Tag Archives: racism

WE’RE NOT AS RACIST AS NEW SURVEY SUGGESTS

Q: So, the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey has discovered nearly a third of people in Britain admitted being racist on some level. In 2001, that figure was just 25 per cent and researchers believe little headway is being made to tackle bigotry. Quite a sharp rise, eh?
A: Wait a second: always look at research carefully before you accept its findings. This is poorly-designed research. For a start, it’s a survey: a blunt instrument to try to explore what is, after all, a complex aspect of social life. And look at the question: “Would you describe yourself as very prejudiced/a little prejudiced against people of other races?” This is like something from a not-very-good research project in the 1960s. For a start, the concept of “race” has been so thoroughly discredited that it has no place in a serious research project. Then there is the phrase “prejudiced”: again, this is a term that seems seems straight from a time capsule.
Q: So you don’t like the way the research has been designed?
A: It’s not so much me: this research would not get past a peer review on a scholarly journal.
Q: What do you make of its major findings though? I mean, even if we substitute racism in place of “prejudice” would you agree with its conclusions in the broadest sense — are we becoming more racist?
A: Who are “we”? I suspect, when people ask the question, they mean whites. But the UK is not a white society: it is a genuinely multicultural society. OK, I know people will rush for my jugular and point out that whites dominate the major institutions in British society. They might also point out that most of the key positions are held by white men. I’m not naive enough to think racism and, for that matter, sexism are vestiges of the past. They continue to affect modern Britain, even in the 21st century. But do they affect society in the same way, with the same impact as thirty years ago?
Q: I see what you mean: 30 years ago, young African Caribbeans were rioting on the streets, weren’t they?
A: Yes, and there were what were called “Sus laws” that allowed for stop-and-searches that amounted to what we now call “racial profiling.” And Britain responded to this. I know equal opportunities policies were not perfect; but they did have some effect. And then there is the human rights legislation from Europe. It’s absurd to assume these have not changed British society.
Q: But the Stephen Lawrence enquiry in 1998 exposed institutional racism in the police, didn’t it?
A: Absolutely. As I said, I’m not denying racism exists. But its impact is diminishing. After the Lawrence case, Britain went through years of hand-wringing. There were improvements in policing: not the kind of improvements that were going to make all traces of racism disappear. But improvements just the same.
Q: You sound like a bit of a liberal. This is a surprise because I always associate you with cynicism.
A: But I think is ridiculous to keep repeating the same criticism. The world changes and we have to remain critical; but this means we have to change the critique to reflect the world. There isn’t such a thing as racism: there are several different racisms. I made this point way back in 1986 in my book The Logic of Racism (which, if I may offer a shameless plug, has just been re-published, though at a crazily high price). My point was that we were labouring with a misleading concept: racism was not a thing, it was a style of reasoning that, sometimes, affected the way people behaved. We can’t control human thoughts but we can manage behaviour and that’s what policies are designed to do. I’ve no doubt racisms still affect the way people behave, and I include language as a form of behaviour. But the negative consequences of that behaviour on people’s lives have been lessened. Anyway, the evidence of our senses tells us that people of different faiths, different cuisines, different lifestyles and so on, get along much more freely than they did even as recently as ten years ago. We now have a generation of people who are not afraid of cultural difference as their forebears were. They actually welcome difference. Cultural differences have enriched, not diluted British society.
Q: In sum, you completely dismiss this survey.
A: I do. I think it’s fatally flawed. It is like a study from another age. We shouldn’t take any notice of it. Don’t bury your head in the sand and kid yourself racism has vanished. But don’t be alarmed by this survey: it presents a distorted image of what Britain is like today. @elliscashmore

50th Anniversary of the Fight that Changed the World of Sport

THE GREATEST – FEB. 25, 1964 LISTON vs CLAYIn 1964, Cassius Clay forced the world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston into retirement and easily dismissed him in the rematch.  Between the two fights, he had proclaimed his change of name to Muhammad Ali, reflecting his conversion to Islam.  In fact, he had made public his membership of the Nation of Islam, sometimes known as the Black Muslims, prior to the first Liston fight, but the full ramifications came later.Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in the segregated south, Cassius Clay, as he was christened, was made forcibly aware of America’s “two nations,” one black, one white.  In his autobiography, he related how, after the euphoria of winning a gold medal at the Rome Olympics of 1960, he returned home to be refused service at a restaurant.  This kind of incident was to influence his later commitments.  Clay’s amateur triumphs convinced a syndicate of white entrepreneurs to finance his early professional career.

