Tag Archives: women of colour

A Model Life, the Pat Cleveland interview

By Charlie Siddick

Imagine waking up to an email asking you whether you’d like to interview one of your idols… it’s every writer’s wet dream. That’s what happened to me recently on a gloomy and otherwise non-remarkable December day, “ThandieKay would probably love an interview with Pat Cleveland?” read the subject line, followed by a brief description of Pat’s achievements and accolades, which let me tell you are hard to compress. “Yes, ThandieKay would love to interview Pat Cleveland” I hastily responded without consulting either Thandie or Kay, because I mean, Pat’s the perfect fit- and one of the world’s first ‘African-American’ supermodels, and certainly the most fabulous.

Pat Cleveland by Antonio Lopez

Pat Cleveland by Antonio Lopez

Pat made a name for herself in the late 60s and 70s as one of the first models to achieve prominence as both a runway and print model. Close friends with the Studio 54 set; Cleveland was a muse to Warhol, Dali, Saint Laurent, Lagerfeld and Halston (to name but a few). Modelling allowed Pat to travel the world, mix with and inspire countless artists and celebrities.

Now in her late 60s, age hasn’t withered her beauty, spirit or energy; remaining a regular fixture on the catwalk and in advertising campaigns- as her daughter Anna continues the Cleveland modelling legacy- she has returned her focus to an early passion; that of painting.

IMG_7410

Trailblazing Pat

Pat and I spoke over Facetime one evening, in the midst of a current show in London and preparing for others in the States. She tenderly guided me around her studio and home, showing me her diverse art collection and some of her own work.

Pat is bubbly, endearing and possesses a unique childlike combination of naiveté and excitability. Despite being reduced to a screen of grainy pixels teleported across oceans- Pat’s iconic bone structure still shines brightly. Her melodic and drawling voice possesses faint traces of her Harlem upbringing and draws one in; captivating and transporting you back with her to whichever glamorous and prodigious reminiscence she chooses to meditate upon.

They say you should never meet your idols as they’re just bound to disappoint. But it was honestly an honour to speak to Pat- an experience I’ll never forget- I feel changed by her advice and wisdom. We bonded over our heritage and our revelations from using Ancestry DNA, we were a scarily similar percentage of African and Scandinavian- she found 6 siblings through using the website! Her musings on modelling gave me a much-needed sense of artistic perspective on an industry I sometimes find too shallow and consumerist to bear.

Notice how she slips between the use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ and the objective ‘you;’ when she speaks of her experiences she formulates them as though she is relating advice. Pat’s lived a fascinating and unbelievable life and therefore we should all be able to learn something from her. Pat’s gregarious guide to living:

Pat Cleveland by Antonio Lopez

Pat Cleveland by Antonio Lopez

How did you first get into modelling?

I started out as a fashion designer when I was around 14/15, I was always obsessed with fashion and made my own clothes. I always participated in what I thought was nice looking, or beautiful, I loved the idea of going out and looking good; dressing up and feeling good. That’s what fashion is supposed to be- embodying living art.

 

Pat rocking her fro

Pat rocking her fro

One day when I was wearing one of my own designs, a woman on the subway told me to come to the Vogue office to show them some of my clothes, an editor saw them and said: “I’m taking these to Paris, to Givenchy!” Following that they gave my clothes a 2-page spread. It was stocked in (Henri) Bendel’s for a while, but it was so exhausting- I was a one-man show.

 

One day when I was at Vogue, they didn’t have a model so pointed at me and said- “you’ll do!” I was enamoured and thought why am I slaving away all night sewing? I thought this was fun, partly cause you get to be around people- all I wanted to do was see the clothes anyway…

What was the industry like at the time?

There was a division between photo girls and show (runway) girls at the time, there weren’t many show girls then, maybe 10 in the whole of NY. It was kind of like an elite fashion club. If you were black it was hard, and I was kind of in the middle, so no one knew what to do with me.

