August 13th, 2009
Amber Rose, Fashion Discussion
Caged Black Women : Grace Jones & Amber Rose
By Claire

Our snapshot from today got me thinking about the portrayals of black women in fashion, and how they’re so typically placed in “Out of Africa” spreads that suggest their closeness to and affinity for animals. I blogged about the Naomi Campbell pictures (photographed by Jean-Paul Goude) for AOL Black Voices, and in my research stumbled upon these pictures of Grace Jones and Amber Rose:

Grace Jones Amber Rose Caged AnimalsGrace Jones, also photographed by Jean-Paul Goude, was featured on the cover of Goude’s 1981 book Jungle Fever. Amber Rose (who is of Cape Verdean descent) appears in Complex Magazine’s September 2009 issue.

Though the photos were taken decades apart, the message is the same. These women are so wild they must be caged–they’re sultry, snarling sex beasts. No matter how many years pass, it seems as if black women can’t shake the same animalistic image.

Naomi-Campbell

Naomi Campbell, Russian Vogue, December 2008

In my AOL post, which suggests this portrayal was offensive, one commenter said, “This is why blacks are so often held back because we spend too much time and effort sweating the small stuff to fight the big fight. There are real issues to be addressed right now but I see those aren’t being touched.” Another said, “This “small stuff” sends a wider message to everyone regardless of color, if the recent events with Gates and even Obama slanders have taught us nothing: that people of color and black people specifically, are so far removed from white or whiteness that they can never be considered human(e), therefore are in fact, the animals their (supposed) ancestors roamed with.

Iman Peter Beard 1985

Iman photographed by Peter Beard, 1985

On what side do you fall in this debate? Is it small stuff? Or are you offended?

Also, what roles do models play in this? Someone like Naomi should have the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ No?

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27 comments

27 Responses to “Caged Black Women : Grace Jones & Amber Rose”

  1. Holly says:

    being that im an african american woman that was adopted by a caucasian family i typically hold a different point of view from most people… when i see images of this i think they’re fly. i think animals (especially the ones that should be caged) are powerful, sexy, strong & rule the world. to me its quite symbolic in a good way.

    i think were are often closed minded in the making brass assumption of how people view african americans & or our culture.

    when it comes down to life on a scientific basic level, everything we see is all energy & as individuals we put limitations around it.

    most importantly…i do think its petty & there are bigger social & economic issues that need to be addressed within our culture. instead of focusing on how as a culture were viewed in fashion, lets focus on the education or lack there of inner city kids are getting OR lack of positive role models OR the human rights violations that are happening around the world on a day to day basis.

    besides… we are so wild we must be caged & were sultry, snarling sex beasts. people should fear me. im flattered by that.

  2. hustleurpassion says:

    wow. first of all thank you for exploring this topic. I haven’t read your AOL Black Voices piece (yet) but soon will……..

    I think imagery plays a huge role in society’s pysche. It’s so effective that we don’t even realize when our brains are processing subliminal messages. Dealing with the issues of how women of color are portrayed in the media will never be a small issue, because in today’s digital media society, “image is everything.”

    I’m OFTEN offended at the way black women are portrayed in media. The cage photos (which are quite on point for your argument) are definitely apart of it. However the overt sexuality and IDOLIZATION of the body has turned alot of magazine covers into mild porno posters.

    For instance the recent cover of Keri Hilson (i forgot which magazine she posed for). Here is a beautiful, talented, successful and seemingly grounded black woman, photographed in barely there clothes, looking so greasy that she probably wouldn’t have stopped sliding if she had accidentally hit the floor. Of all her talent, why is it that the focus is on her BODY????

    Beyonce is the all-american sex symbol. This woman is a consumate (sp) businesswoman and a hard-working entertainer. One does not get to be worth over $300 million by simply shaking that ass, but yet this is how she is marketed.

    More importantly, the images that are portrayed are shaping the minds & perspectives of our young women. This is evident when you walk into any school or down any block, and you will find young women (including our age group) who are in some way reflecting the imagery of pop culture. If education was celebrated & obsessed over as much as “titties and ass,” i’m sure we would see a huge difference in the patterns of youth development today.

    How much would our young women be liberated if they were to hear Beyonce (or any similiarly relevant for our generation) reflecting on her values and work ethic, and what it takes to be a successful woman of color??

    Of course there are other issues to deal with. But you’re not Al Sharpton. Your area is fashion&culture and you do it well. But of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and this is mine :)

    peace.

