not a tribute it is quite the opposite. There would be quite a debacle if black women dressed up as white women in a "tribute" layout. In my opinion these types of shoots are a joke.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-5 on

I don't understand why they couldn't seem to find an African to play the parts of the African in their art... I understand that it's art...and I would be interested to hear the reasoning behind using a white person and painting a black face on. I'm not sure it would be right to jump to conclusions on this because art is subjective and what have you, I can't think of any reason that you would want to portray an African American and not use an African American, but hey! I'm not an artist...Then again, the black face is a something that African Americans were mocked with once they were freed, I think Vogue should have done some background on this one.

NOT a tribute

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-36 on

You cannot do a tribute to a group of people and not be willing to use them as models. That is more like a slap in the face than a tribute. It is sad that it happened even once, but to have happened more than once and actually be such an everyday thing as to be expected is beyond words! I also find it reprehensible to hide behind the mask or "ART". I understand that art is subjective and all that jazz, but this is something that is outright wrong and calling it art does not make it any better.

Make the Right Choice

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-12 on

It is disturbing that Vogue magazine would resort to a practice that has been seen as a form of discrimination for decades. We live in a society that continues to struggle with racism on a daily basis and to have a leading fashion magazine use blackface as a form of tribute. The actions of the magazine are ones that scream overt racism and should be held accountable. If a sports magazine used a white baseball player and put him in blackface to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson the public outcry would be deafening. Is it just because it is Vogue and they are on the cutting edge of fashion that they are allowed to portray blackface? I say No. i believe that if they want to pay tribute that they should use black models to portray those they wish to pay honors to.

Black Face

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-35 on

For some time now we have been trying to cast actors and actresses as another race, or skin color and i think that this is down right wrong. If you want a Black actor/actress to play a role then have a Black person play that role. I think it is rude and downgrading to cast a white person as a black person for a role.

Not Only in the Fashion World

Submitted by CSULBF2013-01 on

Your comment reminded me of the fact that movies and television also do the same thing. I took a class on Chicano/Latino and Asian American Cinema, where we saw how the two minorities were depicted in older films by white actors who obviously had horrible makeup and prosthetics to make them look racially different. Amazing people exist in all races, so there is no reason designers cannot find a black model as worthy of a spread as a white model (the same goes for casting an actor because of their ability, not because "the audience prefers whites" or any of the ridiculous excuses I have heard before).

Fashion, I hate that I love you

Submitted by CSULBF2013-01 on

Like many people, I'm a fan of fashion and designers. However, because of the cultural history of blackface and how it was used to humiliate Africans and African Americans, I do not take well with those who use it in the present whether they are being "artistic" or not. If you look at statistics, it is said that the majority of runway models are indeed Caucasian, and there is no reason for this to be the case in the 21st century.