Why does fashion still have such a problem with racism?

Words by Bianca O'Neill

Image via Getty/Pascal Le Segretain

Why is this SO HARD?

Another day, another article about fashion’s problem with racism. Let’s unpack the Ulyana Sergeenko and Miroslava Duma drama, shall we?

Although much of the news coming out of Paris Couture Fashion Week has mainly centred around enthusiastic reviews about how great the Dior show was (see @dietprada for some more info about why, exactly, it was not great at all), and how terribly #fashun the street style stars are, one street style fave in particular has now become the centre of a huge backlash over a racist Instagram post.

Co-founder of Buro 24/7 and style favourite Miroslava Duma (@miraduma) thoughtlessly shot out an offensive snap of a welcome note from Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko to her 1.6 million followers yesterday – a note that, quite frankly, should never have been written by a white woman to another white woman.

“To my ni**as in Paris,” it read, flanked by roses.

Yep, to clarify again for those not following: a white woman wrote Kanye West lyrics on a card, referring to another white woman as a ‘ni**a’, in order to co-opt cool from a long, loooooong history of racist and barbaric treatment of black people.

On a side note, in case you’ve sung along to this song without thinking about the lyrics too deeply, this isn’t just a throwaway line. West’s reclamation of the N-word in this track is a metaphorical middle finger to the historical and racist classification of black people as ‘Ni**as’, and as lesser simians. “Got my ni**as in Paris,” West sings, “And they going gorillas…” It’s a particularly potent jab at the perceived sophistication of Paris, the centre of a country marred by significant issues with racism.

But, back to Duma.

The idea that a designer sent this card to the much-loved Duma is one thing – but the idea that she decided to share it on social media without so much as thinking of the potential for offence? It is, unfortunately, a symptom of fashion’s ongoing issue with racism and discrimination.

Diet Prada posted the story, along with a video captured back in 2012, showing a shocking disregard for acceptance and diversity in fashion – particularly amongst Buro 24/7’s pages. Duma is shown deriding Bryanboy and Andrej Pejic for wearing women’s clothing, and calling for censorship in fashion, citing it as a move toward ‘refined culture’.

Of course, the apologies rolled in, thick and fast.

First up, Duma’s double whammy: in a post from last night she apologised for the racial slur, deeming it ‘utterly offensive’, and in a second, expressed her shame and shock about the 2012 video resurfacing, claiming she has since ‘evolved’.

Duma has been swiftly removed as a board member at The Tot, confirmed by an Instagram post from co-founder Nasiba Adilova – although Duma’s bio still appears to link her to the company.

Meanwhile, Sergeenko’s apology was not so enlightened. In a now-removed post, she faux-poligises with a note on how she has been the victim of internet bullying, how the song is her favourite and she’s a big fan of Kanye West, and that she uses the N-word when she “wants to believe we are just as cool as the guys who sing it.”

Ugh. Where to start… So, fashion loves Kanye when they can co-opt his ‘cool’ factor by quoting his lyrics, but hate on him when he’s successful in their mostly-white space?

Maybe let’s just say using the N-word to appear ‘cool’ is not a thing, and leave it at that.

It begs the question, yet again: Why does fashion have such a hard time not being racist? Why is this SO HARD, PEOPLE?  And if you don’t believe discrimination is alive and well in this industry just cast your mind back only a few weeks to H&M’s racist ‘jungle’ sweater… or read a few of my columns, like this one, and this one, and get back to me.

I’m looking forward to seeing some deliciously diverse models on the runway at VAMFF this year… right guys?

Follow Bianca’s writing and occasional ootd at @_thesecondrow, and listen to her podcast at @thefashionpodcast.

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