  3. rebekah says:

    If your looking at it from a bigger picture this can be considered small stuff, as a people we have SO much more to worry about and many more problems that need to be solved so a of couple photos can seem light. But on the contrary the “small” things that some are tired of picking at like black women posing naked, the black person always being the first to die, or hence the subject black women being betrayed as animals can be the main problem. I think what most black people want to do is get over it and move on that’s why we settle for calling certain things small stuff. I think we should be past being offended and upset but standing up for ourselves in the right way because pouting about it is not going to get anything solved.

  4. Tiffany says:

    I understand black women’s concerns with their image in the media, but I do think we need to take a step back and look at the larger picture. WE are in control of everything we do. Grace Jones was not forced to take a picture in a cage, and in all honesty because I grew up with white people I do not think that they look at these imagines and think of the negative thoughts that we do. (ps. Amber Rose is NOT black)

    I am sure that we could find similar imagines of white women doing the same thing. I think that we should really just take things for what they really are. I see two beautiful woman that are sexy without posing like a playboy model. We are lucky that we can be featured in major magazines and on covers of Vogue… So much has changed… be thankful!

  5. Onyinye says:

    WOW! This is a very interesting topic and I just so happen to be writing a paper on this topic for my Popular culture class. This critique is definitely going to help me… thanks!

  6. Joni says:

    amber not black…

  7. Lady M says:

    I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. If black people put more effort into education than entertainment, we would not be having all these issues. If we chose one intellectual field to dominate, we would command respect. What do you think would happen if we saturated health care the way we do the NBA? If every black child’s parents aspired for their son or daughter to become a doctor, an astronaut, or a scientist rather than the next Michael Jordan or Beyonce, then we would be on our way to success. And by success I mean becoming economically prosperous, independent, and more educated as a whole with the complete power to control our own images.

    This is small stuff. There will always be bad images about black folks out there. Everybody knows that. The danger lies in letting that roadblock trip you up. That’s the intended purpose. Ignore it, and then move on. The attitude should be, “See you at the finish line,” rather than “Oh no, they showed black people living like animals, what should I do? Let’s call Al & Jesse.” NO, NO, NO! Ignore Lil’ Wayne. Sit down, and read that damn book. Kill the Asians at their own game. Make studying as fun as going out to the club. Then we’ll get somewhere.

  8. max says:

    i don’t know if i would say i am offended, but i definitely question why this type of imagery is so prevalent. i don’t accept the explanation that it’s just art or just entertainment and therefore ‘small stuff’ – there’s a thought process or a mentality behind everything and that is what concerns me.
    so is it enough to make me launch my own protest against the fashion industry? probably not. but does it make me roll my eyes in disgust? absolutely.

  9. Godiva says:

    ok im i going crazy or is that naomi campbell’s nipple peeking out on the right? If so, now THAT is enuff to be concerned about!

  10. Allison says:

    Tomato tamatoe…Amber is from Cape Verde which is by Africa. She rolls with Kanye and has appeared in Smooth. Seems black enough to me. But you’re missing the point, which is she’s perceived to be black in the industry…and they put her in a cage.
    I’m not an animal and don’t care to be treated as one. I wish these models would take a course in black history before continuously subjected themselves and us to this.
    As an aside this reminded me of that Lebron cover. It’s not just black women, it’s black men too.

  11. conni3 says:

    1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. We complain when they don’t put in magazines and when they do we STILL have something to complain about. These are two spreads on Naomi’s, she’s done thousands. It’s not enough for use to celebrate the fact that after all this time and despite her skin color she is still at the top of the fashion industry. These photos are artistically done and beautiful. I think the Lebron James Vogue cover should have been brought into this discussion, which was clearly racist, but Naomi’s current spread, I just don’t see it.
    2. As far a Grace Jones, that was the image she created. She was the wild, bold, crazy, ACTRESS, SINGER, and MODEL. But I her being a triple threat can’t be celebrated, we have to always hate on our own.
    3. Amber is not black. Just because she is a part of Urban culture doesn’t mean a thing! There are plenty of rappers with beautiful ‘girlfriends’ who haven’t gotten the exposure this chick has got (And I wonder why she got it). Let’s not bring her into this; she’s got nothing to do with it.
    4. There’s a difference between Naomi’s spread and Keri Hilson. Keri Hilson has no talent, that’s why she’s naked on the cover of Complex. Naomi is a model, who’s made a business out of using her body as beautiful art.
    5. Don’t get me wrong, there are negative images of black women in the media, but this isn’t one of them.