The Nation of Islam was led by Elijah Muhammad and had among its most famous followers Malcolm X, who kept company with Ali and who was to be assassinated in February 1965.  Among the Nation’s principles were (and are) that whites were “blue-eyed devils” who were intent on keeping black people in a state of subjugation and that integration was not only impossible, but undesirable.  Blacks and whites should live separately; preferably by living in different states.  The view was in stark distinction to North America’s melting pot ideal.

Ali’s camp comprised only one white man — Angelo Dundee, the trainer.  Cassius Clay Sr was violently opposed to Ali’s affiliation, not on religious grounds, but because he believed the entourage of Black Muslims he attracted were taking his money.  But Ali’s commitment deepened and the media, which had earlier warmed to his extravagance, turned against him.  A rift occurred between Ali and Joe Louis, the former heavyweight champion who was once described as “a credit to his race.”  This presaged several other conflicts with other black boxers whom Ali believed had allowed themselves to become assimilated into white America and had failed to face themselves as true black people.

Ali saved his most ardent criticism for Floyd Patterson whom he called an “Uncle Tom” and “the rabbit,” after Patterson had refused to use his Islamic name.  He seemed to delight in punishing Patterson in their fight in 1965.  The almost malicious performance brought censure from sections of America, both black and white.

The events that followed Ali’s call-up by the military in February 1966 were dramatized by a background of growing resistance to the US involvement in the Vietnam war.  Ali failed to meet the qualifying criteria in the mental aptitude at first, but, by 1966, with the war intensifying, the US Army lowered the required percentile, making him eligible for the draft.  A legal request for a deferment from military service was denied.  Ali’s oft-quoted remark “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong” made headlines around the world and positioned him in the eyes of many as the most famous-ever draft dodger.  But, he insisted that his conscience not cowardice guided his decision not to serve in the military and, so, to many others, he became a mighty signifier of pacifism.

Ali continued to defend his title, often traveling overseas in response to attempted boycotts of his fights.  At the nadir of is popularity, he fought Ernie Terrell, who, like Patterson, persisted in calling him “Clay.”  The fight in Houston had a grim subtext with Ali constantly taunting Terrell.  “What’s my name, Uncle Tom?” Ali asked Terrell as he administered a callous beating.  Ali prolonged the torment until the fourteenth round.  The phrase “What’s my name?” became a slogan of defiance. Media reaction to the fight was wholly negative.  Jimmy Cannon, a boxing writer of the day, wrote: “It was a bad fight, nasty with the evil of religious fanaticism.  This wasn’t an athletic contest.  It was a kind of lynching … [Ali] is a vicious propagandist for a spiteful mob that works the religious underworld.”

In April 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces.  Despite claims that he deserved the same status as conscientious objectors from the Mennonite Church or other Christian groups, Ali was denied and found guilty of draft evasion.  After a five-year legal struggle, during which time Ali was stripped of his title, a compromise was reached and Ali was set free.  During his exile, Ali had angered the Nation of Islam by announcing his wish to return to boxing if this was ever possible.  Elijah Muhammad, the supreme minister, denounced Ali for playing “the white man’s games of civilization.”  Elijah had objected to sports for some time, believing them to be detrimental to the progress of black people.

Other critical evaluations of sport were gathering force.  The black power inspired protests of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics, combined with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, where people like Sam Ramsamy were rallying against racism, had made clear that sport could be used to amplify the experiences of black people the world over.  While Ali was a bête noir for many whites and indeed blacks, several civil rights leaders, sports performers and entertainers came out publicly in his defense.

“Still others in American society viewed Ali as a genuine hero,” writes David Wiggins in his Glory Bound: Black athletes in a white America (Syracuse University Press, 1997).  “Many people in the black community viewed Ali in this manner, considering him a champion of the black Civil Rights movement who bravely defied the norms and conventions of the dominant culture.” As Michael Oriard, in his essay “Muhammad Ali: Hero in the age of mass media” concludes: “There was not a single Ali but many Alis in the public consciousness”

Ali’s moves were monitored by government intelligence organizations: given the growing respect he was afforded, he was seen as an influential figure.  Many of his conversations were wiretapped.  He spent three-and-a-half years without his title, unable to earn a living.  By the end of it, cultural conditions had shifted so much that he was widely regarded as a martyr by the by-then formidable antiwar movement and practically anyone who felt affinity with civil rights.

