How to Pay Homage to Winnie Harlow, a Model With Vitiligo, Without Using Blackface
You may recognize Chantelle Brown-Young, who uses the name Winnie Harlow professionally. She's quickly becoming one of the most famous models in the world:
The Toronto native first caught the world's attention in 2013 when she placed fifth on America's Next Top Model. She's since earned modeling contracts with the Spanish brand Desigual and the Italian brand Diesel.
Harlow's probably also the most famous person since Michael Jackson with vitiligo, a rare skin condition that causes people to lose the pigment in their skin. She's embraced her condition, after spending years of being insecure about it, and has become something of an international spokeswoman about it. In 2011, she made a video about living with vitiligo called "Vitiligo: A Skin Condition Not a Life Changer."
But now some fans are paying homage to Harlow by "dressing up" in an attempt to mimic her skin condition.
But Harlow isn't offended by their actions. In fact, she's inspired by them:
Here's her full response on Instagram:
My response to this is probably not what a lot of people want but here it goes: every time someone wants fuller lips, or a bigger bum, or curly hair, or braids does Not mean our culture is being stolen. Have you ever stop to realize these things used to be ridiculed and now they're loved and lusted over. No one wants to "steal" our look here. We've just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and du-rags and big asses (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don't have it love and lust after it. Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn't mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn't mean she wants to be black. The amount of mixed races in this world is living proof that we don't want to be each other we've just gained a national love for each other. Why can't we embrace that feeling of love? Why do we have to make it a hate crime? In a time when so much negative is happening, please don't accuse those who are showing love and appreciation, of being hateful. It is very clear to me when someone is showing love and I appreciate these people recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over #1LOVE
Predictably, she's getting pushback on social media from people who believe those painting their faces to mimic Harlow's are displaying blackface, a racist tactic historically used by white actors to mock black people, who, because they were barred by segregation laws, could not perform on stage before white audiences.
Whether or not you consider the actions of Harlow's fans to be racist, there are plenty of ways to show adoration for someone without resorting to crafting racist caricatures, like by making that homage less about oneself and more about Harlow.
Here's some examples of skillful fan art that respect the model's unique beauty without objectifying it:
See how easy that was?