  12. Anon says:

    OK.
    In response to conni3 “We complain when they don’t put in magazines and when they do we STILL have something to complain about.”
    I think the real complaint here is that we want equal representation. If, in multiple, overwhelming instances, they have us as monkeys, caged animals, and running with elephants, why shouldn’t we complain? We want equal treatment, not to show up to the party and serve drinks. I really don’t get WHY people continue to accept less than equal treatment. We are humans, we are not animals, it’s as simple as that. The Lebron cover is also representative of this overarching theme that KEEPS CROPPING UP. Should we just sit down and continue to let it happen, or should we say something? There is a lot to complain about and still a lot of inequality. Barack isn’t even a year in and people question his credibility more than that confirmed idiot George Bush. If you think racism doesn’t exist, you’re crazy. Pointing it out only helps to further the cause of equality, it doesn’t deter.
    If people didn’t speak up, we would get nowhere.

  13. ugod says:

    i wonder if amber identifies as black?

  14. conni3 says:

    Of course we want equal representation, but this is nothing to complain about. So can a black woman EVER take a picture in a jungle? What about outside in a nature in general, is that racist? All I’m saying in we need to pick our battles, and this isn’t a battle. Of course we’re not animals, but modeling is fiction. Models dress up as robots, but of course, we’re not robots.

    It’s that fact that we’re always complain, and not acting on it. You can all sit here and whine about it, but how many of you still buy Harper Bazaar or Vogue magazine? How many of you still desire to wear those designers who won’t have blacks in there shows? So don’t talk about it, BE about it, OK?

    @Anon. You’re talking racism in general. I’m not. I’m talking about a photo in a magazine most of America will never see. I never said racism didn’t exist sweetheart. I believe me honey, I know it exists, I live it EVERYDAY. So has everyone become so engulfed in white culture that everything that feature’s something perceived as African or Africa’s beautiful landscapes is bad? I think so.

  15. T says:

    I read that Amber’s mother is from Cape Verde which is an island off the coast of Africa. So the least we can say is she’s biracial. She’s a pretty girl…. leave her alone!

  16. sincere says:

    I agree with you on mostof what you said. However we as black people do need to be more open minded and stop worrying about what people think about our race. Another thing Amber is not black.

  17. Luv says:

    I don’t think it’s a huge deal, but I do want fashion to be progressive, no regressive. Try something new, and stop relying on these familiar stereotypes. Amber’s mom is from Africa. C’mon people.
    At any rate…we can do better.

  18. MissZ87 says:

    It seems that a lot of the posts before me say that these images are petty; however you rarely see white women in images like these if they are they always seem to portray some semblance of control in the situation. For example, If they do a “tribal” or “safari” photo shoot, they never PORTRAY OR CHANNEL the animal. They may be surrounded by animals or “natives” but they don’t wear clothes or strike a pose that mimics the animal. Positioning, angles, and clothing are EVERYTHING in photographs. Remember a picture is worth a thousand words.

  19. KikIlis says:

    I think these two pictures, although similar, are coming from two different contexts. Having a caged black woman on the cover of a book called Jungle Fever is certainly offensive and would never fly today. However, Amber Rose’s photo shoot is a different situation, because first of all she doesn’t look at all black, and is in fact bi-racial, so I think it is saying something different about stereotypes, because someone who was not familiar with her background wouldn’t necessarily categorize her as “black”. In addition, this is only one shot in the series, and the theme of the shoot has nothing do with Africa, animals, or women having animalistic qualities.
    In this context it seems to be less about race and more about what Complex is marketing as sexy. Amber Rose doesn’t really base her image on her racial background, and I think that is an important message that we can all learn from. She is not defining herself by her background, so I don’t think we should either.

  20. Proud and Philly to the BONE says:

    Why is the media tries to manipulate people into thinking that throw a little Black relation into it and it will be hott or puts some braids in their hair and they are Black. Amber is a puerto rican former stipper from the badlands Puerto rican neighborhood in philly. Puerto Ricans do not consider themselves Black in while they may assimilate to hip hop culture, they will let it be known they do not care fore us..I am disgusted that people believe that if you say it enough it will be true. Sorry hun, she is not African American. The woman he was with before his mom died was African American. I liked her because she had a good head on her shoulder and his momma loved her..I don’t believe he would have brought amber or whatever her real name is before she did the pretty woman thing with Kanye..who seems to have lost his mind..kinda like TO. Please dont categorize African American women who see through the nonsense. Be happy being Black, white , korean..if more people were themselves maybe we would not have to deal with all the crap..Grace Jones is Legendary and Amber while hot right now is no comparison. I am disappointed by the lack of focus on real fashion versus slut wear. Look at the Women of the past..that is fashion..1940′s, 50. 60′s 70 and 80′s even a little 90′s but somewhere America went off the curb. The only way to stop the nonsense is to address it when it happens. No support, just do you and leave me out of it..I LOVE FASHION and this blog..but the more amber and kardashian stuff I see the more I am looking for other outlets. Rihanna is doing nothing knew..maybe for todays children, but salt and pepa rocked this long ago!! Look at the R & B women of the past..Fashion repeats itself that is why you have a wardrobe and not hip things now. But I guess because I am old school and refuse to support nonsense I just wont be pushing any money towards crap. Fashion, true fashion does not diminish it inspires.

