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Jun 29th, 2020

Being a Black Model in the Fashion Industry

Chapter 2: A Candid Discussion with Mikey Kravitz

Interview by Stephanie Stanton (President of Original Paperbacks)
Photos By: John M Williams

On Memorial Day weekend, one of our favorite models, Mikey Kravitz, joined us for a Summer collection photoshoot. The effects of quarantine really impacted our team and we wanted to represent this sense of claustrophobia. We decided to capture Mikey trying to navigate his space while being trapped inside a box.

Then, later that day, George Floyd was brutally murdered by the police. I was overwhelmed with emotion, feeling outraged, horrified, and as if the daily challenges of quarantine paled in comparison to this tragic reality. After looking through the edited photos, I felt a pit in my stomach. What was once a simple photoshoot of Mikey, a Black man inside a white box, now felt entirely different – I couldn’t ignore the racial metaphor. When I look at these photos now, I see a black man trying to navigate through the white box that is society.

We urgently need to break down the proverbial walls of systemic racism that our country has reinforced for centuries. We must speak up and enact change because it must end now. For Mikey’s story, we asked his permission to publish these photos and to chat with us, elaborating on his experience as a model in a predominately white fashion industry.

Read our interview below:

OPB:
Tell us about why you chose to become a model?

Mikey:
“I chose to be a model because it was my form of art. Everyone else had sports and music or what they were into, but fashion and modeling was my way to express myself and I just so happen to turn it into a full-time career.”

OPB:
What has been your experience modeling as a black man in the fashion industry?

Mikey:
“My experiences have been something of a waiting game in the fashion industry. I always felt my being black was a blessing and a curse in some ways. I would often see other models or friends of mine, who aren’t of color, come in and really have their career take off with ease. I would always wonder, ‘Well, when is my time to shine?’ In the beginning, I was overlooked a lot either because I was black or there was already a black guy booked in whatever job I was auditioning for. But, I take pride in my blackness. I knew what I was capable of, so I never tried to let those politics get to me and I still don’t. Eventually, my time started to come around and even though I haven’t peaked yet, everything that I was once overlooked for is now the reason I’m getting booked today.”

OPB:
Do you feel responsible for educating those around you who are ignorant about systemic racism?

Mikey:
"Yes, I do feel responsible to educate those around me who are ignorant about the system. A lot of times I think people are oblivious to what the black community goes through. So, instead of me getting mad like many expect, I use my words first and try to educate, because most people don’t really know."

OPB:
Can you describe the first time you were discriminated against?

Mikey:
“When I was in middle school. I went to a school that was majority White and Spanish kids, and I was one of the few African American kids. At the time, I had a bald fade like most young black boys, with a design on the side of my haircut. When I went to school, they sent me home with a letter basically saying that they didn’t allow certain hairstyles because it could have been related to gang activity and gang signs. I was the only kid who got this letter, mind you. After that incident my mom transferred me to another school ASAP.”

OPB:
As a model have you seen yourself edited to be lighter, or changed in any way to appear less black?

Mikey:
“One thing I can say is I don’t think I’ve ever seen my skin color changed or manipulated – on camera or in any of the jobs and campaigns I’ve done. I’m not sure if that’s the same case for a lot of other models of color but, for me, my deep melanin is always there even after the final edits. I haven’t noticed any sign of editing to make me lighter than I truly am.”

OPB:
What have the protests meant to you?

Mikey:
"The protests have been monumental for me. It’s one thing going through your whole life knowing that the odds are forever stacked against you just because of the color of your skin, and I have those conversations with people in the same box, but, now that the world is seeing what we see, and feeling the pain and heaviness we feel every day, it’s bittersweet. ‘Sweet,’ because, our voice is finally being heard and from here on out the people in that same box are only pushing for continuous positive change, and aren’t taking anything less. It’s ‘bitter’ because the weight of these emotions is heavy on us, simply because we go through this and have been going through this since the day we were born. So, as change comes so do those emotions which can sometimes take over us. Still, no matter what happens, those feelings of what our ancestors went through will always be there. That’s the sad part.”

OPB:
What’s the next step you want to see the modeling/fashion industry take in support of racial equality?

Mikey:
"The next step I want to see is due diligence. Honestly. For a long time now, the African American community has been picked apart, and has been profited off of black culture whether it be the entire invention of street style to our hairstyle, like cornrows and taper fades, or even the big lips and nice hips that black women have been criticized for throughout the years. Even down to hip-hop and R&B being the number one music genre in the world. People have come in and taken away from us for their own financial gain, but when we do try to do it with something we are actually born with, it gets lost in translation for some reason. The next step is for us to claim our just due and the credit we deserve for all that we contribute to American. I think it’s time for us to rewrite the narrative and stop being seen as the underdogs who never truly win. We don’t want our culture to be a fad or something you think you can play dress up with. We want our respect for all that we have contributed to the fashion industry and the world. Equal opportunity and proper representation of black models in all forms, not just a few to meet the status quo."

Click HERE to view more photos from the shoot.

Original Paperbacks would like to thank Mikey for allowing us to interview him and for his warmth and openness.

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