We are witnessing a nationwide fuss over a flagrant murder that has unleashed a chain of corporate and public relations reactions meant to show the world that racism is bad, as if we didn’t know.
A week ago, Adam Rapoport, chief editor of Bon Appetit, resigned after a photo surfaced that was taken 16 years ago of him dressed as a stereotypical Latino singer with cap, bomber jacket, and chains. Condé Nast, the publisher he works for, accused him of racist behavior in offending the Puerto Rican community and asked him to kindly close the door on his way out.
Yesterday by chance, a letter to her staff from Anna Wintour, also an employee of Condé Nast and well-known editor of Vogue, was leaked and published. She assured her staff from the beginning that she feels a profound empathy for the sadness, pain and rage that the Black members of her team might be feeling in light of the events that occurred after the death of George Floyd. “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes,” she wrote.
The British editor admits in her letter that it must be difficult to be a Black employee at Vogue. “I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will – and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward,” she adds. To conclude, she assures that they are living at a historical and heartbreaking moment for the country. “It should be a time of listening, reflection, and humility for those of us in positions of privilege and authority. It should also be a time of action and commitments. On a corporate level, work is being done to support organizations in a real way. These actions will be announced as soon as possible.”
We are witnessing a nationwide fuss over a flagrant murder that has unleashed a chain of corporate and public relations reactions to show the world that racism is bad, as if we didn’t know. All the major cities in the United States, including New York and Los Angeles, are showcasing their iconic celebrities to intone a collective mea culpa wrapped up in the American flag.
To be completely honest, I think there are behaviors (not only in policing) that ought to change, but affirmative action has always confused me. I think quotas lack honesty and crush the sense of meritocracy while turning vulnerable groups into beneficiaries of a sort of elite social charity that rewards what we are on the outside.
Yesterday, somebody explained to me with a great deal of passion that I was the one who didn’t understand anything. “The same that happened with #MeToo will happen with I Can’t Breathe. It’s going to obliterate the established codes. We are seeing how it’s going to improve the future and the newer generations,” that person said.* The truth is, I looked the other way not because I was convinced by the argument, but because I feared for the aftermath of the confinement, the pandemic, the hyperbolic political tension in America, and above all, the naive enthusiasm that makes some people capable of converting everything into a rainbow and a world of pink unicorns.
In a country with more than two weapons per inhabitant, I want to know how police handle arresting somebody without knowing if they are going to get shot when they turn their backs. Because beasts and the deranged exist; but nobody should forget that when they stop somebody and ask for their identification, they instinctively keep their hand on their holster just in case – it’s called survival.
And perhaps that is the root of the problem. Although we must fight against all brutality and every racist scourge, society is getting the wrong message because the lyrics that Wintour sings have been heard too many times and in cyclical fashion. And nowhere in this song can we find the verse that says we are going to ensure education for everyone, for example.
I have seen Wintour two times in my life. One time, I was able to say hello. To me, she looked like the farthest thing from the version of her portrayed in “The Devil Wears Prada.” She was shy, elegant, kind and hidden behind her mythical glasses that seem more like a retaining wall. As if the light of the world could destroy her and she needed to turn it off.
Those who know her affirm that the movie nails her personality. A 10-second greeting wasn’t enough for me to confirm anything, but what I am positive about is that Vogue needs her so much that without her, the magazine wouldn’t exist. Although the fight against racism has supposedly been a banner for this editorial group, it has been at the costs of cruel resignations and public humiliations of former employees whom, for absurd reasons, have been burned in the public square of being an empty example of a trendy McCarthyism, which hangs people without piety or explanation.
Reading this letter of good intentions by way of Wintour is not a matter of chance either. It’s an epistle she is in charge of reading not to her employees, but to the world, to get ahead of possible problems that the untouchable fashion ambassador may face. Because the past is relentless, and in August 1989, Vogue Paris placed an African American, Naomi Campbell, on its cover for the first time. It turns out it wasn’t an editorial decision, but the suggestion of her mentor and friend Yves Saint Laurent, who threatened to remove all his advertising from the magazine if the ebony goddess wasn’t on the cover.
Sixteen years ago when I was living in New York, I had to write for the first time that I was Caucasian (to say that I was Black would have been an insult) to obtain a Social Security number. Until that moment, I had always lived absolutely normally, seeing people of other races and not even thinking about their color. But even though a long time has passed, and we are in the worst stage of a worldwide pandemic and at the beginning of a devastating economic crisis, it turns out that Black people and white people are debating everything.
HBO has taken down “Gone With the Wind” for being racist. The creator of “Friends” has apologized for not including a person of color among the protagonists of the show. It is heartbreaking to watch Floyd’s funeral. Sharing the pain and making proposals for reform is rational. Imagining Wintour and Scarlett O’Hara discussing racial issues makes me realize the level of human stupidity that we are witnessing, in which we glorify the superfluous and don’t deal with the real problems.
We have to remember that Denzel Washington rejected kissing Julia Roberts in “The Pelican Brief” just so he wouldn’t disappoint his Black and female fans. Even if the world of fashion and film are engaged in historical revisionism, the dust and mud mixed with memory will simplify everything. To be continued.
*Editor’s note: although accurately translated, the source and accuracy of the quoted remark could not be independently verified.