 

12 Apr 1971, NY April 1971 with Stephen Burrows in his East Village studio.

N.Y. April 1971 with Stephen Burrows in his East Village studio.

It didn’t really take off for me till I met a designer called Steven Burrows and the illustrator Antonio Lopez, they were so important to me, so hot and so fabulous and they sort of just included me in everything they did. That’s how I met Andy… we’d go out to the Village, to Sheraton square, people could see me and appreciate me more because of who I was with.

Pat Cleveland, Antonio Lopez and Karl Lagerfeld

Pat Cleveland, Antonio Lopez and Karl Lagerfeld

We were all coming up at the same time, these people made a real difference in my life; Karl Lagerfeld, Yves, Valentino, and Halston…definitely Halston.

What did the label “African-American” feel like for you- someone of mixed heritage, predominantly Swedish?

Pat Cleveland and Halston

Pat Cleveland and Halston

The press referred to me as a ‘black’ model and I’d look at my skin and be like where’s the black? But I live in America where they separate you into black and white. Recently it’s become ok to be ‘mixed-race’, but before it was like: if you had one drop of black in you- you were black and it was meant with negative connotations whereas, I’ve always honoured it.

Africa is a big beautiful country, that’s inspired so many people; YSL, Picasso… everyone take their inspiration from Africa. And everyone has a ticket to ride- America’s a melting pot- everyone’s coming together to make a nice Mother colour.

I was out there in the beginning because they allowed me to be there, perhaps because I was lighter skinned- more palatable- but also because I’m just innately a fashion person.

Yes, I can tell you’re a fashion person, with your iconic fashion walk! How did you think the fashion industry has changed today? And do you think it’s for the better?

Time is precious; people don’t have time for romance anymore. That’s what my walk was- romantic. Romance is slow and moving- business is fast and competitive. The catwalk is more like a conveyer belt sometimes- you’ve got to get those groceries on the conveyer belt and out the other side! Fashion now, has so many more people involved- more people, more cameras.

Pat with Andy Warhol

Pat with Andy Warhol

 

It used to be quieter; an isolated art that had nothing to do with everybody from anywhere. It had more to do with ‘ladies’ and ‘gentleman’ from a certain part of society. I guess it’s a natural occurrence, things that were small and exclusive become large and accessible.

At the end of the day, it must be a good thing, as there are more opportunities for people to work at different levels of the industry. Fashion is a huge and powerful global industry. It’s opened up; it’s kinda like- do you just sell to the people taking limos? Or the people taking buses and trains?

How long have you been painting for?

That’s what I started out doing, I went to art school, but then modelling took over. Even then I was always scribbling in notebooks when on set. When Dali, Warhol and I hung out we’d always be scribbling on tablecloths together- have drawing wars. All the artists in my life took an active interest in my work, encouraging me to grow. They’d peek over my shoulder and say, “that’s a good drawing!” “that’s really nice- let me have it!” It really was that creative, bohemian lifestyle where we just thrived off each other’s energies.

What encouraged you to start focusing more of your energy on art and formally presenting your work?

My mom was a successful fine artist, she passed away two years ago, so I kinda figured-as she wasn’t looking over my shoulder telling me ‘that’s not how you do it’. I thought well she’s gone now- I’ll do what I want! When I paint I can feel how happy it made her. She painted until the very last minute, so I take that as a sign- a way to be happy. In a way, through art, her spirit still entertains me.

Pat Cleveland, Clown (2017) Paper on Paper

Pat Cleveland, Clown (2017) Paper on Paper

Does your mother’s artwork inspire you? How would you describe your work and your practice?

My mom was a fine portrait artist, whereas my work is more decorative and abstract. Partly because I live in the middle of nowhere and I don’t have many people around me when I paint. I’ve done portraits of my daughter (Anna Cleveland) and son. Of course, I love Sargeant! And really all the artists I used to mix with continue to influence my work.