Ali’s first fight after exile was in October 1970.  He beat Jerry Quarry at an Atlanta where the majority of fans were African Americans.  Any prospect of a smooth transition back to the title was dashed March 1971 by Joe Frazier, who had taken the title in Ali’s absence and defended it with unexpected tenacity in a contest that started one of the most celebrated rivalries in sport.  Ali had called Frazier a “white man’s champion” and declared: “Any black man who’s for Joe Frazier is a traitor.” Ali beat Frazier twice over the following years, every fight being viciously fought and punishing for both men.

Ali had to wait until 1974 before getting another chance at the world title.  By this time, Frazier had been dethroned by George Foreman and Ali, at 32, was not favored; in fact, many feared for his well-being, especially as he had been given two tough fights by the unheralded Ken Norton (one win each; Ali won a third later, in 1976).  The fight in Zaire was promoted by Don King, at that stage building his way toward becoming one of the world’s most powerful sports entrepreneurs.  The circumstances surrounding what was known as “The Rumble in the Jungle” are the subject of Leon Gast’s documentary film When We Were Kings.  Ali’s remarkable Phoenix-like victory re-established him as the world heavyweight champion. The death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975 led to a split in the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan taking the movement in a fundamentalist direction, while Elijah’s son Wallace D. Muhammad founded the World Community of Al-Islam in the West which dwelt less on past atrocities of blue-eyed devils, more on the future.  Ali sided with Wallace.

In June 1979, having lost and regained the title against Leon Spinks and beaten Frazier once more, Ali announced his retirement from boxing.  There were clear signs of decline in both Spinks fights and, at 37, Ali appeared to have made a graceful exit when he moved to Los Angeles with his third wife Veronica whom he had married two years before. His first marriage lasted less than a year ending in 1966; Ali married again in 1967.

Ali had split with the business syndicate that handled his early affairs after joining the Nation.  His manager became Herbert Muhammad.  Hauser estimates Ali’s career earnings to 1979 to be “tens of millions of dollars.”  The three Frazier fights alone brought Ali $11m; the 1976 Norton fight grossed him $6m; his purse for the Foreman fight was $5.45m; he earned $6.75m for the two Spinks fights.  His lesser-paid fights were typically worth $2m each to Ali.  Yet, on his retirement, Ali was not wealthy.  His wife had an extravagant lifestyle and his business investments were poorly judged.  He also gave generously to the Nation of Islam and to various causes.

Within 15 months of his announced retirement, Ali returned to the ring, his principal motivation, apparently being money, though Ali himself reckoned it was the prospect of winning the world title for a record fourth time that drove him.  While public sentiment seemed against a comeback at 38 against a peak-form Larry Holmes, who was employed as Ali’s sparring partner between 1973-75, boxoffice interest was strong enough to justify paying Ali $8m.  Holmes, as champion, received less than $3m.  It was the first fight in which Ali failed to last the full distance and seemed an inglorious, if lucrative end, to a grand career.

Ali’s ill-fated business ventures took another bad turn when he became involved with Muhammad Ali Professional Sports, an organization headed by Harold Williams, which proved to be a fraudulent operation.  A return to the ring appeared impossible after medical tests revealed all manner of complication and Ali relinquished his boxing license to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.  But, this still left him free to box elsewhere in the world and, in December 1981, he fought once more in Nassau, the Bahamas.  It ended in another resounding defeat, this time by Trevor Berbick.  James Cornelius, who was a member of the Nation of Islam, promoted the fight.  As in the Holmes fight, there was plain evidence of Ali’s acute deterioration and, although he lasted the ten round distance, he spent much of the fight against the ropes soaking up punishment.  He was 39 and had fought 61 times, with a 56-5 record.

Further questionable business deals and an expensive divorce in 1986 followed.  In 1984, he disappointed his supporters when he nominally supported Ronald Reagan’s reelection bid.  He also endorsed George Bush in 1988.  The Republican Party’s policies, particularly in regard to affirmative action programs, were widely seen as detrimental to the interests of African Americans and Ali’s actions were, for many, tantamount to a betrayal.

