January 25th, 2011
Fashion Discussion, Fashion News
Fashion Discussion: Black Men as Props
By Claire

I was cruising on one of my favorite fashion editorial sites, Fashion Gone Rogue, when I happened upon this February/March 2011 cover of Russh Magazine featuring Delfine Bafort:

The Belgian model is surrounded by a group of adoring black men, who all seem to be looking at her lustfully. Her white dress, blonde tresses, and aloof stare contrasts markedly with their dark naked skin and enraptured looks.
Interesting.
The shoot seemed very reminiscent of other editorials I’ve seen in the past few years:



Alessandra Ambrosio, Rob Evans, and TaeJahn Taylor by Matthias Vriens-McGrath for Numero Tokyo January/February 2011.


Chanel Iman for Elle Italia October 2010.


Gisele Bundchen by Sølve Sundsbø.
Black men being used as props is nothing new. Remember slavery?
In 2011, I think it’s past time to let these tropes go, don’t you think?

Image Source: Fashion Gone Rogue

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58 Responses to “Fashion Discussion: Black Men as Props”

  1. Lola says:

    new trend? this has BEEN a trend.

  2. yusufswifee says:

    my comment is no comment…I just can’t, but I’m definitely giving the side eye….feels very “give us us free” – but anyway.

  3. Layla says:

    When will black men stop being treated as second class citizens.

  4. Yes this has been a trend and the cover of that magazine I do not like it all.

  5. marissa says:

    yeah…the one i that I am really not a fan of is the first one with alessandro ambrosia, really?

  6. Beyani says:

    I see it as Black Men with jobs…holla!!!

  7. Bonifant says:

    I feel male models in general are used as props unless its a men’s product campaign. Most times i see them in editorials they look out of place anyway

  8. Does anyone else notice that there are not any covers or magazine features where Caucasian men lust after dark skin/brown skin women? This is the new slavery. I’m not one to comment on race issues, but this is just sad. Black male models are used in a a way they do not understand. Look at runway even. They have a few select black models that they use just to make sure no one says that they are not “diverse”. However, there’s some shows that have that one chosen black model. While I am thankful for the fact that black (although I should say African/African-American) models are more common on the runways, I wonder about the runway shows that do not use any at all. But I digress. The real question is, what are we as consumers going to do about it? If we boycott, it could send the message that we don’t support our “brothas” modeling careers at all. If we don’t we continue to let them think they are prospering when in reality they are being held by the same chains their ancestors were as well. How do we teach ethnic models to watch for signs of being used, when honestly, the models themselves really want to make money to support their families and do what they love?

  9. HKO says:

    Honestly, and I am black….I feel that no matter what opportunities are given- African Americans will always complain and feel a way of isolation. A great example is with the Essence magazine chief editor issue. JUST BECAUSE the editor chosen was not an AA, us as a people feel betrayed. Isn’t the greatest goal to represent the AA culture in the largest form, which would be THE MAGAZINE not the editor. And for this to occur, wouldn’t we want an editor that will steer that magazine in the best direction. When we continue to bitch and complain about certain issues that create a form of ‘isolation’ and ‘captivity’ we don’t help alleviate that idea. To diminish this idea, or action, WE MUST be the ones that take control of how we are being portrayed. Furthermore, by bitching and complaining, we continue the seperation of races in art, instead of allowing art to have no color and boundries.

    For the issue at hand, I honestly don’t find a GREAT issue with it because it really is ART. Black is BEAUTIFUL, and the skin tones are amazingly artistic. I don’t see Asians being the models nor the side line players, so what does that say?

  10. Claire says:

    @HKO I don’t agree that black people will always complain. Images are more powerful than you think. And what I strive for and what we should all strive for are positive images that display us as the intelligent, beautiful, wise, and multifaceted creatures that we are, not as second class. You can’t divorce anything from our history of global slavery, and we should be fighting for better representation, not looking at it, then looking away, fearing that by calling people out we will isolate ourselves. It’s about respect, and I find these images disrespectful and archaic.
    And I guess I do a little bit of both…I present great images and also complain just a little when things go awry. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Excuse me, this is not ok.”