I try and paint 2-3 works a day; I love colours so my palette tends to be bright and bold. When making art, you go through stuff, you look at all the masters, you go through it and absorb everything that everyone’s done, and you don’t try and do your own thing because you know it’s been done before! It’s all been done before, everything; portraiture, fine art- everything- pyramids, architecture… So what you have to do is not worry it’s all been done, and just do it anyway. Sometimes when I get up and get dressed for parties now, I think I’d love to get back to my paintings!

Pat Cleveland, Still Life MetaMorphosis (2017), Paper on Paper

Pat Cleveland, Still Life MetaMorphosis (2017), Paper on Paper

Clearly, you’re innately a creative, but spending so much time as a muse to other artists gave you awareness of both sides. Did being a model and therefore the object of another’s creative’s gaze feel problematic at the time? I sometimes find it tough being a passive participant in someone else’s vision.

You’re the important part, without you there is no image! You should feel grateful that they want you to be a part of their art. Identity isn’t a flat surface, there’s also the soul and the way you feel which is hard to capture in fashion photography. A model is there to invoke the spirit of the times. Your body is a work of art! A woman’s body, when you’re young… is the most beautiful thing in the world. These days there are disabled women modelling, transgender women, plus-size women- they’re all forms of beauty. Hieronymus Bosch/Sergeant– it’s just different forms of beauty. Whenever I model, I just feel honoured- like they really picked me?!- I better do a good job! I better work hard to make this image they see happen, as a team.

Check out some of Pat’s artwork in the group show ’75 works on Paper’ at Beers Gallery, on until the 24th of December

Follow Pat Cleveland on Instagram

Follow Charlie Siddick on Instagram

 

 

Emeline Talks To Cheryl Jumbo of BBFA

Cheryl Jumbo

Cheryl Jumbo

by Emeline Nsingi Nkosi

A Cosmetic Scientist, Founder of Cherry Coco (a natural skincare company) and Black Beauty Communications ltd. Cheryl Jumbo, one of six children, was born in Glasgow to Nigerian parents. She recently announced the UK’s first ever beauty industry awards event for Black Beauty products aptly named the “Black Beauty and Fashion Awards”.

We spoke about her experience in the beauty industry, BBFA and what she plans on achieving …

“Black Beauty and Fashion Awards is a movement, I am set on advancing the industry.”

Who is Cheryl Jumbo?

Today I am someone who loves business and empowering people; I think it’s important to leave a legacy. I find much satisfaction in supporting individuals in pursuing their dreams; I believe you can accomplish anything you commit yourself to!

Cheryl Jumbo at event

Cheryl Jumbo at event

Tell us about your experience in the beauty industry?

My entry point to the beauty arena was most unexpected, around the age of 19, I had intended on purchasing a premium foundation from a company called fashion (there wasn’t much else available), whilst I was browsing I was approached by one of the beauty consultants. We started talking, she enquired about my skincare regime, my interests and asked me what I was doing for a living. I explained that I was studying to become a Sound Engineer. She scoffed lightly and said “no no no my darling, YOU belong in the world of beauty. I can see you now with your silver Hitachi case going to a business meeting”.

As a student of sound engineering, I was the only female in my class, which I didn’t mind much at all. I needed a part time job so I decided I’d explore a little, I sought employment with a cosmetics consultant agency to find out more about the world of beauty.

I had assumed it would be very superficial but being creative and technical I excelled. As I began to consult and sell cosmetic products to consumers, I yearned to understand why people were buying from me besides my selling technique. What was so good about these products? What made them so effective? Were they truly beneficial at all? I wanted to learn the science behind these amazing pots of promise.

What was your next step?

Fortunately, around that time The London College of Fashion, had recently introduced to the UK a new BSc (Hons) Cosmetic Science, I secured a place and eventually, proudly graduated whilst maintaining employment throughout my studies.

