Model Squad is a new program on E! which follows the lives of nine NYC fashion models as they attempt to navigate the industry, as well as their personal lives. On a recent episode, model Shanina Shaik spoke about how hard it was being a woman of color and breaking into the industry. When another model commented that their white colleagues would have trouble relating to what it's like, white model Devon Windsor insisted she'd seen similar hardships:
I literally f***ing went through hell, and literally lived in different countries like every other month, and didn't speak that language, didn't speak Paris, didn't speak Italian. And I did that for like two years.
Shaik began the conversation by speaking about the discrimination all women of color face while trying to become models:
I used to get bullied. Because of my skin color, I wasn't gonna be able to do high fashion. A lot of black girls would have to miss Milan [Fashion Week] because they weren't able to walk in the shows because they don't want girls of that color.
Multiple times, model Ping Hue tried to communicate to her white colleagues that they weren't familiar with the same kind of struggles women of color had to face, but Windsor insisted she had things just as hard:
Do you know how hard it is to be blonde? I have to get a highlight every month.
Rachel Elizabeth Cargle wrote about scenarios just like this one in The Toxic White Feminism Playbook, in which Windsor's behavior is referred to as "Centering:"
White women get so caught up in how they feel in a moment of black women expressing themselves that they completely vacuum the energy, direction, and point of the conversation to themselves and their feelings. They start to explain why race is hard for them to talk about, what they think would be a better solution to the topic at hand, and perhaps what women of color can do to make it more palatable.
On Twitter, the backlash against Windsor was immediate:
Clearly, if you're comparing systemic racism to your highlights, you've taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Windsor was mocked mercilessly from all sides...
It never looks good, when hearing about someone else's struggle, to insist you have it worse...especially when you clearly didn't.
Windsor later took to Twitter to apologize, while also insisting the scene was heavily edited to make her comments look worse than they actually were.
Fellow model from the show, Olivia Culpo, backed up Windsor and showed her support.
It's hard to know which parts of the conversation were edited and which weren't, but one lesson we've learned is that when a person of color is telling you their experience with racism, it's not an invitation to try and one-up them.
Hopefully, Devon Windosr learned this lesson well.