  11. Porschia says:

    I would say the black man here is more animalistic than prop-like. He is the ultimate in masculinity in sharp contrast to the delicate and white female.

    The photo says alot about race relations.

  12. shawn says:

    Thank you Claire !!

    “I don’t see Asians being the models nor the side line players, so what does that say?” – HKO

    biologically asians are too short, that explains why you don’t see them!

  13. major_ruby says:

    i have mixed emotions on this – but the overwhelming feeling is that I want to throw up

  14. major_ruby says:

    and i would like add my black man is my KING not my prop

  15. Nikki says:

    My question is: What about the models? Imagine if you were led into a room for a photo shoot and you saw lions, tigers, bears, and they outfitted you with a loin cloth, bone ring, and spear. Wouldn’t you walk out? With these men, it’s like….they have a choice to walk away or let Alessandra Ambrosio put a leash on them. If they’re complicit in their own ‘slavery’ then can we complain?

  16. beyonceaddict says:

    lol @ “remember slavery?”

    I think these men are being used as an accent in an artistic way, but, regardless of ethnicity, a group of men staring lustfully at one woman, in my opinion, doesn’t sit well with me because it looks like a glorified gangbang.

  17. Tif says:

    I agree with HKO. It’s so easy to complain without actually putting any thought into what you’re complaining about. In these spreads I see beautiful (and employed) black male models. Yes they are props, but not in a negative sense. If these males were not black they would still be props because they are not the focus of the spread. It’s as simple as that. I think this is another case of making something out of nothing.

    Can we get a model spotlight on some of these young men and show them some support? It’d be nice to know about them, how long they’ve been in the industry, etc.

  18. Claire says:

    @TIf Good idea to feature them. If their names are acknowledged in the credits I will.
    I actually did put thought into it. The first picture immediately reminded me of Birth of the Nation (a film I saw in an African-American studies class). That’s the thing about an image, it says so much by saying so little.
    The very last thing I’ll say is: I look at fashion editorials all day. Fashion Gone Rogue has an almost encyclopedic stable of fashion editorials. I haven’t seen this with any other race of models. This is why I made it an issue. Thx

  19. HKO says:

    First off, I want to say thank you to Claire for respectfully acknowledging me (I have sooooo much respect for you and this blog, lol). But I do see where you are coming from. It is about how we, as a group, are represented. If the images don’t truly represent the multifaceted African American culture, then it is a negative thing. Though, in this case….I believe that when we are used as ensembles to the spread, it shows black love and luster. I don’t believe that this is a case where we have to juxtapose this imagery to slavery, because I don’t believe that it represents it.

    Also, there are other ads and spreads where WHITE males are in the same position as these BLACK males….do we say that this represents the Holocaust?

    No matter what race, or how one looks, modeling is not about caste systems, if you have a job, you have a job. Look at one of the BIGGEST clothing houses in fashion, Givenchy. Their shows truly represents and presents various cultures and races. So what does that say?….It says that the AA community is now FINALLY being included in the fashion realm. Yeah its not at its greatest height, but with all changes, it takes times.

    Personally, I do not find this an issue.

  20. HKO says:

    ….and about the Asian comment. Look at Calvin Klein’s ‘X’ underwear campaign. One of the males is Asian. So does that mean he’s not a model?!

    …research

  21. NRAW says:

    All male models are props. I’ve seen ads with white male models (the Calvin Klein ad with Laura Stone) doing the same thing. Non-issue.

  22. lauren says:

    i agree…it’s disturbing to say the least..smh

  23. Christy says:

    Thanks for pointing this out. I can only think of two black male models who are actually the subject of a picture rather than being relegated to prop status– one a house hold name and another beginning to make a name for himself…. Tyson Beckford and Ngo Okafor.

  24. missyqeenb says:

    I dont like it, ive seen better. However I dont understand what the big issue is. This has bee done for years and all of you seem up in arms over it and yet if the men were white it wouldnt be a issue at all. I think too much is being read in the picture.

  25. Dari says:

    It’s weird you bring this up, Claire. I had the exact same thought the other day. I was so happy to see black men getting some mainstream work with the H&M Holiday campaign this year, but alas, that will always be short-lived. I’m back to seeing them naked and worshipping the sole white model in the photograph.