Cheryl Jumbo

Cheryl Jumbo

What was your professional experience?

Since then, I have gained a broad experience of the industry, working in various capacities from setting up a beauty business, working as an expat in Africa, providing skincare workshops, brand development, consulting, working in regulatory affairs at QVC UK, product design and formulation of skin care at E.C Dewitt and Manufacturing at Barry M Cosmetics.

In the UK, I have found myself working in places where I am the only black person in the entire organisation. This has presented some great advantages and in some cases disadvantages, I am keen to see more of us in this arena, our contribution is necessary in a multicultural society.

How did you come up with the concept of BBFA?

Sadly, BBFA was born from a feeling of social exclusion. Every single year, we have beauty industry awards that celebrate the great product offerings available from various brands across the UK and further afield. This is great until you realise that none of the products spot-lit with adulation cater to your needs. One particular year as my colleagues and I geared up to attend the latest installment of beauty awards, I pondered on this fact; I have contributed hugely to the UK economy via my hair and beauty needs and wants. I pondered on the fact that at age 19 my only choice of foundation was an expensive premium product, which as a student cost me a small fortune.

I decided that I would become the change that I wished to see. It was at that moment, 6 years ago, that I knew I would create the Black Beauty and Fashion Awards! It would be a celebration of diverse black beauty and culture. However, it would have been seen as too Afrocentric, and so I decided to wait until the right time, which is NOW!

BBFA

BBFA

What do you aim to achieve from BBFA?

Our event is divided into two halves, firstly, the public voting poll which lasts approximately 4 months from March 2017, followed by the corporate end which takes place later in November.

BBFA seeks to empower BMR* consumers’ voices to express their passion for the products they enjoy using or want to support, and exercise their unassailable right to inclusion. Black males are for the most part ignored in advertising of grooming products. Women of colour spend on average, six times more than their counterparts on hair and beauty products. It is about time to acknowledge this significant contribution to the economy.

Advancement is taking place within the industry concerning black beauty, hair and fashion and it must be acknowledged. There’s a great range of products available for BMR people, but a ‘disconnect’ exists between brands, retailers and consumers. Often people can’t find what they want, although it exists…somewhere.

BBFA seeks to promote, encourage and celebrate producers of high-quality BMR products and build bridges to prompt greater inclusion via mainstream channels. This is all towards bringing about the growth that our communities will also benefit from.

BBFA

BBFA

What is your mission statement?

My dream is to see Black Beauty and Fashion Award-winning products made available to the public in mainstream stores across the UK

My vision is to celebrate the diverse beauty and see greater representation in mainstream media. To acknowledge the brands that have over the years, diligently catered to our ever-changing beauty needs. To support entrepreneurialism. In a multicultural society, I would like to see more BMR individuals as manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and being part of the supply chain of this industry. After all, we are the ones using the products! It would be great to have a hand in what’s being added to these products created to care for our unique beauty.

My mission is to advance the beauty industry, impacting it positively. To celebrate the diversity of black hair and skin and our beautiful culture. To make BBFA a global entity as we expand our Industry award to the Continent and the Caribbean.

All winning products and brands have the right to carry the BBFA winners’ seal created to be displayed on company websites, marketing literature, and products, visible to consumers at the point of sale.

 

BBFA

How will it facilitate direct engagement between brands and consumers?

BBFA is the people’s choice award! We are here to elevate to empower the voice of consumers, to alleviate social exclusion and to carve out a space for our beauty products in mainstream outlets. We hope to see Black Beauty and Fashion Award-winning products available online and in high street stores.

Black Beauty Communications’ BBFA has amongst its aims, to be the go-to marketing and quality assessment vehicle to help both lesser-known and readily recognisable businesses gain greater brand awareness within Black and Multiracial client groups. In so doing, a more mutually beneficial exchange emerges, wherein BMR people, with a predicted £100 million 2016 hair and beauty spend, shall notice better representation in mainstream channels. This leads to greater opportunities in employment. Brand loyalty, improved market segmentation and CSR fulfillment are just some of the elements available to participating businesses at the other end of the exchange.

