By Jasmine Grant
Just last week, social media was up in arms about Kanye West's model casting call for his Yeezy Season 4 debut at New York Fashion Week. The minimalistic flyer was direct and so Kanye. The message, clear: we need models, here’s where and when to show up, and please wear no makeup. However, one standout detail within the flyer, requesting "multiracial women only" was hard to miss. Twitter had questions, which led to assumptions. The general consensus became that this “multiracial” qualifier was a filter to cast out Black women (particularly dark-skinned women) from the pool. That casting call soon had the rapper on trial (once again) for suspicions of putting Eurocentric beauty standards on a pedestal. Twitter was not happy.
A few tweets in Kanye’s defense, however, forecasted that perhaps that’s not what Kanye’s motive was:
Alas, Kanye shocked everyone at his debut with a melanin-filled line up of models. Familiar faces like Winnie Harlow, Chanel Iman, and protégée Teyana Taylor (also the star of his instantly viral video "Fade") graced the runway. They joined a sea of models at his Roosevelt Island, NYC display who were also unapologetically, unambiguously…Black women. The controversy surrounding the Yeezy season 4 perfectly exemplifies the mob mentality that makes social media a gift and a curse, Twitter especially has become a vehicle where social crusaders twist a celebrity’s words or actions to create a divide where none existed.
In hindsight, a lot of folks who bashed Kanye for his multiracial disclaimer should be eating their words right about now, and for several reasons. First, and not the least of which, is that it’s his show and thus his call about what model aesthetic fits for the look and feel of the line. Secondly, let’s not act like race isn’t something that plays a huge part in every form of casting, be it for runway shows, TV roles, theater or otherwise. Many of your favorite actors recall being rejected at castings for reasons like, “We didn’t have a Black guy in mind for this part” or “we don’t think a Latina would resonate with our audience.” Depending on the role, racial bias is just sensible casting. Most other times, it’s racist and downright shameful. But its reality, and certainly doesn’t start or stop with Kanye West. Not even by a long shot.
Lastly, and what I find most amusing, is that folks didn’t even wait to see who was cast in the show before thumb thugging. Many assigned a very specific look and meaning to the word “multiracial” and immediately thought “light skinned.” But multiracial can and does mean different things unbiased of skin color. As a dark skinned woman, I can’t let society’s ugly history of colorism define me. Despite society’s best efforts to create an inferiority complex within me because of my skin tone, it hasn’t worked. Black is beautiful. Just like multiracial is beautiful and encompasses many different physical traits…including dark skin. I believe the dark skinned girls who showed up to that casting felt the same way. And they were hired.
Does racism and colorism exist in the entertainment industry? Absolutely. But ultimately, nobody was excluded from the Yeezy Season 4 casting. If you wanted to attend, you could have despite what you took the multiracial qualifier to mean. The outcome of the casting, which featured Black girls in a range of beautiful skin tones, is a perfect example of why folks should think deeper and more critically about an issue before hopping on the celeb bashing hashtag du jour. Kanye said it best when addressing the controversy to Vogue. "The ten thousand people that showed up didn't have a problem with it."