Ali’s public appearances gave substance to stories of his ill health.  By 1987, he was the subject of much medical interest.  Slurred speech and uncoordinated bodily movements gave rise to several theories about his condition, which was ultimately revealed as Parkinson’s Syndrome.  His public appearances became rarer and he became Hauser’s “benign venerated figure.”

Over a period of four decades, Ali excited a variety of responses: admiration and respect, of course, but also cynicism, anger and condemnation.  At different points in his life, he drew the adulation of young people committed to civil rights, black power and peace.  Yet, as Wiggins points out: “Members of the establishment were, moreover, infuriated by Ali because he exposed, for all the world to see, an America that was unwilling to honor its own precepts.”

Ali engaged with the central issues that preoccupied America: race and war.  But, it would be remiss to understand him as a symbol of social healing; much of his mission was to expose and, perhaps, to deepen divisions.  He preached peace, yet aligned himself with a movement that sanctioned racial separation and the subordination of women.  He accepted a role with the liberal Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter, yet later sided with reactionaries, Reagan and Bush.  He preached black pride, yet disparaged and dehumanized fellow blacks.  He preached the importance of self-determination, yet allowed himself to be sucked into so many doubtful business deals that he was forced to prolong his career to the point where his dignity was effaced.  Like any towering symbol, he had very human contradictions.

images@elliscashmore

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L’affaire Anelka draws towards a climax

Nicolas Anelka’s case to be heard next weekThe three-man independent regulatory panel’s hearing is expected to last several days. West Brom’s French striker faces a minimum five-match ban after being charged by the FA with performing an alleged anti-Semitic gesture during his club’s match against West Ham on December 28. The 34-year-old has denied the gesture was anti-Semitic and requested a personal hearing. I wrote a blog on L’affaire Anelka a few weeks ago. Now, as the case draws towards a climax, I reproduce it …

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It’s often assumed that people who are part of a group victimized by history are somehow immune from the bigotry that drives their assailants. A naive assumption, perhaps, but one with enough plausibility to make us think twice about accusing people who have been on the receiving end of racism of dishing it out. Of course, we don’t know whether Nicolas Anelka, the French footballer with parents from the Caribbean island Martinique, has ever experienced racism firsthand; but, as a black man, he would surely have been uncomfortably familiar with its effects in Europe and elsewhere. And, having played in England on-and-off since aged 17 (he signed for Arsenal in 1997), he would be aware that racism has been one of the most bedevilling problems in English and, for that matter, European football for several years. Yet he stands accused by the Football Association (FA) of an offence, which, if not exactly the same as racism, is certainly on the same continuum. In the unlikely event that some readers are not au fait with the Anelka affair, let me offer a brief summary: Anelka is a personal friend of a Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a French comedian who is also black and is notorious for what some believe is antisemitic humour. Last December, Anelka, playing for West Bromwich Albion, celebrated scoring a goal by making a a gesture in which he thrust out his right arm and tapped it with his left hand (see the photograph above). No one in England knew the meaning of the behaviour, but it soon came to light: it is called a quenelle and has been popularized by Dieudonné. The probability is that Anelka gestured to show his solidarity with his controversial friend, currently under pressure from French authorities. The Football Association has been sorely exercised for the past two years by the reappearance of racism in football and decided to investigate the possible meanings of Anelka’s signal.  After three weeks of deliberations, the FA charged Anelka with making a gesture that is “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper.” We don’t yet know the full content of the accusation or Anelka’s apparent rebuttal, but it seems fair to conclude that Anelka will resist any claims that he intended to make a sign that would be offensive to anyone, including Jews, and he was signalling a more common attitude of defiance against authority, or what many people call the establishment.