BBFA

BBFA

Awards for BMR communities are often not mainstream, should they be?

Yes, indeed they should be. So many elements of our culture are used and adopted in the mainstream, from our hairstyles and fashion to music and dance. I believe our ingenuity, success, creativity and innovation need to be acknowledged mainstream also. It’s a known fact that we tend to be products of our environment, witnessing achievements mainstream provides aspiration for peers and following generations.

Would we benefit from having an award for BMR products in beauty awards such as InStyle beauty awards, Cosmopolitan beauty awards, Allure etc …

To some extent yes. I believe that these organisations have missed a trick when it comes to black beauty and fashion. For decades black and multiracial individuals have engaged these brands frequently only to feel a sense of exclusion and being overlooked. Perhaps their lack of offering comes from a lack of understanding of our hair and authentic beauty.

BBFA

BBFA

Lastly, tell us a little bit about the award ceremony, where will it take place and when?

The inaugural Black Beauty and Fashion Awards is a Red carpet affair. it will be a stupendous night of beauty and style on Friday 3rd November 2017. The venue of choice is the beautiful Porchester Hall; I adore its classic art deco design. Amongst others, in attendance will be manufacturers, retailers, entrepreneurs and industry professionals. The evening will include a fashion show, 3-course elegant dining experience, live entertainment, award ceremony, charity auction for Lupus and Alopecia UK and much more.

There will be various voting categories, such as Best shampoo, Best hair treatment, Best Foundation etc and we have a number of special awards including Beauty entrepreneur of the year, Fashion entrepreneur of the year, Best new business venture, Best new beauty tool/appliance as well as honour an amazing individual with a Lifetime Achievement award for their Contribution to the Beauty and Fashion industry.

How can the public vote?

Voting is easy. Simply visit www.bbfawards.com/voting-online. All voters are automatically entered into the BBFA cash prize draw and the opportunity to win some amazing goodies. Prize winners will be selected randomly and announced via our social media platforms later in the year.

[BMR* – Cherry’s own acronym , Black Multi-Racial]

 

BBFA

 

BBFA
Instagram: @blackbeautyandfashionawards
Twitter: @bbfawards
Facebook Page: Black Beauty and Fashion Awards
Website: www.bbfawards.com

Emeline
Instagram: @emelinenn
Twitter: @emelinenn
Facebook Page: Emeline Nsingi Nkosi
Website: www.emelinenn.com

 

 

Representation Matters.

by Rose Miyonga

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali

Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight has received wide critical acclaim with 6 nominations and 1 win (Best Motion Picture) in the golden globes alone. Starring Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, the film focuses on the struggle of an African-American man to accept one’s own identity.

The 2017 Golden Globes felt quite special to me.

It felt like the first time in a long while, if not ever, that there was some decent representation, that I could look at the list of people that the establishment had deemed “the best” in television and film, and see a more diverse range of people representing the many stories that touched us this year. 

Representation matters! And, I don’t just mean one token person who is not straight, white, male and able-bodied on a show written, produced and directed by a white male. What I mean is a plethora of people telling an array of stories in their diverse voices. What I mean is the use of the arts to expand collective consciousness and aid in dispelling the limited idea of normalcy.

I didn’t grow up thinking that my family was strange; my gorgeous multi-cultural, multi-racial family was my first understanding of the world. I only became aware that the wider world seemed to have more restrictive views of what constituted the most inclusive values in the world: beauty, love, family, struggle… 

At its best, television and film, like all the arts, can be a mirror into your soul, shining light on the deepest truths of human existence with love and compassion, inviting us to

52276387 The 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on 1/8/17. The 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on 1/8/17. Thandie Newton FameFlynet, Inc - Beverly Hills, CA, USA - +1 (310) 505-9876

Thandie received a nomination for her role as Maeve in the television series Westworld in the category of for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for Television.

contemplate who we are and where we find ourselves in the world. Television has always seemed especially amazing to me because you bring the stories and characters into your home, sometimes over a period of years or even decades.

