Naomi Campbell: The British press ‘haven’t learned how to be not-racist, period’

Actress Taraji P. Henson arrives at the FOX Winter TCA 2020 All-Star Party held at The Langham Huntington Hotel on January 7, 2020 in Pasadena, Los Angeles, California, United States.

God help me, but Naomi Campbell’s Vogue interview reminded me a lot of the press Mariah Carey has been doing around the promotion for her memoir. It was so striking to me that I had to look up their ages – both women were born in 1970, within two months of each other (Mariah is older). They both turned 50 years old earlier this year. They’re both feeling reflective of the craziness they’ve experienced and, at times, perpetuated. They both rose to the highest levels of their chosen fields. The differences though… Naomi is more worldly and dare I say, more nurturing of other young men and women. That’s what this Vogue piece is about too: Naomi as the elder stateswoman of the fashion industry, Naomi as mentor to young models and young designers and young voices of color. It’s a good interview! You can read the full piece here.

She’s smoking again: “I stopped smoking during quarantine, but a friend of mine killed himself, and it really affected me… I called my guy in Israel—­he’s great for sugar and cigarettes and addiction stuff—and we’re going to do a session. He told me to just get through this week first.”

She recently lost her grandmother too: “A lot of the things Grandma taught me as a child came into play in lockdown. I was quite happy to be on my own. I know how to cook. I know how to clean.”

On racism in the modeling/fashion industry: “I never used to say the word racism; I just used to say, it’s territorialism. I never wanted people to say that I used that as an excuse, that I was throwing that word out. Now I’m happy that everyone’s all on the same page, that everyone feels comfortable to come out about their experiences without feeling some stigma. But for me, nothing’s changed. I’m going to speak the same way.”

The “angry Black woman” trope: “I am quite over it. Is it now that we have permission to speak? Well, I have always spoken. There were a few things that I would do when I was younger that I was told were bad for my race. Now the things I do are not just for me anymore. I think more of my culture and my race, as opposed to thinking about just me.”

When a prominent British journalist called her “angry”: “I remember that very well. I understood exactly what angle [he] was going to come at, and that it would be combative. And I see the things newspapers go for. I see they’d rather write some trash thing that you’ve done, rather than the good that you’ve done. When I was younger it used to upset me, but it doesn’t now—I’m not looking for those validations anymore. But I am still a little skeptical about doing interviews in England.”

When asked if the British press hasn’t learned how not to be racist toward Black models. “They haven’t learned how to be not-racist, period!” Britain suffers more from denial, she says. “I’d rather have racism be right in front of my face and know what I’m dealing with, than to have it suppressed. No disrespect to the country I was born in, but we need to dig it up and bring it up and deal with it. No more chucking it down the sides.”

What could change these patterns of injustice and erasure? “I think as a generation, as a whole, can we get reparations for our culture, for what we’ve been through? I absolutely believe we are going to get the positive outcome we deserve. But we have to do our work in making sure we get it. I think reparations are important for the people to really see that this is something that’s been taken seriously.”

[From Vogue]

I’m from the generation which was taught (in history classes and in pop culture) that the idea of “reparations” was the punchline to a joke, just another broken promise from America, and oh well, good luck with that, haha. As I get older though, I really, genuinely believe that reparations need to happen in a big way. As for what Naomi says about British racism and how she doesn’t like to do press in Britain… it’s honestly remarkable that she’s had the career she’s had, isn’t it? It’s because she was international. It’s because she worked throughout Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Because if she had just stayed in Britain and tried to just be a local model, they would have destroyed her.

Cover & IG courtesy of Vogue.

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29 Responses to “Naomi Campbell: The British press ‘haven’t learned how to be not-racist, period’”

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  1. Seraphina says:

    I read the headline and laughed out loud: PREACH NAOMI, PREACH!!!! The British press deserves to be called on the carpet. I am sure she has endured a great deal. My heart goes out to her, losing a dear friend and grandmother, during this environment I am sure it was even more difficult. And Naomi will always be FIERCE. So glad she said what she said.

