Vanity Fair

Update: In a recent clip from ITV's upcoming documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, Meghan Markle expresses the mental and emotional toll of new motherhood in the public eye. "Any woman, especially when they're pregnant, you're really vulnerable, and so that was made really challenging. And then when you have a newborn, you know. And especially as a woman, it's a lot," she said. "So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed. It's um…yeah. I guess, also thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I'm okay, but it's a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes."

Soon, #WeLoveYouMeghan began trending on Twitter, an outpouring of respect and admiration for the former actress.

"Colorism, society's preference for lighter skin, is alive and well," wrote Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o in an Instagram post.

She shared a picture of her 5-year-old self and promoted the release of her upcoming children's book, Sulwe, which is about a little girl who "has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything."

Cultural bias towards lighter skin is embedded in society after centuries of racism and colonial propaganda. Its political ramifications lurk in the disproportionate rates of police brutality in black communities as well as the multibillion dollar cosmetic industry flooded with skin-lightening ingredients, chemical peels, and creams promising to enhance skin's "brightness." But no matter how many studies and surveys highlight the ubiquity of colorism, the "rigid cultural perception that correlates lighter skin tone with beauty and personal success" still exists. That cracked lens has become so commonplace that it's sometimes difficult to recognize, let alone object to.

But in a week of public stances against colorism and its endproduct of racism, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are calling bulls*it. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are suing the British tabloid The Mail on Sunday for its "ruthless campaign" against Meghan Markle, the first American and first biracial member of the British royal family. As an actress, Markle was candid about how her racial identity had impacted how people treated her all her life on the basis of her "ethnically ambiguous" skin color. "I wasn't black enough for the black roles and I wasn't white enough for the white ones," she wrote, "leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn't book a job."

Now, in a marked departure from the royal family's stoic dismissal of tabloid press, Prince Harry published an emotive personal letter (which, reportedly, was not handled or approved by senior aides of Buckingham Palace). In his frank 570-word letter, he makes it clear why silence is too close to complacency in the face of hate-fueled bullying against Markle: "There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face – as so many of you can relate to – I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been."

He describes the "intrusive" and "unlawful" press coverage that has purposefully targeted Markle to deride and defame her with "lie after lie." In particular, he cites The Mail on Sunday's publication of a personal, handwritten letter Markle wrote to her estranged father. British copyright law states plainly that private correspondence cannot be published without the author's explicit consent, making the tabloid's actions clearly illegal. However, Prince Harry goes on to state, "In addition to their unlawful publication of this private document, they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year." He concludes, "There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behavior, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn't acceptable, at any level. We won't and can't believe in a world where there is no accountability for this."

But when does bad press turn into bullying? And what can be done about it?

As repeated scandals between celebrities and the press show, frenzied and overzealous press still break down high profile women as if it were a sport. "For these select media this is a game," Prince Harry writes, "and one that we have been unwilling to play from the start. I have been a silent witness to her private suffering for too long. To stand back and do nothing would be contrary to everything we believe in."

To conclude, he invokes the powerful memory of his mother, Princess Diana, whose volatile relationship with the press ended with her fatal car accident while being chased by the paparazzi: "Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

The media's (brief) period of shame over dehumanizing the mother of two left an indelible mark on our modern cultural consciousness, but we continue to struggle to identify the line between gossip and bullying. In The Mail on Sunday's repertoire of unprofessional, mean-spirited, and illegal reporting tactics, they've used racially charged and sexist language describing the Los Angeles native as "almost straight out of Compton" and "from the cotton fields to royalty."

"This is not bias. This is racism," says Sunil Bhatia, a professor of human development at Connecticut College. She's referring to the internalized racism that affects social hierarchies and how we as a society envisions people in power: Lighter skin is correlated with success, and thus lighter-skinned people are raised to power. In speaking about Meghan Markle in particular, Vogue's editor Edward Enninful says, "Was the criticism racist? Some of it, yeah." Enninful worked with Markle when she guest-edited the magazine's "Forces For Change" edition, which received a shockwave of backlash that called Markle "uppity" and even "anti-white" for focusing on diversity. Enninful says, "Actually it was more than racism. I thought it was personal – attacking someone you don't know, attacking her."

