Words by Shatay Speights
Model Salem Mitchell is fed up with people whose first way of describing black women as ghetto.
The 20-year-old was featured in a Vogue post on Instagram that highlighted models who were getting in their daily dose of self-love, whether on laid across a yoga mat in their best pose or traveling and seeking out new adventures.
— SALEM (@salemmitchell) July 8, 2018
The image depicts Mitchell lounging on the beach in a fiery red swimsuit, with her melanin complexion, freckles and braids on full display looking completely unbothered. While many of the comments under this image were sending Vogue praises on being inclusive and representative and exclaiming how amazing Mitchell looked, one user took to the comments to question the reasoning behind the publication featuring so many “ghetto” people as of late.
The Savage x Fenty brand ambassador spoke out on why the user’s words were so harmful. “The reason black women/POC fight so hard for representation, diversity, and over cultural appropriation is because of this!” she stated. “Everything about what I look like is considered ‘trendy’ in the media and in fashion right now. The freckles, the braids, the big lips, etc. But on a black woman, it’s ghetto for NO reason and we’re tired of it.”
In an interview with Teen Vogue, the San Diego, California native shared her reasoning for calling out the commenter. “I wanted to speak out on this particular comment because it is completely discriminatory and completely racist. It wasn’t, ‘I think she’s ugly’ or ‘I don’t like this photo.’ It was, ‘By looking at this woman the first way I can describe her is by calling her a ghetto person.’ Calling me ghetto or any black woman ghetto based on a photo is so dismissive of who we are as a people, what we’ve accomplished, and how we carry ourselves.”
She went on to highlight how cultural appropriation affects black and brown people and why it’s wrong. “Cultural appropriation is an important topic because black and brown people are constantly demonized for their appearance, their hair, the way they dress, their use of slang, and other characteristics when in reality everything that we’re doing has set a blueprint for the culture we see today. Another thing people don’t understand is cultural appropriation is not about not wanting to share things with others — it’s not about wanting to take ownership of certain styles and deciding who gets to wear what. It’s about black and brown people not receiving the same human respect simply because of their appearance when white people are praised for it.”
Although Mitchell is confident in herself and her appearance, she feels the need to speak out publicly on these things so that other black and brown people who may not have the same level of confidence can aspire to feel better about the way that they look, no matter how much society tries come against their self-esteem. She’s not the only one who experiences situations like these, and they are definitely not limited to digital spaces.
Black people are constantly stereotyped and labeled for their appearance. However, when those same features and styles are put on anyone else, they suddenly become groundbreaking and trendy. It’s no secret that everyone else is praised for a certain look, style or trend except for those within black and brown communities who put a good number of these trends and styles on the map. These instances are not just inclusive of black communities either. It is so important to call out cultural appropriation and the need for diversity so that people feel represented.
It is so sad that black people still have to deal with these kinds of labels, especially when we attribute so much to the culture. Shout out to Salem Mitchell for being an inspirational voice and calling out ignorance head-on!