  2. Ann says:

    I don’t pay too close attention to the BRF stories but whenever I read one I am always shocked at how nasty and racist British media can be. They love taking people down. It’s so openly mean spirited. Naomi is telling no lies.

    Also, that last pic in the white dress… omg! This woman is ageless and beautiful. She is a good interview too. I find her very intriguing.

  3. Kristin says:

    I think the Duchess of Sussex can attest to all of this.

    And on a superficial note, Naomi looks freaking incredible!!

  4. Michelle says:

    Absolutely disagree with the ‘angry black woman’ trope, it’s a cruel stereotype – but let’s be fair, Naomi was found guilty in court of throwing a phone at a maid AND beating an assistant around the head with a Blackberry in a fit of anger. She’s no angel, and that sounds a lot like anger issues to me…

    • Amy Bee says:

      That doesn’t dispute that the angry black woman trope is used and would have been used against her if those incidences never happened.

      • mynameispearl says:

        ah see yeah, I find this one a difficult one too, I mean she actually beat up her assistant, and injured her maid. That’s just shitty behaviour considering these women were both much much lower on the totem pole than her, it was an abuse of power full stop.

      • Michelle says:

        Yes, it is used against people with no merit, and as likely it is that she would have been called it even if she wasn’t, beating the hell out of people isn’t exactly helping your cause here.

        She abused those women. She can hardly cry foul when she literally embodies the stereotype she’s so against.

        Just to reiterate there is 100% a nasty culture of racism in the UK and this is not me defending the media or anyone else. I’m just saying you can’t say it’s unfair to be called angry if you have anger issues.

    • Athyrmose says:

      You are a part of the problem, and FYI, the devil does not need an advocate.

      Keep all of this energy when it’s time to talk about Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Sean Penn, and Kyle Rittenhouse. Perhaps have a think about their narratives, or the lack thereof ,where their violence and harm are concerned. Consider the differences. Consider why you’re sitting here so forcefully trying to act as arbiter of this Black woman’s marginalization, and why it’s so important to you that you work this hard to try to delegitimize her experiences with the ABL narrative.

      You should have just sat there and ate your food, so to speak.

      We see you.

    • osito says:

      A person can be two things at once, and Naomi can be an abusive person in her personal life who *also* gets labeled an “angry black woman” for speaking about racism, which was the context for the quote. I just googled it, and you can still watch the video of it (2013 Channel 4 interview), but in particular this stands out:

      “ C4: You have a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being quite an angry person.

      NC: I’m not here to talk about me, I’m here to talk about Balance Diversity. So I think I will finish here as I need to get to my set and finish my TV show.

      C4: Let me finish my question. I just wondered if there’s a good anger and a bad anger, and if this is actually a good anger to have.

      NC: I’m not angry. And I don’t like the thing of “the angry black woman” either. This is not what this is about. You asked to interview me because we’ve done very nice interviews in America. And you want to know what it’s all about. We are passionate. And feeling passionate about something doesn’t mean you have to be angry. ”

      I would suggest watching the whole interview, as it was highly combative from the start. Naomi wasn’t wrong about her experience here, and that experience is separate from the blood diamonds and the beating a personal assistants and housekeepers.

    • A says:

      @Michelle, she can be held accountable for those actions without being labelled as an angry black woman, which she was for a very long time. That’s how the press framed her behaviour. They didn’t hold Naomi Campbell, the person, accountable. They held Naomi Campbell, Black Woman accountable, in a way that indicted her for her blackness rather than her anger issues. That’s where the problem is. That’s wrong. They drew a line connecting her anger to her blackness when that line never existed, and in doing so, successfully discredited her on everything whenever she bothered to rightfully assert herself and her dignity as a black woman in the press. She didn’t deserve that. She could have been, and can still be, held accountable without any racism involved, but the press didn’t do that. By centering this narrative on a racist stereotype, they failed to hold her accountable, period, which is yet another reason why racism is wrong and why it’s harmful to society.