“The object Dieudonné’s satire is an Establishment dominated, as he sees it, by Jews, who have secured positions of power and insulated themselves against criticism

Before we go further, let’s pause to consider this term establishment. It typically takes a capital E and refers to a group in society exercising power and influence of matters of policy, or even taste, and seen as resisting change. The concept of an Establishment was popular in the 1960s when a rebellious spirit coursed through society, leaving no aspect of life unchanged. Figures such as Martin Luther King (1929-68), James Dean (1931-55), Che Guevera (1928-67) could all, in very different ways, be described as anti-Establishment. Dieudonné would presumably align himself with comedians like Lenny Bruce (1925-66) and Bill Hicks (1961-94), both of whom achieved a kind of infamy. But the object Dieudonné’s satire is an Establishment dominated, as he sees it, by Jews, who have secured positions of power and insulated themselves against criticism. This is not a worldview derived from conspiracy theories, though it’s not totally inconsistent with theories, such as those promulgated by the Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion, an monstrously spurious document that purported to reveal a plan for world domination. Anelka has followed Dieudonné in rejecting accusations of antisemitism, by which he presumably means he has no hostility towards Jews. Dieudonné is, on his own account, critical of Zionism, which was originally a political movement, launched in 1897, for the establishment and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It’s predicated on a distinct Jewish identity and culture and, in some versions, opposes integration. Its critics interpret this exclusivity as a form of racism. So the complexities of the Anelka case multiply: a black man is accused of issuing a gesture that may be antisemitic, but which he claims is anti-Establishment. On closer examination, the Establishment he opposes appears to be a particular arrangement rather than the more generic society.  Anelka has used Facebook to defend himself, marshalling the support of prominent Jewish leaders to argue the quenelle is not an antisemitic gesture and that he didn’t intend them to be interpreted as such.

“Very few people own up to being antisemitic, anti-Islam, anti-Arab or anti-anything

My fellow member of  the British Sociological Association’s Race & Ethnicity Study Group/Forum Leon Moosavi, of the University of Liverpool, accepts this and points out that the gesture is not imbued with what he calls a “coherent meaning.” It’s a fair point. But gestures, signs and symbols can acquire coherence if they are used in a particular way and, however ambiguous the gesture might have been, there is no denying the quenelle has been used outside synagogues, at Auschwitz, in front of the Jewish school where Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah killed three children, by signs for rue du Four (Oven Street) and rue des Juifs (Jews’ Street) and in front of the trains that transported French Jews to the concentration camps. Even in the improbable event that Anelka was not aware of the antisemitic connotations of the sign, is his intention a defence? Forum member Brendan McGeever, a doctoral candidate at University of Glasgow, thinks that, while intent should be considered, the reception of signs, representations and so on is just as if not more important. Author Tom Wengraf is even more dismissive of Anelka’s stated intentions because very few people own up to being antisemitic, anti-Islam, anti-Arab or anti-anything. But that “doesn’t mean that we can’t claim (with good evidence)  that they are, despite their occasionally sincere words.” Deeds are more powerful than words in this instance, reckons Wengraf. Aaron Winter, of the University of Abertay, points out that, while the term anti-Establishment historically has associations with rebelliousness and insurgency and sounds progressive, even revolutionary, the term has “floated to the right.” In other words, the term is vulnerable to hijacking by groups that have far-from revolutionary agendas. Criticism can be easily absorbed and turned into evidence. So groups that believe powerful minorities control society have a tendency to explain attacks against their own views as proof of the validity of those views; so there is a kind of self-corroborating logic at work. Anelka is not the first prominent black figure to be involved in an incident like this. In 1986, US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (1941-), who had campainged alongside Martin Luther King, was embarrassed after making offensive remarks that purportedly poked fun at Jews. Al Sharpton (1954-) has had to defend himself several times against accusations of antitsemitism. Louis Farrakhan (1933-), the Black Muslim leader, became notorious in 1984 when he spoke of Judaism as “a dirty religion.” Anelka himself converted to Islam in 2004 and bears the Islamic name Abdul Salam Bilal Anelka, though he has no known affiliation with Farrakhan’s organization.

“Issues of race, religion, culture and multiple prejudices will be addressed

Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley has criticised both the FA and West Bromwich Albion for their lack of quick action. The club perhaps might have asked Anelka to clarify his intentions in public, but has otherwise acted properly in refusing to react in a way that could have prejudiced subsequent investigations. And the FA has sensibly taken time to gather evidence and seek advice before deciding to charge Anelka. This is a much more complicated case than those that ended in the punishment of John Terry and Luis Suárez. It is a tangle of thorns; many people will get spiked.  If — as we expect — Anelka is fined and suspended for eight or more games (Suárez was banned for eight games and fined £40,000), he will likely appeal and implicate the FA in an unseemly legal conflict that is sure to outlast Anelka’s stay at his present club. The conflict will be forced to address issues of race, religion, culture and multiple prejudices.