  21. Chic Noir says:

    Why Why why can’t they move past this image of us??? Obama being president does not make this crap okay!!!

  22. j says:

    Every one brings very good points. However,what people have become tired off is the redundancy in people of European decent in terms of their protrayals of African people. It is a shame that people of European orgin can not open their ideals in terms of how they veiw people of African orgin through thier works of self-expression in which we call art. Any artist wether black or white becomes stagnant when you can not broaden your dimension and thinking..it becomes rather boring.

    Yes we as African woman are very powerful forces, but not only limited to sexuality! We have birth, taught and natured great nations. When people of limited spectrum can not understand or grasp that “it” factor that make “you” you, they want to cage it (control you) or down play it.

    However, the power of the likes of someone as Grace Jones..is that she teaches us that spirit can not be contained. Although, she is caged in that photo …Grace..still dominates the cage in which she is containted in. She has used these artist with limited specturm and thier platform un some ways to empower herself and destroy ideologies on gender, class as well as race.

    Also, African people need to come in terms of thier African selves. Their is great beauty in our culture. Although, every aspect of ourselves from our sexuality, phyiscality, cultural and language has been demonized..that we run from it with the hopes of being considered human. We need to embrace all the has been considered brutal and ugly..to really enjoy great beauty.

    And yes, Amber’s mom is from Cape Verde which is an Island off the coast of Sengeal and considered part of Africa.They were colonized by Portugal and have some there colonizers blood in them as we all. The way African-Ameicans came off the boat as slaves is not the way we look today. If she is not Africa-American then tell me who is?

  23. Proud and Philly to the BONE says:

    She is Puerto Rican please stop using the media spin..for popularity purposes..When she was in Philly she was puerto rican now she has a descendant from Africa. OKAY whatever, it just sad everybody wanna be DOWN, be affiliated to African Americans..but not actually BE African American. She will remain an a Puerto Rican oppurtunist former stripper who hooked up with a artist whom I will no longer support. Fashion is now a high priced piece of …whatever the case, no bandwagon because there is nothin new going on. Pepa rocked the shaved sides before all these women thought they were doing something. All of their naked pictures at 12 to 23 showing the world their glory. This is what I am suppose to have my future children believe it fashion and acceptable. Old school values, will remain, do you own research.

  24. Gregorie says:

    I agree that these are beautiful, artistic photos, but I can’t help but think that the “general public,” (meaning folks that aren’t black) will forever see us black women as uncontrollable, wild animals that need to be caged. Will we ever have more images that represent our softer, gentler side? It’s already hard enough being a black woman in corporate America because we fight against the prevailing stereotype that we are angry and the like.

    The educational focus shouldn’t just be geared towards our young folk in the inner-city and beyond regarding our culture, we should also focus our energies on re-educating us adults by providing a broad range of images of black women that truly encompass who we are as a gender. If we see enough positive images of ourselves, you can only come away from that viewing experience being filled with even more self-esteem which is why I started Hue Knew It (www.hueknewit.com), the beauty blog – it fully engages us in the discussion about our beauty needs and desires and doesn’t just invite us to the table every once in a while. It’s the Allure Magazine for black women.

  25. Jessica says:

    It’s not about whether or not this is considered sweating the small stuff, when people see this images repeatedly, they start thinking these stereotypes are true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard white people say something black people being compared to animals or from the jungle, etc. It’s still reinforcing the stereotype.

  26. true words says:

    Lady M is probably the most intelligent poster on this whole board.
    LOL Godiva, thanks for the laugh at Naomi…

  27. Emily says:

    This is actually pretty funny. I am a white woman, and trust me when I tell you this, but when we look at black women being portrayed as animals in cages and so on….we don’t think “oh wow that’s where they belong those animals” we think “what a creative photoshoot” or whatever.
    My friends and I had this discussion, and to be honest with you, you need to stop finding racism in everything that goes on. The photographer probably wanted to do a creative fashion spread, with no racial intentions at all. Or even if, Amber Rose and Naomi Campbell are grown women with brains, if it offended them so much, why did they agree to do it?

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