  5. JaneDoesWerk says:

    I remember when Naomi was on watch what happens live and she was asked about Meghan and Harry leaving to go to California and she defended them, said the British press was racist and hounded them out of the country, and that they’d be much happier in California. I love that she didn’t sugarcoat it, she just called it exactly like she saw it.

    • Valiantly Varnished says:

      Black folks in Britain KNOW. It’s everyone else there that needs to catch up.

      • Storminateacup says:

        This 1000% I’ve lived in The US for many years and coming to Britain was like stepping back in time as far as attitudes to race are concerned. There is still so much denial and when you speak up for yourself or on someone’s behalf you instantly get accused of ‘using the race card’

      • A says:

        @Storminateacup, it’s so weird because like…I’m not a black woman, but my observation is that their racism is just different to that of America’s. But it’s not better. However, that’s how people think of it in Britain. That because their particular franchise version of racism isn’t the exact same as America’s, that it’s “better” and less potent somehow, even if it isn’t. But that denialism itself is a form of racism and helps reinforce it. It’s just all so weird and deeply exhausting.

  6. Bettyrose says:

    I’ve said this before but The Crying Game is one of my all time favorite movies and I’ve spent a lifetime misunderstanding Forest Whitaker’s comment that no one ever said that word to his face in England (as opposed to Northern Ireland). I’m embarrassed that I’m only now starting to understand the true nature of racism in England.

  7. Nev says:

    MY QUEEN.

  8. Bleedingroses says:

    This was a reply to athyrmose

  9. Azul says:

    Yes, they’re racists.
    Yes, she has/had anger issues.

  10. A says:

    To be honest, thinking on it now, it makes me realize just how badly the British press in particularly have always treated Naomi Campbell. Think about the sort of reputation she has–haughty, temperamental diva. I’m sure at least some of that’s true, but how much of it is a reaction the persistent racism she’s faced in the industry and how it’s been used as a means to undermine her constantly? And then people had the gall to get upset because she dared assert herself if it ever came down to it, and framed her as the angry black woman diva who’s too fucking uppity (EUGH) for her own good.

    I’m not saying that Naomi Campbell is perfect. She’s not. Some of her more publicized anger issues are inexcusable. But again, realizing that it comes on the heels of persistent racism changes how we understand it, even if it doesn’t excuse that behaviour. Having to deal with racism is traumatic, and if it’s constant, then it’s a constant, long-standing, slow burn trauma that chips away at you and grinds you down. Understanding this makes it pretty clear that the haughty diva behaviour is essentially a defence mechanism in a way, one that veers into unhealthy extremes, bc even if it deprecates your reputation, it at least wins you a degree of respect and space that you otherwise wouldn’t get. I wouldn’t be surprised if Naomi Campbell figured that that was better than nothing, and letting people treat her like dogshit all the time.

    • Mignionette says:

      She has that reputation because she wiped the floor with them in the High Court. Every single last one of them. In the early 2000′s Naomi was a one woman litigation machine. Much of the libel and privacy precedent today has been distinguished by her cases.

      Love her or hate her (she’s no angel) I feel we forget she grew up in the public eye (started modeling at 14 whilst still in stage school) and was crucified for being a black girl and then a black woman. There are worse stories floating around from the 90′s about the other supermodel’s but Naomi was demonized (I feel) unfairly. And a large part of that was because she was black, not posh and vulnerable.

      A little tidbit, Naomi was once engaged to Adam Clayton from U2. He cheated on her horribly with escorts yet he turned the media on her (briefed them on her being a druggie and alluded she has a high class escort – so basically everything he was doing ) to manage his reputation, despite her not speaking to the press. He wanted to get out of the blocks first. Somehow she managed to shut it down ( I am guessing she got Lawyers involved). But notice that his word was bond and hers meant nothing until she took direct action.

