Joan Smalls called out the fashion industry for being its “token Black girl”

The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others have led to a cultural reckoning that does not stop with police brutality. The movement has spread far and wide, and everything from corporations to individual people are being held accountable for their racist actions. Case in point: Joan Smalls—who has been one of the biggest supermodels in the world for the past 10 years—called out the fashion industry in an Instagram post that shares her personal experiences.

Smalls, who is Puerto Rican and is Black and Latina, begins by saying that agencies, magazines, and brands need to do more than post a black square on Instagram. “What does that really mean?” she says in her video.

“What is the fashion industry actually going to do about it?” Smalls asks. “Is it just another trend?”

In her caption, she details some of her own experiences working as a model.

“There have been so many times where I’ve had to face issues against my race within this industry because I was their token black girl,” she writes. “The campaigns and editorials I had to share while my counterparts got to achieve that on their own. Or that my hair was an issue or that I made a show or campaign too ethnic, the list goes on and on.”

Smalls wants the industry to stop “feeding the beast” that is racism. She calls out magazines and agencies for still working with photographers and casting directors who don’t want to work with Black talent. She points out that the fashion industry profits from Black culture, but doesn’t pay it respect.

But while Smalls is urging change, she’s not waiting for it.

“I know I can’t just talk about change, I have to be a force for it,” Smalls writes.

The 31-year-old has pledged to donate half of her remaining 2020 salary to Black Lives Matter organizations and is encouraging fashion brands to do the same. As she concludes, “These battles are long from over but together we’re stronger and together we can accomplish what is needed.”

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more