How Not To Apologize For Publishing Racially Insensitive Photographs

Numero defends its reputation following the publication of a photo shoot with a white model in blackface makeup.

After Numero magazine’s “African Queen” editorial, starring 16-year-old white model Ondria Hardin in blackface makeup, went viral, the magazine posted the following apology to its Facebook page.

Sebastian Kim has offered his own apology.


I would like to apologize for any misunderstanding around my recent photos for Numero France. It was never my intention (nor Numero’s) to portray a black woman in this story. Our idea and concept for this fashion shoot was based on 60’s characters of Talitha Getty, Verushka and Marissa Berenson with middle eastern and Moroccan fashion inspiration. We at no point attempted to portray an African women by painting her skin black. We wanted a tanned and golden skin to be showcased as part of the beauty aesthetic of this shoot.

It saddens me that people would interpret this as a mockery of race. I believe that the very unfortunate title “African Queen” (which I was not aware of prior to publication) did a lot to further people’s misconceptions about these images. It was certainly never my intention to mock or offend anyone and I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone who was offended.

Sincerely,

Sebastian Kim

Most commenters on Numero’s Facebook post are not satisfied with the magazine’s response — and understandably so. The magazine cannot excuse itself from tastelessly headlining this editorial — which surely led people to see the makeup as blackface instead of Veruschka, as Kim says he intended — by saying, “Oh, but Naomi Campbell’s on an upcoming cover, so those of you who find this offensive are wrong.”

What’s particularly troubling about the editorial and subsequent apology is that it shows just how backwards some fashion magazine editors still are when it comes to race. How many blackface and yellowface depictions of models have emerged from high fashion over the past five years? Way too many. And it’s not just high fashion that struggles to spot racially charged gaffes before they happen — Victoria’s Secret, a brand of the commercial, mass-market variety that you’d expect to be more sensitive to this kind of thing, seeing as they have a much bigger audience to not piss off, sent model Karlie Kloss down the runway at its latest fashion show wearing a Native American headdress. The look was met with such scorn that the company decided to cut it from the televised broadcast.

You think of all the time all these photographers, editors, stylists, and graphic designers spend producing and looking at these images and fashion shows before they go to print or hit a runway, and it’s impossible to understand how this kind of thing happens.

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