The Vogue cover starring Kamala Harris is awful. It left me disgusted and exhausted and this was not where I wanted to be at such a joyous, calming corner turn in my country. I would have missed the moment and deep-dived to write a book I could not possibly finish if I’d paid attention to it at the time. Though I skipped over it in self-preservation, it was still waiting at the stores and checkout counters, haunting and hurting any black woman who worked her behind off to be better only for white people or institutions to devalue her anyway.
Beyond race, beyond status or position, it is just a hot mess of invention and design, a sloppy high art version of the hood shade “You doin’ too much,” and an unflattering photo no matter if Hillary Clinton or Helen of Troy had centered it. However, no globally important white woman would ever be expected to center that.
Nor would she be expected to go without formal apology, but accept a creative dissertation defense instead, once it was obvious she was not pleased with a new agreement she never agreed to for a different cover image. Uncentered accent, crooked posture, dissonant fabrics, awkward shades, pearls with sneaks. Awful. The photographer is talented and was right to be playful with his subject. Problem is most black Americans just living our lives let our guards down; we keep forgetting the world plays with us when we least expect it.
It came out this casual day image was switched from the wardrobe, background and patriot statement-making set parties trusted Vogue would use. As I saw and read how Vice President Harris became rendered like a meek schoolgirl whose biggest achievement might be she wore pants to prom, I could not help (and this happens to black Americans almost daily) but slip into a psychological wormhole only practice, ironically, teaches escape from: How many times have I been told, when I shouldn’t have even been asked, to chill myself down to a lower temperature so others feel happier to have me as a toy or charity project I didn’t know I was? Never mind this new role I must play, with demand and not consent, requires me to leave my maturity at the door and disassociate from any natural human instincts to question let alone disagree.
After all, that well-adjusted adult personality is not “accessible” or “approachable” as Vogue‘s editor decided the world knows her Vice President best as, why she chose a young photographer’s playful experimental shot to devalue a world leader (I have never seen Kamala Harris as accessible, to the point I never thought America would get behind such an inaccessibly intelligent and no-nonsense real grown woman when she ran for President and I was correct). I wish I could say I can imagine the conversations and thought processes behind getting whimsical without permission or approval from a primary player in a situation, but I have never been afforded such entitlement or superiority to get near the feels for this.
But every Black woman expected to be cool, easy and grateful for whatever given knows how it feels from that other side the VP was on when a sunken aide passed her this final cover and her vision saw America’s reality. Then came, a day late and a dollar short, the release of the no-brainer Presidential shot as a digital bonus the masses are not necessarily searching Vogue online to see. But never acknowledgement or apology.
It is easier to just get along to move along, as Madame Harris’s “people” kinda sorta did in their answer to the rightful internet furor when this image came out: We hear you, it’s cool, it’s not the cover we thought we heard we would see, but hey… The publication did a favor to them, the Vice President and black women in post-Trump America. Thanks for the warning shot. We must stay in protective gear. The resigned statement from a just-hired VP Communications staff (with far more to do than play around in fashion or Instagram posts during a pandemic, Depression and impeachment era at once) is the too-frequent outcome. Get used to it not changing soon.
Never mind Vogue tricked them (not us). Never mind Vogue played games with a young black male photographer’s tenuous new career he must still build, where semblances of controversy and mishaps can end things. He was obviously blindsided, given he only ever shared the alternative as “shot by me for the cover” (Vice President Harris never shared or spoke on either). Never mind how our foreign allies (and enemies) see the new black woman in charge over in the U.S., based on the world’s most circulated Vogue edition. Never mind Mrs. Harris does not appear to be wearing socks.
I hope to never again in my lifetime see a black woman so diminished and had fun with, blatantly, at the very moment she should be exalted and taken more seriously than ever. So many other magazines got Black History Month sorted so much better, to accomplish with champions and entertainers what was missed for our VP.
Last November, a glowing Viola Davis kicked it off for the mature and stately AARP Magazine, to set a clear example for how mainstream media should use a popular sister of a certain age to move more copies as print media fades. I have been overjoyed each time I spotted far more tasteful and befitting media collaborations with Negress art, stardom and fashion sense during Black History Month. The solution is for us all to pass on that February Vogue issue. Double the price and you can buy a paperback book instead. Do not buy things which distort, disrespect and dismiss grown women like we’re stupid. Buy much better options. I list some fantastic options below. The choice is yours.
I thought, by now, these recent cover shots like Lorna Simpson’s construction with Rihanna for Essence or Regina King and Viola Davis’s old Hollywood glamour shots would just be the norms for black women. Vogue has reminded me to never get comfortable. Hope, always. But never be surprised.
“SZA’s Moved on to Bigger, Better Things Since That Grammy Snub” in Cosmopolitan, Feb 2021
“Venus: Round Two” in New Beauty, Jan/Feb 2021
“Rihanna and Artist Lorna Simpson: Breaking New Ground” in Essence, Jan/Feb 2021
“Regina King, Long May She Reign” in InStyle, Feb 2021