Racism in Australia & the Modelling Industry
Let’s pray that this year is remembered for rapid change where fashion & beauty brands & platforms examined its practices & diversity & inclusion were no longer an issue. The true impact of these turning points will come when they cease to be progressive or radical, but in the meantime, as creatives, we can all do our part to stamp out systematic racism & the “ideal” Western beauty standards adopted by fashion industries, television, internet & social media that usually promote being white, tall & skinny with long legs, big breast & full lips.
Brisbane model Got Malual generously shares her own thoughts & experiences as she navigates the modelling industry she depends on for work, that all too often forgets to include her.
Racism in Australia and the Modelling Industry
My name is Got Malual. I’m 21 years old & I was born and raised in Brisbane, Queensland. People see me & their first question is: Where are you from? I reply with, “I was born here”, but I always add that my parents are from South Sudan because I know that’s what they’re really asking. You see, for them, it can’t be possible for a dark-skinned person such as myself to be considered a “true ” Australian. This conversation that I have with strangers is an example of a micro-aggression that I encounter almost daily. An encounter that, I imagine, thousands of people who don’t “look Australian” are subjected to. If you are unaware, microaggressions are defined as “brief & commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, & environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights & insults to marginalized individuals & groups.” They are the small digs & comments that attempt to affirm the idea that I do not ‘belong’ & that I am not ‘Australian.’ Worst of all, these microaggressions always come from white Australians who, despite the fact their families have been here for generations, are not the original owners of this land! Since learning about the colonisation of Australia & learning about Indigenous Australians whose skin was as dark as mine, I could never wrap my mind around the racism & hate spewed from not all, but far too many white Australians. If having ancestors from elsewhere makes you un-Australian then why are you considered a “true-blue Aussie” but I am not? Why is it the people who ARE the original owners of this land treated like second-class citizens?
I’ve heard one too many times (from white people) that we should stop “going on” about slavery because it was so long ago or that we should be free to celebrate Australia Day because it was their ancestors who killed and attempted to eradicate Indigenous Australians and “not them”. The profound & deadly aftermath of slavery in the US & the colonisation of Australia is still incredibly prevalent today & the people making such careless comments simply refuse to place themselves in the shoes of the people actually suffering & experiencing this injustice. In Australia, there has been more than 430 deaths of Indigenous Australians in custody and not one single conviction. Not one of the officers responsible for taking the life of an Indigenous Australian in custody has been charged or held responsible for murder or manslaughter. Now, the people who wish to counter the current Black Lives Matter protests in Australia love to argue that we need to look at each case. Well, click the link I have included at the end of this piece & do some research. It is not difficult to see that racism & negligence are the root cause for the majority of these cases. So, tell me, is it still okay to celebrate the day colonisers from Britain came to slaughter an entire population of people just to make way for your livelihood? Can you confidently tell me that colonisation is still not ensuring that people with fair skin are living with advantages that minorities will never have?
Yes, gone are the days of slavery (Yes, Australia indeed had slavery – look it up). Gone are the days of killing Indigenous Australians for sport. However, colonisation is the backbone of the systematic racism we see in Western societies. Across the board and within all industries, systematic racism sees minorities denied opportunities and refused the advantages that white Australians are afforded. For example, when it comes to applying for a job, I am at risk of being discriminated against because of
my “non-Australian” name & denied a job despite having the same qualifications as someone with an “Australian” name which – according to systematic racism – is more “desirable”. Minorities, particularly Indigenous Australians, can expect to stop and searched by police for simply walking down the street because they are considered “likely to be up to something”. These harmful stereotypes are enforced and perpetuated daily in western societies.
In the modelling industry, we in Australia are still tied up by the strings of systematic racism & the idea that white-skinned models with silky hair are the only way to sell products. As a result, I can expect to book a miniscule amount of jobs compared to my white counterparts. When I arrive to the set of a photoshoot, I keep a bag of makeup that matches my skin tone because, too often, the makeup artist never has a foundation shade that is even remotely close to my skin tone. Hairstylists love to say to me, “your hair is so perfect the way it is! We’re not even going to touch it” and although this may seem like a cute compliment it is simply a rouse and another way to say, “I have no f*cking clue what to do with your hair.” Can you imagine how this feels? To be told directly & indirectly that you do not belong, that you’re some sort of alien that so-called professionals cannot style your hair. Let me take this moment to ask Australian makeup artists and hairstylists: Can you really be called a professional if you can’t work on a model that isn’t white and possesses European features? It is thanks to colonisation & its inherent racism that the European powers that be have been able to convince the world they are the standard of beauty. Hey fashion industry! Newsflash! White people are not the standard. Our world is full of beautiful people that hail from all corners of the globe. They are, we are, born with unique features that reflect our ancestors and their history. We are more than capable of gracing your magazines, billboards & runways.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder & the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have had creatives in the industry ask me what we need to do to change systematic racism within the industry. They have told me that they are scared of going about it the wrong way. I’ll be honest, it is not our job as black people, Indigenous Australians or minorities in general, to educate you. There are so many resources out there at your disposal. As this is an issue created and enforced by white people, structures and media (whether you like it or not) it is your responsibility to change this if you truly wish to live in an inclusive world. The issue of white supremacy will not end until white people see it as a white issue that they need to solve, not just a black issue they need to emphasise with.
With that being said, I am happy to share what I know and help those who reach out & are willing to listen. In terms of the fashion industry and dismantling the systematic racism present in addition to getting rid of the strong and painful presence of microaggressions; here are a few ways to help;
Dear makeup artists, learn how to colour-correct and match foundation for models of all skin types! Make sure that your kit is inclusive! How can you call yourself a professional if you do not have the correct shades for the people you are working with?
Dear hair stylists, take lessons on how to braid & take care of African hair. Ensure you are learning and appreciating that we are all human, but we do not all have silky European hair. It is your job to be able to style all kinds of hair no matter where the model comes from.
Dear photographers, have a look at your portfolio. How diverse is it? Have you fallen into the problematic hole of only photographing and working with fair-skin models? Ask yourself why? More importantly, ask the brands your working with, what are they doing to be inclusive? Are they pushing the tired old narrative that European beauty is more desirable in comparison to the rest of the world?
Dear fashion designers, do not STEAL elements from a culture that is not your own without CREDIT! Do NOT repeat the mistakes and missteps of your ancestors. Too often, major fashion brands with non-diverse creative teams will steal from cultures, put them on an all-white runway & make a ridiculous profit.
Dear modelling agencies, one black model is not enough on your books. One Asian model is not enough. One minority is not enough! Practice equality & be a part of creating a truly inclusive society.
Here is a link to a very important document that provides a variety of resources that works to educate people on the complexity of this issue (with specific resources that help to tackle the issue in Australia);
It is 2020, & we NEED to dismantle systematic racism. Tackling this issue will be a marathon, not a sprint & we will ALL need to play our part. It is something that affects our day-to-day lives & we need to work on being vigilant about ensuring we do not contribute to direct & indirect racism. It is evident in the kinds of jokes we make, who we chose to befriend, how we treat others in the workplace & what businesses we support. Please make the right choices & remember that if you remain neutral in these situations, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Also, if you’re one of the privileged people who are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired we are of experiencing it.