    I guess, photographers like playing with the idea of the white woman being exotic. But they only show exoticism with ethnic models by putting tribal prints and paint on them, dressing them in geisha kimonos, etc.

    Somebody, find the new talent and fix this problem. Old people are ruining everything. lol.

  26. saavy says:

    Seriously its not that deep its just a nice contrast i personally think if they used white men it just wouldnt pop! Like Kanyes movie with the white servers. Thats the problem with black folks too busy worried about how we’re being perceived instead of trying to do better for ourselves. Stop complaining, thats all black ppl do is complain. If a magazine feautures a story on natural textured hair and dosent showcase enough pictures of kinky hair you complain. Thats why no one likes to do anything special because all you do is complain! Stop waiting around for ppl to do things for you! No one owes you ish!

  27. j says:

    well derr, what straight white woman doesnt fantasize of having a large black man fawning over them/ to have at their beck and call. not surprised here.

  28. Nikki says:

    @Savvy ask yourself this: Do we ever see white men worshipping black, asian, pacific islander, or anyone but white women? Why is it always ok for us to worship them, but not the other way around?
    And we’re not complaining about all those other irrelevant issues, we’re complaining about this.

  29. EgyptianBella says:

    I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE SAY THAT BLACKS COMPLAIN AND CONTINUE THE SEPERATION WITH RACIAL ISSUES. THAT IS NOT TRUE! PEOPLE COMPLAIN BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A RACIST WORLD AND WE SEE RACISM EVERYDAY. THIS MAGAZINE IS PROOF. HKO YOUR IGNORANT IF YOU BELIEVE THAT WE ARE THE PROBLEM INSTEAD OF CAUCASIONS BEING THE PROBLEM. YOU JUST WANT TO IGNORE THE RACE ISSUE, BUT GUESS WHAT, IT IS AND ALWAYS WILL BE AN ISSUE. BLACKS HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY WHATEVER THEY WANT!

  30. B. says:

    It’s questionable, but I actually feel that it’s an issue pertaining to all races. I feel weirded out when I see (and it happens frequently) white male models treated the same – as if the male is only there to worship the female. And I DO take issue with the lack of Asian representation in the modelling world. There is a very strong modelling community (particularly photographic modelling) in Japan especially, so don’t try to say Asians can’t be models. The issue here is also that some of these spreads involve white female models as the subject, further elevating her status by having the adoration of beautiful, but “insignificant” black men (within the image of the spread). Even the spread with Chanel Iman raises these questions. I honestly feel that this is more about gender divide, and the images that those with power in the fashion world feel that their clientele want to see – men as subservient to women. I feel like equality comes, not only from the bridging of the race divide, but the gender divide. No, I’m not some crazy person that thinks we can all live in harmony, happily ever after, but we can surely do better than this on so many levels.

  31. EgyptianBella says:

    @HKO, DO YOU REALIZE THAT THERE IS A BIG RACE ISSUE IN AMERICA AND ITS NOT BECAUSE BLACKS COMPLAIN? DO YOU REALIZE THAT CAUCASIONS ARE THE MAIN ISSUE AND THE IGNORANT THINKING OF UNCLE TOM’S (BLACKS WHO THINK THERE IS NO PROBLEM) LIKE YOURSELF, ARE THE REASON THAT OUR RACE ARE SEPERATED? IF YOU THINK THAT WE COMPLAIN THEN WHY DONT YOU CREATE A DISCUSSION ON HOW MUCH RACE AFFECTS US IN OUR EVERYDAY LIFE AND SAY THAT WHITES COMPLAIN AND ARE THE PROBLEM. YOU NEED TO DO YOUR RESEARCH AND STOP TURNING YOUR BACK ON YOUR OWN RACE. BLACKS COMPLAIN WHEN THERE IS SOMETHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT! DONT BE IGNORANT ALL YOUR LIFE!

  32. EgyptianBella says:

    I WOULD LIKE TO SEE BLACK MEN MODELS WITH BLACK WOMEN MODELS. THERE IS STILL A RACE ISSUE IN THE MODELING INDUSTRY. IT IS STILL UNFAIR. DO YOU ALL SEE THAT? IT IS UNFAIR BECAUSE THEY STILL DONT USE BLACK MODELS IN MOST ADS. SO DONT GET EXCITED ABOUT ONE LITTLE AD. GET EXCITED WHEN YOU START SEEING BLACK MODELS EVERYWHERE!

