Iman is not one to hold her tongue when it comes to the diversity issues plaguing the fashion world. The iconic supermodel took the stage at the 92nd Street Y Tuesday for a 90-minute moderated interview with New York Fashion Week founder, Fern Mallis, and offered brutally honest answers while discussing racially insensitive comments that were made about her during the earlier stages of her career. Specifically, that time a former Essence editor referred to her as a “White woman dipped in chocolate.”
The editorial comment was made by the publication’s former editor-in-chief, Marcia Gillespie, who expressed that Iman possessed the physical features of a White woman. Iman revealed that she learned of the comments during an interview with a White reporter from Time magazine.
“I’m a very political person, and I think things through clearly, even when I was 18 years old,” she said, according to the Huffington Post. “And I definitely did not want to talk to this White [Time] journalist about a war with me and a Black magazine. I was going to bring the war to [Gillespie].”
The now 60-year-old beauty later decided to personally address Gillespie regarding her concerns.
“’Probably, I’m more black than any Black person in America.’ I mean I don’t have any White in me. I’m pure Somali,” Iman explained. “So to me, I took offense to that. I don’t look like a White woman. I look Somali.”
Iman also recalled comments received from “the White side,” where people believed they were complimenting her by saying things like, “Oh, you’re different. You’re better than everybody else.” But notes that she was never flattered by the backhanded gestures.
“If I didn’t know the nuances of the politics of beauty and how you can use it by separating people and humiliating people… that constant friction was not lost on me,” she said.
Sadly, not much has changed since then; Black models are still facing racism in the industry. According to Iman, the best way to fight the system is to speak out.
“Remember you have a voice,” she said. “It’s like the subway signs… if you see something, say something.”