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Lise Ravary: Profound and lasting societal change takes time

Anti-racism is the social trend right now, but my knowledge of the magazine industry has taught me to beware of superficial advances.

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Since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the discovery of anonymous graves near Indian residential schools in western Canada, the death of Joyce Echaquan in Joliette, the country has entered an unprecedented introspection exercise.

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Or so we think.

Things are changing quickly, or at least they seem to be changing. I am delighted to see people of color and indigenous peoples come into the limelight. But are the challenges superficial or will they last?

A year ago, right after Floyd’s murder, most of America’s major women’s magazines featured racialized women on their covers. Having managed many top Canadian women’s magazines including Chatelaine, I know how it works: publishers of popular fashion magazines can’t resist a trend and will do their utmost to monetize what’s hot. Today, anti-racism is the social flavor of the day.

The key word here is “day”. The lifespan of such trends, even shrouded in wonderful good intentions, rarely exceeds a few weeks or months. I predict – and hope I am completely wrong – that white models will soon dominate magazine covers again.

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I don’t believe in miracles. Deep and meaningful change takes time. It’s so easy to put wool on people’s eyes.

Let me share an old trade secret with you. Since the 1960s, major publications had only used black models on their covers in July and January. Why? Shrewd businessmen, they knew they had to pretend to talk to women of color because they received complaints from black readers and organizations. So they chose the two numbers that have historically sold less than the others and reserved these covers for a black personality. Then they could claim that the black covers don’t sell.

In 1974, Vogue put a black woman, Beverly Johnson, on its cover for the first time in the magazine’s decades of history. At the time, the move was hailed as a major breakthrough for black women in the fashion and beauty industry. In 2020, Johnson revealed in a Washington Post article that during her career she was paid less than her white colleagues. Too bad for the change. As for photographers, there has been only one black cover photographer in Vogue history, Tyler Mitchell, and Beyonce wanted it.

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Why am I sharing this with you?

Because it taught me to beware of false progressives. Because it is important to know these things, not to be caught in a web of heartwarming lies. Because I don’t want to be manipulated.

Speaking of women, this week has been extraordinary for valuable Indigenous women in public life, who are taking their rightful place in positions of power and influence.

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, 41, has been elected Grand Chief of Kahnawake, following in the footsteps of legendary chef Joe Norton. She is also a member of the LGBTQ2S community. It’s a real change, not a cosmetic one.

RoseAnne Archibald was elected the first female National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, a position of influence and visibility from coast to coast.

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Lynda Price, Carey’s mother, was re-elected Chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation in British Columbia.

Finally, an Inuk, Mary Simon was appointed Governor General, replacing Julie Payette in disgrace. Simon’s resume reflects skill, experience and intelligence. That she succeeds, even if she does not speak French. Of course, that bothers me. There are two official languages ​​in Canada. And Inuktitut is not one of them. Should we have additional official languages ​​in this country, especially indigenous languages? Maybe, but that’s another discussion.

I will only say this about French and the appointment of Mary Simon: Imagine for a moment that a GG only speaks French and, say, Innu-aimun.

How would English Canada react if English was left out?

This too requires some introspection.

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Cory E. Barnes

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