  33. Bronze says:

    I don’t have a problem with it.

    As long as remain complacent and wait on the powers that be to become peace loving fair citizens: we can expect more of the same. We can confront racism in fashion by making our own Vouge, Elle, Cosmo we have the talent, there are Africans on the Forbes richest people in the world list. I don’t understand why we keep expecting yt to play by the rules. It is not in their nature.

  34. NRAW says:

    Egyptian no disrespect but when you type in all caps it makes it hard to read what you’ve typed. I don’t think HKO is ignoring the problem or denying there is a problem. They are saying just like myself that this is a none issue because white male models are posed like this ALL THE TIME in editorials. So now that they have given the job to black men it’s racist? Ridiculous. For people to say they never see black female models with white male models that is also ridiculous. I read a ton of magazines and I’ve seen spreads like that. No the number of them are no where near the number of shoot featuring white models but they are out there. Don’t hold your breath waiting to see black models EVERYWHERE just like you won’t see asian or hispanic models everywhere in America. As for black people complaining. When folks found something wrong with a black muppet on Seseame Street singing “I love my hair” that kind of sealed the deal for me that some black people look for problems where there are none.

  35. esme says:

    i am really disgusted by the image of the white woman holding a black man by a leash. wtf? and thank you claire for highlighting this issue. first of all, i think this entire blog has been an effort and a testament to quote “be the change you want to see” meaning that you constanstly highlight black models, fashion designers, tastemakers, and urban streetwear and you give young black fashionable people exposure and a platform that we otherwise would not have. the imagery of animalistic black men lusting after white women reminds me of “birth of a nation” as well the many myths of hypersexualized black men that cannot control themselves around women, particularly white women.

    there is also a saying called “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”. as long as racism and segregation persist in the fashion industry, we have an obligation to call it out. i don’t tolerate racist imagery, and i (and others) have the right to object to it. i don’t give a damn who thinks, i , as a black person “complain too much”. whats the worst that could happen if we do “complain too much”? that things change? that we bring awareness to a problem (like the lack of people of color on the runways a couple of seasons ago?) if you continue to let the status quo go unabated, then you will get more of the same.

  36. Annie says:

    Yes male models are still generally props but the image of Black men as brainless, bestial and overcome with savage lust for perfectly chiseled white women (or a a pack of wild you-know-what to quote Mel G.) during and post slavery is still in circulation by otherwise credible sources and supposedly progressive people and institutions to this day!

    Our modern history is caught up in Black slavery and slave imagery used to keep white men the center of a financial and social monopoly and keep Blacks from legitimately competing politically, socially and economically. They were naturally ignorant, graceless and overcome by irrational lust that could destroy the social order.

    Our history is still always condensed back to the event of slavery NOT centuries before, during and after slavery of incredible science, literature, discovery etc. but always condensed into that period and those images. Until it isn’t – yes! – these images beg the question of how stereotypes of us are used for profit and to perpetuate ideas of a natural inferiority

    Sex, why not? Controversy, why not? Any of these guys look like they’re lounging carelessly w/their lover on a yacht? Or ravishing a woman while wearing an amazing suit in the salon of his presumed villa? Where are the images of Black male models not as athletes or urbanites, or sex pets? There’s room for all but there is a large disparity in how our image is projected around the world and how White and now Asian, Arab and even fairer Latino is PROTECTED around the world.

  37. KBS says:

    ALL men are used as props when modeling with women. Thanks Claire for the man candy. Yum.

  38. OneBrownSnowPea says:

    Claire I think it is a genuine concern that you have brought up on the blog. All male models ARE NOT used as props in a fashion ads – at least not to the extent these black male models are. For one, the white male models usually have their clothes on. Unless, it is underwear, in which, the usually pose solo. Two, the majority of ads that feature white male and female models together are usually portraying them as a COUPLE not a group of men on ONE women. Lastly, I have never in a fashion ad seen a white women holding a white man by a leash EVER.