It's true that the press' attacks against Markle haven't been merely racist—they've been classist and sexist, too. From listing the crime statistics of her mother's neighborhood and recounting her mother's financial history to using Markle's departures from royal protocol as evidence that she has a "difficult" and diva-like personality. When Prince Harry and Markle's first post-engagement interview was streamed on Periscope, comments ranged from "Jungle fever," "gold digger," and "biracial commoner" to "whitest black girl" and "unsuitable." In 2016, the royal family even broke their usual silence and issued a public statement on the Markle-hatred, observing that "a line [had been] crossed. [Prince Harry's] girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public - the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."

Would Meghan Markle receive such treatment if she weren't half-black? If she were from the U.K.? If she weren't an outspoken feminist? If she weren't a former actress, or divorced? Fickle comparisons and contrived reportings of "feuds" between Kate Middleton and Markle suggest that's the case. Predatory press coverage has shown clear bias towards Middleton, who "was born in the UK and has a certain respect for the country," while Markle has been generally referred to as a "disrespectful" outsider who doesn't know her place.

Overall, criticism of Markle, both in the press and on social media, has been a stark indicator that racism, like all forms of colorism, "is alive and well," as Nyong'o wrote in her Instagram post. Nyong'o also noted that colorism is far from just a western problem, writing, "Throughout the world, even in Kenya, even today, there is a popular sentiment that lighter is brighter." She wrote her children's book because she never saw images of girls who looked like her as a child: "As a little girl reading, I had all of these windows into the lives of people who looked nothing like me, chances to look into their worlds, but I didn't have any mirrors. While windows help us develop empathy and an understanding of the wider world, mirrors help us develop our sense of self, and our understanding of our own world. They ground us in our body and our experiences."

In 2016, years before she met Prince Harry and became Duchess of Sussex, Markle wrote a similar sentiment in an Elle essay about her racial identity. "Just as black and white, when mixed, make grey, in many ways that's what it did to my self-identity: it created a murky area of who I was, a haze around how people connected with me," she wrote. "I was grey. And who wants to be this indifferent colour, devoid of depth and stuck in the middle? I certainly didn't. So you make a choice: continue living your life feeling muddled in this abyss of self-misunderstanding, or you find your identity independent of it."

CULTURE

Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.

OF COURSE. i.imgur.com

That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.

Implications

So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.

FILM

It's Not about Race: Colorism in Hollywood

Will Smith's latest project sparks debate about colorism in Hollywood, but let's break down the differences between colorism and racism.

CNN

King Richard is an upcoming biopic highlighting society's time-honored traditions of competitive sports, underdog victories, and discrimination based on skin color—wait, what?

The film's speculative script by Zach Baylin details the work ethic and dedication of Richard Williams, the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. Despite having no experience in professional tennis, he began coaching his daughters when they were four years old and remains one of their professional coaches today. Will Smith is already attached to the film's production, but this week, there's speculation that Smith will star as the titular coach.

Cue people being irate on Twitter over Hollywood's lack of representation. But what is there to criticize about a successful black actor playing the part of the most successful black tennis coach? In short, some argue that Smith is too light-skinned to play the much darker-toned Williams because doing so would imply that Williams' story is only worth telling on screen if he's whitewashed to a lighter, more "appealing" complexion. Sports writer Clarence Hill Jr. was among the first to take the issue to Twitter, posting, "Colorism matters...love Will Smith but there are other black actors for this role." Writer George M. Johnson agreed, "Just like Chadwick [Boseman] shouldn't have played Thurgood Marshall, Will should not play Richard."

Many continued to question why a dark-skinned actor, like Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, or Denzel Washington, isn't being considered for the role. The criticism doesn't target Will Smith's acting abilities, but rather Hollywood's part in perpetuating the privilege that Western society has always given to light skin tones. Among the talented black actors available, why not cast one who bears a more striking resemblance to the subject and counteracts Hollywood's overabundance of light skin tones? Meanwhile, some think it's squabbling to argue over a light-skinned actor being cast as a dark-skinned character. They wonder, as long as they're the same race, what's the difference? One user even commented in a since-deleted post, "So you know Will Smith is BLACK, right? This is reverse colorism."