      Contrast the above with the exploits of Linda Evangelista, Amber Valetta et al who would get into actual physical fights with other models during castings, yet we only hear about Naomi’s exploits. Amber had a drug and alcohol problem so bad she often couldn’t make it down the runway and was a ‘violent drunk’. Linda has a life that reads like a soap opera and baby daddy issues so shady with Francois Pinault that she spent five years in and out of court to get support for her child.

      I think the divergence in how Naomi is written about is almost entirely down to race. Even the other rat pack of supermodels have defended Naomi on this point and were frustrated by how quickly she was demonized for mis-steps compared to them.

      Naomi is no angel, but she illustrates clearly the biases that black women face in any professional environment where we are often demonised and become the ‘boogey woman’. This is why some of the comments above are so f*cking offensive.

      • Mon says:

        I agree 100%!

      • L4frimaire says:

        This is so true. I was in college at the height of the 90s supermodel thing and all those girls got up to things,did drugs and partied hard but we only remember Naomi. They all hung out with shady rich men and oligarchs who weren’t adverse to an arms deal or two, but we think that was unique to her. Remember Linda Evangelista’s “ I won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000/day”, or that Dutch model who attacked her plastic surgeon? If Naomi said anything like that she wouldn’t be on the cover of Vogue today. Yeah she could be an asshole back in the day, maybe still is, but that’s her individually, not Black Women. She also dealt with a lot of racist stuff the other girls didn’t have to face, she was also the one who never got the lucrative beauty contracts or the amount of covers or tv shows like the others did ( even cheesy shows like “ House of Style”🙄. She’s still here, looks amazing with stories to tell, and where are the others?

  11. emu says:

    I love her phrasing: “Is it now that we have permission to speak? Well, I have always spoken.” Beautiful words

    • Mignionette says:

      And that’s why they came for her bc she SPOKE UP.

      This is the difference in how race is managed in the USA v the UK.

      The USA has a history of people speaking up. The USA led the Civil rights movement. Yes you may be demonized, ostracized and black-balled for speaking up sometimes, but sooner or later others will speak up with you.

      Not so much in the UK. The only time racism is spoken about it to demonise the person speaking about it and accuse them of using the race card. HR departments are primed for ‘race agitators’ and the UK is a ‘small pond’ so you’re screwed if you ever ‘play the race card’.

      This is why Naomi was repeatedly picked on by the UK media, she constantly went against the agenda set by our right wing press that hates people speaking on any rights issues (notice the prevalence of rights baitors like P*ers M*rgan in the UK). In their eyes the right wing press had crowned Naomi as the black supermodel supremo and she bit the hand that fed her by speaking out on race issues, getting more brown bodies on the catwalks, getting more vogue and other covers and getting them the same fee for their counterparts.

      The above is the classic modus operandii of the right wing press in the UK, if you rise to the top as a brown person you;re expected to say thank you to your media sponsors, tow the line and keep your head down. You’re also expected to happily give open access and exclusives to your life to the media monster that created you. Never speak about privacy bc then they’ll come after you and disclose all your addiction issues, family issues, your mother’s cancer diagnosis, history of sexual assaults you resolved privately.

      ^^^BTW they did all of the above to Naomi, hence the endless litigation suits she was forced to file. No other supermodel was subject to that level of intrusion. They even had undercover reporters and journalists join AA meetings in her locale to try and gain access to her confidential information. The lowest of the low which helped her win her privacy case.

      To my eyes the UK media have treated Naomi just as bad if not worse than Meghan. The fact that Naomi is not the perfect victim should not blind us to this fact. The important takeaway is that the UK media has a HORRIBLE relationship with black women because they know they are UNDEFENDED. Just look at some of the comments above if you doubt this. It is so evidently clear that their campaign of misinformation has succeeded. The same campaign of misinformation that Meghan is currently fighting.

      Other notable victims being Beyonce, Oprah, Gabrielle Union, and the list is ENDLESS.