For Vanity Fair, the future is all white

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Watched Desperate Housewives recently? The new season started on Ch 4 this week, and we’re back to the situation that existed in Season 1: no black people live on Wisteria Lane. In fact, the only black person I noticed in the two episodes I’ve watched so far is the handyman called to remove the trellis from the wall. In other words, although all the white residents on Wisteria Lane stick around for years, black people drift in and out again, because they are a rootless, nomadic race (sarcasm).

This racial myopia is quite common in US television, and also in the glossy magazine market, which are frequently criticised for failing to include people of colour on their covers. The latest in the firing line is the annual Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, which features up-and-coming female actresses on the cover – none of whom are black.

Read more in the Guardian. Snip:

Vanity Fair has looked into its crystal ball and decided that, as far as up-and-coming, cover-worthy female actors for the next decade go, the future is entirely white. Even the clothes they wear are resolutely pale, in shades of honey, rose and blush – the kind of words fashion magazines use to describe caucasian complexions.

Bearing in mind it takes an army of people to put a Vanity Fair cover shoot together, this leaves us with two conclusions. Either no one noticed that their “stars of the next decade” cover effectively says there isn't a single up-and-coming black actor on the planet they considered ­worthy of ruining the aesthetic of their alabaster line-up, or they did notice but simply didn't care. I'm not sure which is worse.

Vanity Fair is published by Condé Nast, which is part of a privately-owned media conglomerate. Interestingly, the parent company, Advance, owns a variety of newspapers in the Deep South of the USA: in Alabama and Mississippi, for example, as well as in their home town of New York, up in the North East.

Looking at Condé Nast’s portfolio of magazines (which includes Vogue, W, GQ, Brides, Golf World, The New Yorker, and Wired), I bet it’s hard to find a cover with a black person on it. The latest edition of Golf World has Bob Hope (!) on the cover, though (to be fair) it does occasionally feature Tiger Woods.

None of this necessarily means that the people who run these magazines are racist, but it does mean that institutions like Vanity Fair and Condé Nast are affected by institutional racism: the structures of the organisation are set up in such a way that nobody thinks to speak up at the monthly cover meeting to point out that they’ve forgotten to include any black people. The people who work there are probably mostly white, they assume their readers are mostly white (a self-fulfilling prophecy), and it doesn’t occur to them to worry about the representation of people of colour. Unless (and this is always the caveat) they’re already famous, like Tiger Woods.

Most of us probably don’t know the names of the white actresses on the cover of Vanity Fair – that’s the point of the issue: to tell us about up-and-coming talent. But you can almost guarantee that if a magazine does feature a black person, it’ll be someone already famous, like Beyoncé, Leona, Halle – or, you know, the President.

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