It can engender intimacy and belonging, but at its worst, it can also encourage feelings of otherness and lacking, a feeling that people who look like you don’t belong in the collective narrative or don’t deserve a space to share their stories. I inhabited this realm for a long time, and only obtained self-love through hard-learning against the popularised lack of representation.

viola-davis-tracie-ellis-ross-c2a66caa-b0be-470a-aaef-5269d8d84261

Viola Davies (left) won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Fences. This was her first win after 4 previous Golden Globe nominations. Tracee Ellis Ross (right) won the Golden Globe for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series for Black-ish.

Self-love is really hard when you feel like an island; when it feels as though every message society sends is so foreign to yourself. I grew up in a society that didn’t encourage my self-love, that subliminally, and sometimes explicitly, taught me that I was not enough and that I certainly would never be “the best”.

My society taught me loathsome self-depreciation.

Television used to encourage the most negative feelings for me. But it is gradually becoming a source of delight, a place to go to feel understood and valued.

Some day Viola or Tracee or Thandie will win an award or nominated and it will just be about them.

I hope that day is near, the day when it won’t be remarkable that someone who is colourful and unique and universal can be hailed as the best at what they do and that the next woman of colour to win a Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a comedy or musical television series will not have to wait until 2052.

I hope that my children, whatever their colour, gender identity, or ability will be able to hold the television up to their faces like a mirror and proudly see themselves reflected and represented in the most beautiful and honest light.

For now, their wins are still also our wins. They are part of the long-awaited slow-dawning collective realisation that we, too, represent the world.

Mixed Heritage and ‘me’, by Rose Miyonga

by Rose Miyonga

With my father and sister

With my father and sister

Last week, TK was fortunate to have the sparkled voice of Tahmina Beghum of XXY magazine as she shared her experience of dual identity and frustrations with rigid concepts of personhood. This week, we are so excited for Rose Miyonga, one of our contributing editors to share with us her experiences the same subject.

-Oyin Akande

My mother is White British and my father is Black Kenyan.

My sisters, Poppy and Jasmine and I have had to explain what this means to people our whole life, so I have been aware of my racial identities for as long as I can remember.

During my early years, my family lived in Brixton. I don’t remember my brown skin or my hair (usually in dreadlocks or cut short) being an issue. Of course, in my immediate family, it didn’t matter.

I knew that my parents had different skin colours, just as I knew as they had different eye colours and that they loved my sister and me. It was just one thing that blended in with a whole host of other things that happened to be true about my family.

I had black friends, white friends, brown friends, and diversity was the norm, and I don’t remember feeling much need to question it.

Carefree living in the foothills of Mount Kenya

Carefree living in the foothills of Mount Kenya

When I was six years old, our family moved to Kenya, and my sister and I were enrolled in a local school on the outskirts of Nairobi. The cracks in our ‘deeply flawed’ system of categorisation and classification of ‘race’ were clearly exposed when our race changed somewhere between Heathrow and Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Suddenly, without warning or consultation, we were white. To my Kenyan classmates, my skin was pale, my hair was soft, and I could see that relatively, I was more white than most of my friends on the school playground… It was a lesson in ‘context’.

Race is a social construct, and to the six-year-old me, it seemed abundantly clear that the labels that were being used to define me were inaccurate and pointless.

This is not to say that race and racism do not exist, as the realities that we have to battle with every day make them evidently tangible, but that race and racism were created and constructed as tools to justify slavery and subjugation; to divide and dehumanise.

