Can Vogue Italia’s Editor Franca Sozzani “Help them(Africans) be comfortable in their own culture”?

It amuses her, always has, this disregard of Africans for flowers, the indifference of the abundantly blessed (or psychologically battered)- the chronic self-loather who can’t accept, even with evidence, that anything native to him, occurring in abundance, in excess, without effort, has value” – Quote from the book “Ghana Must Go“ by Taiye Selasi

Appreciate your flowers… For they bloom without concern to lack nor season in showcasing its well rooted beauty!

I have been hearing the resurrected buzz of the never dying desire by Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora, to be validated through the pages of a Vogue Africa. Now the ante has been upped on a well connected global stage with my favorite supermodel of all time, Naomi Campbell, taking on the fallen baton by using her influence at the Vogue Festival in London, to call out the chairman of Conde Nast directly, in a public discussion of inclusion, to make Vogue Africa happen! I don’t care one way or another whether this happens because Vogue is not and has never been my bible in being the image of me as an African nor my aspirations, but for those who seek the gods of Vogue for validation, I hope this happens for you to receive salvation in seeing the wealth and worth of Africa/Africans!

In the international family of Vogue magazines, Vogue Italia has often seemed like the politically incorrect uncle who makes a racist joke at your wedding reception. As recently as the March issue this year, the magazine featured a white model in blackface, posing alongside taxidermied safari animals. Then there was the infamous “Haute Mess” editorial of March 2012, which seemed, to many, to be poking fun at the culture of African American women — and the incident in 2011, when an online gallery of hoop jewelry was titled “Slave Earrings.”… For all of these reasons, you may not associate editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani with the empowerment of Africa — but that is what she’s been working toward since June 2012, when she became the global goodwill ambassador for Fashion 4 Development. The campaign is a United Nations initiative that aims to help build the fashion economy in the developing countries of Africa, and has matched up talented fashion workers with scholarships to develop their skills…Her work for Fashion 4 Development seems to have had two main tactics: nurturing African talent and encouraging the development of a fashion economy; and drawing international attention to the best creative work.”. (Read More Here)

In the midst of this discussion, Naomi Campbell turned to the front row and directed a public request toward Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International. “I’m hoping, Jonathan, that we can have African Vogue,” she said, laughing in the deadly serious way that only she can. “I would be the editor,” said Sozzani, and Campbell replied, “I’ll be an assistant.” (Read More Here)

What bothers me most in these continued circular conversations, is the loaded language and the lack of prominent faces and voices of Africans at the table to partake in making sure “we get the language and vision right” in cooperative economics . It is not that we do not have plenty of global African representations throughout the world, it is that we do not build and uphold that which is ours to the high standards, esteem and admiration of that which is not ours. Africa/Africans worldwide are not short of our stories being told through the vision and voice of the outside looking in, the issue is that we are are often not even a part of the supporting team who tells the story . We have always been well represented and continue to be well represented in that gaze of a “new or renewed Africa” from the outside looking in. If Vogue needs to know about high end mainstream fashion forward magazines who saw it possible to have  African issues, just ask Elle Magazine, who saw it viable to be in Africa with Elle South Africa because Vogue isn’t really inventing anything that we have not seen before, plus Elle has always been more consistent in speaking to my global African aesthetic anyway! Remember the ground breaking cover with Alek Wek that  Lupta Nyong’o spoke about? That was Elle before it entered the African market!  We must really seek balance in the proliferation of our global image and be mindful in that which we seek.

We have to help them be comfortable in their own culture.”  -Franca Sozzani

When I read this quote, I had to SMH and just laugh because the shock of the levels of foolishness of my fellow human beings when it comes to Africa has long warn off ! This is the exact type of lost in translation reasons why we are always going in circles about so called “helping Africa”!

Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”― Maya Angelou

I actually like Ms. Sozzani for her seemingly genuine efforts toward a more diverse fashion industry and pioneering many conversations and initiatives for growth as a global industry; however I have always had an issue with her conscious or unconscious totalitarian-like manner of being the voice and face of its leadership, in her extreme dismissiveness of African dissent to her portrayal of their nations in her L’uomo Vogue Africa Issue, and when Naomi Campbell says it’s about time for a Vogue Africa, Ms. Sozzani feels that she should be the editor, with Ms. Campbell volunteering her services as her assistant? There is a dangerous imbalance between a leader who feels “because she is, we are”- without fault, and a leader who owns that there have been and may continue to be some mistakes made along the way, and in correcting those mistakes she must feel that “because we are, she is”!

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”- May Angelou
Sozzani’s representation of Nigeria’s complex social and political situation is as astute as you’d expect it to be, and thanks to the internet, she gets called out big-style by a Nigerian called “Rachel”, whose comment on the website is by far the best piece of writing in the entire magazine, print or online:”Your dramatic entrance to Nigeria was completely unnecessary. There are thousands of expats who have lived here for years in complete safety. It is reports like this that do nothing for the country. Do not flatter yourself to believe that you would be of ANY value to a terrorist. You would probably annoy the hell out of them. WHY did the editors think it would be important for readers to hear what you think what should be done in Nigeria? You were talking to the President of the country who is dealing with increasing rates of poverty and a decline in security and you are telling him to build an African Rodeo Drive? Oh yes, please build it so the 5% of the super wealthy population that can actually afford to buy from these sort of shops will no longer travel. The rest of the population can look on with their begging bowls in envy…. And also – the Petroleum Minister is probably one of the most corrupt people in Nigeria who has only added to the poverty, and therefore the security problems in the country. Don’t you know ANYTHING about the fuel subsidy scandal here? Do you know how many people are calling for her resignation? I feel so disappointed. I dread to think what the issue is like. I agree with you on one thing, it is important that people see beyond the famine and death in Africa and see the potential it has to grow but the potential has to be found in communities who are doing what they can to get out of poverty whether it be telecommunications to do banking, solar energy to power their small businesses or community initiatives to support women. What use is a Banana fricking Republic?”

Sozzani responded with :

@Rachel: It’s been a long time since I last received such an idiot comment on my website. When I say Muslims, I never thought that the entire population of muslims is against Catholics as I live part of my life in Morocco and all my friends there are Muslims. I think that you took the negative side of the article and I’m sorry to say that is you who is against your own country, not me, as if we give work to women and we build up new shops and hotels, even for the 5% of the population, it can attract tourism and give job to local people. Is this nothing for you? Is it so unnecessary that I go to see them and try to help them? If so, I’m sorry for you, you don’t love your country and don’t want to help it. I don’t care and I go on my own way and certainly you won’t stop me. Just for yuor info, all the people – young designers, tailors and those producing fashion – are very happy and selling well thanks to me. This is the most important thing for me.” (Read More Here)

Curators Working In Africa can not work In Isolation and there’s incredible need to engage with local communities and audiences and build those in their respective countries…Is Development an aesthic project? ”  (Read More Here ):

I ask, Is it Africans or Ms. Sozzani who needs help to be more comfortable in “African culture”? As a Ghanaian-American woman, Franca Sozzani can never help me “to be comfortable in my culture” anymore than I can help her to be comfortable in her European/Italian culture. Language matters and even the best of us use very loaded language that serves the cause of why the status quo exists. The same gatekeepers will remain in their positions of dictation, until we build our own industries to compete on our own terms with direct insight and vision of what can and should be. We will always have those who feel they need “to help us to be comfortable in our own culture”, since all we always seem to be seeking is so called mainstream” validation of inclusion. When one sees your comfort and acceptance in the world in validating and raising you upon their stage, then you should question what you seek because it is and has always been seeking you in building its hierarchy!

