Adut Akech, one of the most in-demand names on the runway, has decided to speak out about her disappointment with an all-too-frequent error many publications make regarding black models.
The model and Valentino muse was born in South Sudan, grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya, and moved to Adelaide, Australia at the age of eight years old. Akech has spoken openly of her childhood as a refugee before her family sought asylum in Australia over a decade ago, and it was this experience that she spoke about to Australia’s WHO Magazine for a feature in the print magazine ahead of Melbourne Fashion Week.
However, when the feature was printed, a photo of Akech did not appear alongside her interview. Instead of Akech, the magazine published a photo of another black model, Flavia Lazarus, who is also appearing at Melbourne Fashion Week this season. Akech then took to Instagram to address the magazine’s mistake.
“This has upset me, has made me angry, it has made me feel very disrespected and to me is unacceptable and inexcusable under any circumstances,” Akech captioned a photo of the magazine’s interview. “Not only do I personally feel insulted and disrespected but I feel like my entire race has been disrespected too and it is why I feel it is important that I address this issue. Whoever did this clearly the thought that was me in that picture and that’s not okay. This is a big deal because of what I spoke about in my interview,” she continued. What Akech says she spoke of in the feature was the general view towards “refugees and peoples attitude to color,” which is what makes WHO Magazine‘s error all the more disrespectful.
“By this happening I feel like it defeated the purpose of what I stand for and spoke about. It goes to show that people are very ignorant and narrow-minded that they think every black girl or African people looks the same. I feel as though this would’ve not happened to a white model,” Akech went on.
In the comments section of the post, Akech received support from fellow models. Bethann Hardison commented, “This is unfortunate and so not cool. Mixing up identity has happen to white models, just not as often,” before adding, “But to do a feature article and they put the wrong image of the person, is less than ignorance, it’s laziness.” Karen Elson also voiced her support. “This happens a lot and I’ve been witness to it. Personally I think a lot of magazines don’t have a diverse staff nor are educated in recognizing their own white privilege and bias,” she said. Duckie Thot echoed that she has had a similar experience “with another Australian paper.”
Akech noted in her caption that the publication had already apologized to her directly, but felt the need to “publicly address the issue.” She also urged publications to fact check before publishing anything, especially when it comes to an interview about a matter as serious as the discussion of refugee camps. Unfortunately, the mislabeling of models—particularly black models and other people of color—is a mistake that is all too commonly made.