Then on the same day, as I arrived home, I got a phone call from a friend asking if I knew anyone who could go to BBC World Service to talk about the race issue happening in Brazil right now. I said no, I don't know, sorry. Then she said "Why don't you do it then?", and I said "Because I don't even know what the issue is about." She said "Go on, do a bit of research online, and you'll be fine", to which I said "Ok, then," completely forgetting the fact that I am absolutely terrified of speaking in public.
I had the grand space of 10 minutes to google the subject before the producer called me to say they were sending a cab to pick me up. I panicked, obviously, when I realised that the subject is indeed a complex one. Turns out that a Brazilian prosecutor wants to create quotas for black models during Sao Paulo fashion week, similar to the existing ones in state universities.
I arrived at the BBC HQ knowing nothing about the programme, if it'd be recorded or live, and who would be interviewing - until I looked at my accreditation. It said 'Newshour', live with Owen Bennett-Jones, a legend of journalism. For those who don't know, it's a show with in-depth analysis of current affairs, listened to by the world over.
In my head I had several points I wanted to make, and when it got to my turn, I blanked out almost completely and made a bit of a fool of myself.
But thank god for blogging - and here I take the chance to justify myself.
What I wanted to say was that I think quotas are a tricky, complicated way to enforce inclusion, most specially in the arts world (I do consider fashion design a form of art), specially in Brazil, a melting pot of diversity. What would happen to the other minorities not affected by the quota?
It'd probably turn against those chosen to be included in the catwalks by force, rather than by talent.
I might be naive, but I believe at least some designers create clothes without specifically thinking about the skin-colour of who is going to wear it (Alexandre Herchcovitch said quota or no quota, his work wouldn't be affected). These designers are constantly looking for talent, independent of race, so maybe not them, but casting agents should increase their efforts in adding more black models to their books.
Now those who say black models don't sell as well, it is also a matter of perspective. In a country like Brazil, in which the majority of the consumers of fashion are white mostly because of centuries of economic disparities, this might be unfortunately true (and who says it won't change in the future with the University quotas?). But what to say of America, where a much larger percentage of the black population has as much economic power as the next white? (see today's Guardian prasing Vogue for putting a black woman in its cover 3 months in a row).
As anyone who pays an atom of attention to fashion knows, this is an industry that thrives on change and mutation. Consumers are constantly "trained" to desire a certain lifestyle/image/idea - see the whole debate over that other controversial colour, *green.* Only a couple of years ago, buying recycled/ethical clothes had not an inch of coolness surrounding it. Now, at least in the UK, environmentally conscious fashion is a booming industry. People's point of view change as much as fashion if there are constant reminders being waved in their faces.
So if for now quotas look radical, the discussion is still absolutely valid, though, happening as it is already all over the world, creating waves of positive change (famously showed by Prada breaking its long "black holiday" by casting British model of the year Jourdan Dunn in the past two seasons). It brings attention to the inequalities of the industry, prompting major players to change their priorities.
Now, that's what I wanted to say in the radio. I'd put a link of the programme here (17/03/09 - around 42 min) and give you the chance to laugh at me, but I went to the World Service site and couldn't find it. If you find it, let me know. And if you think what I said here is a load of bollocks, please also let me know.