I didn’t fully understand how other people’s perception of my skin tone would come to deeply affect me when I was six, but I had learned something important, and something that would repeat itself in various iterations over and over again:

In a predominantly White country, I’m Black. In a predominantly Black country, I’m White. In both contexts it is my otherness that is noteworthy.

rosefamilythandiekay

With my mother and sisters last year

slide1As a teenager in rural England, my Blackness was constantly highlighted by my peers, and I was forced to grapple with it, accept it, and eventually fall in love with it, and when I spent two years at school in the U.S., I remember trying in vain to explain to some (not all) of the people I encountered that I was actually not just black.

To certain people, my lack of whiteness was greater than anything else, it was all that mattered.

roseandparentsthandiekay

My Mother, my father and I

I’ve given up explaining now (well, for the most part). Although my heritage does matter,  I don’t want my skin colour to define how I live my life. I can’t control how I am perceived and treated by others, but I can control how I look at myself, and I choose to look at myself without judgment, to see my beauty without boundaries, and to love myself without limitations


Follow Rose on Instagram and Twitter

Check out Poppy’s website and Instagram – she took most of the photos in this post.

The Legacy of political journalist & reporter Gwen Ifill

by Oyin Akande

On November 14th, Gwen Ifill passed away, aged 61. Her name may or may not be familiar to you but her path-making has certainly made a hell of a mark on the news and media representation of African-American women. She was one of the leading political journalists and analysts in the U.S., an author and the host of PBS NewsHour, alongside Judy Woodruff and Washington Week. 

joel-barbee

Courtesy: Joel Barbee

Born, in New York, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, she grew up in America in the 60s. It was then, aged 9, she decided she wanted to be a journalist. “I was very conscious of the world being this very crazed place that demanded explanation…I didn’t see a whole lot of people who looked like me doing it on television,” she recalled of her growing up in an interview for Archive of American Television.

Ms Ifill was widely recognised as a stellar journalist- characteristically fair and a straight-talker. When, in 2008, she moderated the vice-president debates between Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden, some were concerned that she might be biased in favour of the Democrat, as she was writing a book on his running mate, Barack Obama. She proved herself true and “reached a high standard for reason, fairness and class,” in the words of James Rainey of The Los Angeles Times. She valued journalistic objectivity highly, saying once “my job as a reporter is not to know what I think.” She later won the George Foster Peabody Award for her 2008 campaign coverage.

Obama, himself, said of Ms Ifill at a news conference on the day of her death “Gwen was a friend of ours. She was an extraordinary journalist; she always kept faith with the fundamental responsibilities of her profession: asking tough questions, holding people in power accountable, and defending a strong and free press that makes our democracy work.” Her book ‘The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama’ was published in 2009, on the day of Obama’s inauguration.

Watch the videos below to hear  Gwen Ifill put Don Imus in his place in 2007 following racial slurs on the Rutgers University women’s basketball team in which he refers to them as ‘nappy headed hoes’ and the time he said of Gwen Ifill “Isn’t The Times wonderful. It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.” Read her response to Imus in the New York Times here.

https://youtu.be/11FgpwGNEys

https://youtu.be/vuz34bRylNU

Annual book fair and authors night, National Press Club, 17 Nov. 2009. Photo: Michael Foley

Annual book fair and authors night, National Press Club, 17 Nov. 2009. Photo: Michael Foley

As a symbol, Gwen Ifill was a critically important pioneer. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to host a major political TV talk show, the Washington Week in Review. Coming up in a period of audacious racism and entering an industry dominated by white men, she achieved great success as a journalism vanguard despite the obstacles she did face. She once said that her proudest moment was when she found herself surrounded by civil rights luminaries as M.C. at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Independence Avenue in Washington.

slide1We have yet to balance media representations of African-American women and this is particularly felt in the U.S. Alongside her amazing example of black female excellence, Ifill felt a responsibility of being a good role model both as an African-American and a woman:

“When I was a little girl watching programs like this – because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were- I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of colour,” she said. “I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal -that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all.”

gwen-then-and-now-logos

 

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