In humans today, there are not multiple biological groups called “races.” However, race is real and it impacts us all. What we call “race” are social categories. They play a role in our lives, histories, and futures. We talk about race, or avoid talking about it, all the time—but few of us really stop and think about what race really is, and importantly, what it is not.
There is currently one biological race in our species: Homo sapiens. However, that does not mean that what we call “races” (our society’s way of dividing people up) don’t exist. Societies, construct racial classifications, not as units of biology, but as ways to lump together groups of people with varying historical, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or other backgrounds. These categories are not static; they change over time as societies grow, diversify, and alter their social, political and historical make-ups.
This is a difficult concept and it seems to come up again and again, so let me provide a few points to bust the myth and to clarify the reality.
There is no genetic sequence unique to blacks or whites or Asians. In fact, these categories don’t reflect biological groupings at all. There is more genetic variation in the diverse populations from the continent of Africa (who some would lump into a “black” category) than exists in ALL populations from outside of Africa (the rest of the world) combined!
There is not a single biological element unique to any of the groups we call white, black, Asian, Latino, etc. In fact, no matter how hard people try, there has never been a successful scientific way to justify any racial classification, in biology. This is not to say that humans don’t vary biologically—we do, a lot—but rather that the variation is not racially distributed.
The effect of this inhuman behavior is affecting every aspect of the society, existence, business and industries. But let’s narrow racism to the fashion industry at large.
“We’ve already got a black girl,” “It’s not our creative vision,” “Our customer isn’t ready yet.” These are the excuses we hear time and time again to explain the lack of models of color in the fashion industry. In fact, the more you talk to people in our profession about this, the more you realize that these statements are tired, unimaginative and backwards; things this industry supposedly detests.
With the internet and particularly social media giving a voice to experts and amateurs alike, accusations of racism have been heating up in recent years. From all-white catwalks, to makeup artists not coming prepared to work with black models, to cultural symbols being ripped off and sold to the masses, we’re more aware than ever of how our complacent behavior offends and excludes others. Our tendency to pigeonhole black models into certain niches – such as “urban” or “exotic” – has left them underrepresented and underpaid in comparison to their white counterparts.
One may ask, Is the fashion industry racist? With my experience in the fashion industry and as the honcho of (www.fashionpivot.com) my answer is YES, but not more than the rest of society.