images@elliscashmore

 

 

 

Naomi Campbell — hellcat from the catwalk

… and anti-racism campaigner

“I’m no perfect human being.” When Naomi Campbell stated the obvious on the Jonathan Ross Show, she might have been quoting Grace Jones’s 1986 track “I’m not perfect (but I’m perfect for you).” The “you” in this this context is, of course, you and me and all the other gawkers who have followed Campbell since she became the first black model to appear on the cover of the French edition of Vogue. That was in 1987. Since then, she has rarely out of the news, though often in stories completely unrelated to modeling. Now she is hosting Sky Living’s new talent show, The Face, which has effectively replaced Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model.

Between the two events, Campbell has not led a sheltered life: in fact, she has crashed unstoppably into practically every kind of scandal you could imagine – she has been a hellcat from the catwalk. Now at 43, you might expect her to be solemn, mellow and, given her well-documented habit of consuming alcohol and drugs, ravaged. She seems reassuringly maturity-proof and looks radiantly svelte. Her latest project is an initiative to expose the dearth of “models of colour,” to use her term, in the fashion industry. Fashion is popularly regarded as colorblind: top models from all ethnic backgrounds sashay at all the major fashion shows in Milan, New York, London and Paris and adorn the covers of Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. When the Streatham-born model arrived on the scene, there was bewilderment: what chance had a young black woman got of crashing into a predominantly white industry? The late French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent (1936-2008), was a stalwart supporter of Campbell and threatened to break all ties with Vogue if Campbell was not put on the cover. Campbell became part of the elite group of supermodels, modeling for the world’s preeminent designers before, perhaps surprisingly, posing nude for Playboy in 1999. Surprisingly in 1999, that is: over the next decade, Campbell became involved in several shenanigans that served to maintain her public profile, not always in a dignified way.

Elite model agency boss John Casablancas – who died earlier this year at 70 – once described Campbell as “odious” and concluded she was “a manipulative, scheming, rude and impossible little madam who has treated us and her clients like dirt”. Campbell herself believed her refusal to accept less money than her white colleagues at the agency initiated the attack. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the first black woman on the cover of French Vogue, I was still getting less,” said Campbell. She has since reiterated that she was offered less than her white counterparts. In addition to verbal assaults on hotel and airport staff, she whacked her housekeeper (for which she was sentenced to do community service). Campbell won a privacy case against a British newspaper that had published pictures of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London in 2001, while she was receiving treatment for drug addiction. Her brief appearance at a United Nations war crimes tribunal investigating Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, was made eventful by impromptu remark that the trial was a “big inconvenience” to her. Campbell’s turbulent, but supremely newsworthy career, was ornamented with serial affairs with some of the world’s best-known and eligible men. Campbell seems to have made a career rebelling against blandness and, as such, still commands the attention of the global media.

If there is a way of causing outrage, she can find it:  in 2009, for example, she modeled clothes by the luxury furrier Dennis Basso. While wearing fur is itself an incendiary act, Campbell’s action was near treasonous. In 1994, she had appeared with other supermodels in a campaign for PETA (People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in which the strapline was, “We’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Tyra Banks, shows, she interviewed Campbell. “I was tired of having to deal with you,” she told Campbell, accusing her of having tried to sabotage her early on in her career. The implication was that perhaps both of them recognized the limited number of places for black models at the top table. Campbell never acknowledged the rivalry, though it became a matter of public record. Last month, Campbell launched an anti-racism Diversity Coalition with David Bowie’s model wife Iman and agent Bethann Hardison. The Diversity Coalition sent an open letter outlining the extent to which a form of institutional racism affects the industry. Hardison wrote, “No matter the intention, the result is racism. Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.” (Click for the full text of the letter.)  This reflected the general state of the fashion industry. The Coalition pointed out that at New York Fashion Week just 6 percent of models were black and 9 percent were Asian and that fewer black models are used now than in the 1970s. One of Campbell’s first targets was Victoria Beckham, about whom I blogged recently. Of Beckham’s 30 models who appeared at the London Fashion Week, only one was not white. Some may find it strange that Campbell is taking time out from causing mayhem and applying herself to what is, after all, a serious social issue. But maybe the fury that at times seems to engulf her is the result of her own forceful efforts to claw her way to the top of a profession that offers slim chances to black aspirants.

@elliscashmore