she explained why she’d created the May 2012 “Rebranding Africa” issue of L’Uomo Vogue. “For me, L’Uomo Vogue is not a fashion magazine — I mean, it is, of course, but it’s more how to use fashion as a media to awareness for something else. So when we did [the] African issue, for example, I stayed two weeks in Africa, I interviewed the president of Nigeria, and we put, on the cover, Ban Ki-moon [secretary general of the United Nations].” The goal of the issue, she said, was to show some of the many positive things happening within the continent — because “if we go home and say Africa is poor, Africa is civil wars, Africa is AIDS, Africa is malaria — how can people go there? Sozzani said she thought the possibility of a Vogue Africa was still very far off. “We really have to work much more, and to have more people believe in [Africa]. There is not confidence in these countries [from the international fashion industry] because they’ve seen too many things, and of course in the newspapers they only put [negative] things. The good side is huge … So now, everybody’s talking about Africa, and probably something will happen. I hope so.” (Read More Here) :

Those who continually only have dreams and aspirations of being a part of someone else’s stage to feel accomplishment and validation should think about  these words very well because it is for you…”We have to help them be comfortable in their own culture“! This sentence is so laughable and says so much in a conscious or unconsciously loaded manner in certain people’s globally displayed discomfort with appreciating their own culture without outside validation! When you put Ban Ki-moon on the cover of an “Africa Issue“, and sell it to me as showcasing the progress in Africa instead of the single story of famine, disease, ineptitude, corruption and inability to build with good leadership without outside intervention, and most of all an inability for Africans to have their own voices and faces in the likes of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela and so many others in our past and present to showcase any “rebranding” and progress in Africa; Please don’t be offended when I LOL at your bamboozling attempt! We really need to get the language right, so we are not lost in the translations of the words, actions and voices that we give in representations. We must collectively recognize that there is an actual need and human mandate to involve Africans in these forums, discussions and leadership appointments in “helping Africa/Africans ‘to be comfortable in their own culture'”! To quote Marcus Garvey Any leadership that teaches you to depend on another race, is a leadership that will enslave you”!

Given a fresh start, no one would build a global brand for today’s modern world. They would sideline the one billion rich, ageing niche market that is Western Europe and the USA. Instead, they would design a brand for 85% of the world’s population, who inhabit developing markets..They would design a brand whose functional delivery met those consumer needs, and whose emotional benefit spoke to their hopes. And, do you know what, they might have a winner on their hands.” (Read More Here)

If Africa is to be built to its potential, we must involve the future of Africa because I refuse to buy the myth of Africa’s rise ,when it does not benefit an African majority. It is time we changed the conversation by changing our own mental state and attitudes in order to build our own leadership in representations, while making sure that we are also representing an inclusive vision within our own representations. I am all for global collaborations and realized long ago that in order for all of us as sovereign nations within our locally global cultures, to benefit from our global fusions, we must have more equal footing in our collaborations. You can’t build, improve and showcase a local or global village without the involvement of the villagers because it is they who hold the history of tilling the land, pulling out its roots and nursing the soil in the growth of its beautiful blooms!

I Am Because You Are” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu says this about the South African concept of ubuntu: “[It] means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “a person is a person through other people.” It is not “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am human because I belong.” I participate, I share.” –The Global Oneness Project 

Africa does not need co-opting of visions from the outside looking in, Africa needs inclusive and collective cooperation in as Yasiin Bey says “A Fair Exchange, No Robbery”, from within and without.

These images of “An African City” displaying what is African fashion today and this so called “New or Re-newed Africa”, are equally valuable,welcomed and necessary acknowledgements in our global fusions, whether it be on the pages of Elle, Ebony or Africa Is A Country; however the validation should come in the fact that it was created inclusive of our own voices and vision in the telling of our stories to the world.We must also be those who build and bring others in, instead of always waiting for others to build or who have built already to bring us in. We have watched generations of dreams deferred and killed many more generations in the pursuit of outside validation, instead of putting all of our energy into building and nurturing within by upholding that which is ours.

RIP Karyn Washington! May your mission and life lost much too soon, be yet another catalyst to change the conversation of our dreams in choosing just to be and showcasing the best of us within, instead of always seeking validation from the outside looking in.

In the words of the great story teller Chinua Achebe:

The only thing we have learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience…Stories serve the purpose of consolidating whatever gains people or their leaders have made or imagine they have made in their existing journey thorough the world…Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control. It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have – otherwise their surviving would have no meaning…Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself…If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own

 

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