"The fashion industry needs to become educated…and fast," Yai said in an essay penned for O, The Oprah Magazine

By Kaitlyn Frey
June 09, 2020 01:27 PM
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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty; Dominique Charriau/WireImage

As millions of Americans voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and vowed to stand in solidarity with the Black community, Roitfeld, 65, posted a photo hugging Yai, 22, with the caption "Miss you." Fashion industry watchdog Instagram account Diet Prada also reported that the editor replied to a comment on the post writing, "Anok is not a black woman, she is my friend."

Roitfeld's post has since been deleted, along with a public apology shared on Instagram. And now Yai is sharing her own insight on the situation.

In a candid essay written for O, The Oprah Magazine titled, "Anok Yai Says Black Models Shouldn't Have to Educate the Fashion Industry About Racism," the model opens up about Roitfeld's "insensitive" and "jarring" remark.

"A lot of people have asked what my reaction was to an insensitive post from a friend of mine on Instagram last week," Yai wrote. "Of course, it was jarring — and it was just one of many similar microaggressions I’ve experienced during my time in fashion. But the bigger point I'd like to focus on is that the fashion industry needs to become educated…and fast."

Carine Roitfeld and Anok Yai
Diet Prada/Instagram

Yai continued by explaining that many people in the industry expect Black individuals to educate them about Black history, racial injustice and microaggressions. But that shouldn't be the case.

"Educate yourself and come prepared. It’s your job. The world is changing right before our very eyes, and we won’t be tolerant of intolerance any longer," she said.

Yai, an Egyptian-born fashion model of South Sudanese decent, grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and made history in 2018 when she became the first black model to open a Prada show in 20 years. (Before Yai, Naomi Campbell opened the runway in 1997.) At the time she called it an "honor" and a moment "bigger" than herself.

Anok Yai

Roitfeld issued a lengthy apology on her Instagram after posting the photo with Yai and said she understands how it caused "further pain and hurt" in the Black community.

"I am learning from this experience and will continue to use my platform and voice to create opportunities for change," Roitfeld said. "Anok you are a beautiful, strong and talented Black woman and I meant absolutely no harm. I only meant to send a message of support to you and your family. I vow to continue to focus my efforts and stand up to these injustices to support and further create opportunities that amplify the black community and their voices in the fight against systemic racism."

"Please know that I have read all of your comments and I hear you," she continued. "I made a grave error and ask not to be judged by my words, but by my actions now and going forward."

Yai commented on Roitfeld's apology Instagram post with a prayer hand and two heart emojis.

Roitfeld also gave a statement to PEOPLE. "I was devastated by my misjudgment and the comments, but completely understand my mistake and why it was inappropriate," she said. "I apologized personally to Anok and then afterwards to the world on social media. I learned a lot from the comments and they will help me to keep fighting for opportunities to support the Black community, both immediately in fashion and our greater world moving forward."

The statement continued: "As a mother, grandmother, sister and fashion editor, I have been proud of my efforts in celebrating the beauty and importance of Black voices through past shows, covers, campaigns and stories, but I now realize that’s not enough. I am taking this experience very personally and thinking of more meaningful ways I can further support and create opportunities to amplify the Black community and their voices in the fight against systemic oppression, racism and police brutality. The fashion world is fueled by the creativity and culture of the Black community and credit needs to be given where it has always been deserved. I have platforms I can use for this and it must be done. I hope that people can judge me by my actions and not my words. My language was wrong, but my heart knows what is right."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.