    All of this clearly plays on racial stereotypes of the “black male as lustful brute and the white women as the all-beautiful feminine archetype that all men (especially black men) lust after.”

    For the commenters above me that said that black people need to quit complaining and be happy these black male models have jobs need a wake up call. Basically your saying black people should just be happy with crumbs. Accepting crumbs is not making it!! If you want respect you have to demand it or better yet take it.

    However, I do think that we need to stop waiting for the (white-dominated) fashion industry to accept us.. because lets be honest it wasn’t really created to include us. We have to create and promote our own fashion houses/designers, magazines, modeling agencies, etc. We have to own and control some segment of the industry.

  39. BOOBOO says:

    I could see how some ppl would find it very borderline. I am black n very open-minded. I see it as art. I hv saw non-blck models in the same situations..

  40. chile boo says:

    A model, male or female, black, white, green, yellow or blue, is nothing more than a prop/moving manequin for the advertisement of the clothes. And having Chanel pictured with the models only nullifies the racist portion of this post.

  41. [...] We AreFashion Discussion: Black Men as Propsby Guest Contributor Claire, originally published at The Fashion BombI was cruising on one of my favorite fashion editorial sites, Fashion Gone Rogue, when I happened [...]

  42. [...] of Asian models on a runway during this past week’s New York Fashion Week. Urban conform blog Fashion Bomb Daily has another trend they’ve been observing: black masculine models used as props in editorial [...]

  43. TRENA says:

    i kno the race thing is a very sensitive issue espcially with african americans…..and most time you guys are right…i am a jamaican btw….but sometimes i really do feel tht th race issue is th crotch black americans always lean on when smthng goes wrong for thm or wen theyre in an unfortunate situation….an yes 99.99% of th time that is tru but smtimes we jus gtta c life for what is and instead of complainin n tlkin about it we shud jus improve ourselves the best way we kno hw….violent free…(jus like rosa…loov hr -tho am nt an american -but she displayed resistance in th most elegant form…..)

  44. erika says:

    i think the men in the photos look like JUST men with little or no clothes on but the female models end up looking ridiculous because of the extreme poses.
    i have been experiencing a whole lot of af males being interested in me and i don’t look like those models in the photos except i am white (i’m a size 12, not 0).
    boys, this link is for you. http://giantmag.com/the-magazine/giant-magazine-staff/most-beautiful-black-models-ever/
    by the way, white men are going to be the new minority in the USA.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/aug/15/population.
    regards, from detroit

  45. I had been basically surfing in and around and stumbled on your web blog, You’ve got some good stuff to read, thanks

  46. HandsomeBlackCowboyBrett1953 says:

    At 58,I’m a boyishly handsome black Canadian lad who’s about as FAR FROM URBAN AS A BLACK MAN CAN GET-I enjoy heavy metal,garage rock,Country music,dancing-EXCEPT LINE DANCING!!-
    and rodeo,non-existent in my South-Western Ontario,Can.,life-long residence-Windsor,to be exact-and dress accordingly-a Detroit Ti-
    gers or Budweiser-my favourite beer-cap,a muscle shirt to display my 18″ biceps to the gals,jeans or shorts and running shoes in summer,T-or plaid shirts,Wranglers-my favourite jeans and boots-
    in snowny weather-or running shoes when dry-in Winter.Additio-
    nally,because to a lot of the ladies I resemble a handsome black
    cowboy,I sometimes don Western gear.Would you boys opine a-
    bout my fashion sense for my age,life-style,looks and build-
    I’m 5’8″,210-224 lb.,muscular and somewhat beefy.

  47. Akalo says:

    this exchange is great for my anthro work. it clearly demonstrates an amazing inability of people to read the language of symbology. yes claire, these photographs, as does all art, communicates very specific ideas and ideals to the unconscious mind. clearly, some of the more dominant messages are race/racism based. any symbolist will tell you that symbols rarely speak to individuals. Instead, they say things about groups, classes, and categories. in the case of these photos they appear to be saying horrible things about the sexuality of Black men, and they certainly idealize the white woman. these meaning of these images are not complicated. no more complicated that was the King Kongish photo of Lebron James on the cover of Vogue with Gisele. basic!

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