As quick as we are in our culture to call out racism, the issue of colorism is often subtler, more nuanced, and so deeply ingrained in our history and media that it can take an extra moment to explain. At best, the public backlash is intended to draw enough attention to an issue to enact social change; at worst, it's just frivolous outrage added to the Internet void. In general, people need to calm down to begin any productive discussion about race and representation. But before we can de-escalate the tension surrounding the words "racism" and "colorism," we need to shuffle closer to understanding.

egyptian slaves colorism tomb Copy of slave etchings from the tomb of Pharaoh Seti 1279 B.C.E.Atlanta Black Star / Heinrich von Minutoli

To pull out the old Oxford English Dictionary, let's agree to define colorism as: "prejudice or discrimination against individuals who have a dark skin tone, especially among people of the same ethnic or racial background." To contrast, let's put aside how fraught the word "racism" is long enough to define it as: "a belief that one's own racial or ethnic group is superior, or that other such groups represent a threat to one's cultural identity, racial integrity, or economic well-being."

To be clear, many of today's accusations of "racism" are more likely instances of "colorism." The critical difference between the fallacies is that the latter over-values an entire racial group, while the former over-values light-colored skin in general. And no, contrary to the current wisdom of Urban Dictionary, colorism is not exclusive to black communities.

While no less discriminatory, colorism is, unfortunately, an older, deeply-ingrained tradition found in nearly all societies dating back to the Middle Ages. African and Latin American history is shadowed with the tradition of slavery thanks to ancient Judeo-Christian societies justifying human suffering by claiming that the biblical figure of Ham, the dark-skinned son of Noah, was cursed to be "a servant of servants" because of his skin color. In Asian cultures, especially Korean society, pale skin was revered as a sign of elite social status as far back as 2333 B.C.E. And let's not forget that white people have been discriminating against other white people on the same basis. In northern Italy, there's an old racist myth that southern Italians are of a darker (and so inferior) race than northerners. Even in Shakespeare's England, one of the worst insults to a woman's beauty was to say she was not "fair" (referring to skin tone). (As for Elizabethan men, well, the whole plot of Othello's based on the assumption that dark-complexioned men aren't to be trusted).

Othello and Desdemona by GrangerFine Art America

In modern media, those sentiments live on, even amidst Hollywood's self-congratulatory banner of inclusion for people of color–even now, most casting is of those with lighter skin tones, whether they're black, Middle Eastern or Asian. Recently, Disney's been accused of whitewashing Guy Ritchie's live-action Aladdin, with only light-skinned Indian and Arab actors selected for Middle Eastern parts. In 2016, Zoe Saldana was cast as Nina Simone in the biopic Nina, with many speaking out against the fact that the light-skinned actress required dark makeup and a prosthetic nose for the part. Even Simone's daughter expressed disquiet, commenting that Saldana was a capable actress, but "there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother." She added, "My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice."

In other cases, companies have been panned for trying to reverse colorist beauty standards before the public was ready. Recently, Zara was heavily criticized for a Chinese ad campaign that featured a model with freckles rather than the porcelain white skin that dominates the Asian ad industry ("Asian women don't have freckles!" one commenter said before claiming to boycott the company).

chinese zara ad freckles colorism Zara's ad campaign in ChinaNPR

In terms of King Richard, would people be this upset if the role was given to a light-skinned actor who wasn't a high-profile celebrity? Probably not. Inevitably, projects with greater name recognition are subject to closer critiques of the politics they imply. For instance, last year The Upside depicted a disabled man's (Bryan Cranston) relationship with his caretaker (Kevin Hart). Vocal outcry pointed out that a physically disabled actor was passed over for Cranston because Hollywood doesn't create opportunities for disabled actors. No one was panning Cranston's performance (he is a talented actor, after all). Rather, the issue tapped into Hollywood's persistent problem of underrepresentation.

So what do people want? Should actors like Will Smith be excluded from jobs they're qualified for based solely on their light skin color? No; that would also be colorism (contrary to what some Twitter users believe, "reverse colorism" is just as nonexistent as "reverse racism"). The intention of the "colorism debate," as the BBC called it, is to promote equal consideration and visibility of all skin tones in media. Inherently, this goal banks on public opinion gaining more influence over Hollywood decisions, which has begun with increased social media, crowdfunded projects, and the #MeToo movement being predicated upon empowering everyday individuals to sound an alarm against prejudice.

Still, the ultimate goal of equal representation in media is far off from the status quo. It's a fact that there have been more white and light-skinned figures represented in media than non-white individuals. But we're not equipped to collectively recognize continuations of that pattern, let alone to interrupt it until we can talk about "racism" and "colorism" using the same respect for history and a core understanding of what our words mean.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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