See What Model Ebonee Davis Had to Say About Racism in Fashion

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30:  Model Ebonee Davis attends "Queen Sugar" season finale viewing party at Buffalo Wild Wings on November 30, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by CJ Rivera/Getty Images)

See What Model Ebonee Davis Had to Say About Racism in Fashion

“We can, and have, and will rise out of the ashes, and become examples of resilience, drive, and excellence.”

Published February 17, 2017

Model Ebonee Davis is one of the biggest rising stars in the fashion industry. She’s starred in massive Calvin Klein campaigns, graced the pages of Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition, walked in countless shows and been featured in countless magazine spreads. 

Union Square 🗽 @calvinklein I am like no one else in #mycalvins

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But it wasn’t exactly an easy journey to success, nor does she find her career perfect now. In a powerful, must-watch TED Talk, the 23-year-old model detailed the pervasive racism she’s experienced in the industry, concluding with an uplifting screed on Black Girl Magic. 

Davis starts out by describing how she began relaxing her hair at the age of four, convinced by the media and the world at large that what she already had wasn’t beautiful. "To be born Black in America is to be born into a world that makes you feel inferior before you can even take your first step,” she said. “It is to be under constant spiritual and mental attack."

She detailed moving to New York from Seattle as a teenager to model, where people in the industry frequently asked “where she was from.” She told them she was from Seattle.

<<TED TALK LINK IN BIO>> About a week ago, I got an email from Bret at University of Nevada TEDx program, informing me that my talk was edited and would be up online within a few hours. I waited and waited and checked the TED site compulsively to see where my talk was but, even after days, I couldn't find it. I started to worry that there was something wrong. I had worked so hard and I was anxious to see the outcome. What was the delay? Was there a problem? Then, yesterday, I got an email. "Ebonee’s video was chosen by our editorial team to be notified to our 6 million subscribers tomorrow at 2:00pm. It will be live then." I busted out in tears!!! (Keep in mind I'm backstage at a fashion show so I'm looking crazy by this point and trying not to destroy my makeup lol) MY talk was CHOSEN! If you knew how much I've overcome to get to this point, you'd understand what I'm feeling right now. You'd understand what this moment means. I didn't even love myself a year ago. I was still trying to be something I'm not to fit a mold that wasn't made for me. This journey, this evolution into self-love is something I wish for each and every person on this planet. Keep dreaming. Keep pushing. Keep resisting. KEEP YOUR HEAD UP! Don't let anyone tell you your dreams aren't valid. I dedicate this to Malcolm, Martin, Assata, Pac, Lauryn, my great-grandfather 'Big Daddy' rest in peace and above all GOD. Thank you for giving my life purpose. Thank you for the platform. Thank you for the mic. Thank you for the voice. Thank you for the words. Before I stepped out on stage I said, "use me." and that's exactly what he did. All glory to God. I AM MY ANCESTORS WILDEST DREAM. <<TED TALK LINK IN BIO>>

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"I figured that once I got a contract, the industry would open up for me," Davis said. "But at every turn, I was met with resistance. I had white agents with no knowledge of Black hair care run their fingers through my hair and tell me things like, 'We already have a girl with your look.' Translation: All Black girls look the same."

She was hurt by agents telling her, “We just don’t know what to do with you.” Her face was “painted grey” by makeup artists, stylists burned and pulled out her hair to the point where she “had to start over,” and she was discouraged from wearing her hair natural (she did it anyway). 

"I was told not to work for publications like Essence and Ebony magazines, because if I got labeled an 'urban model,' the fashion industry would close its doors to me," she said. She appeared in the March issue of Essence. Her career is bigger than ever. 

Despite everything she’s gone through, Davis continues to rise in the industry, and due to her fame and success, she has a powerful platform to speak out about inclusion (she does not want to be the one Black model, checking some kind of box, but rather see representation across the board).

“Despite the great injustices we face as Black women, we can, and have, and will rise out of the ashes, and become examples of resilience, drive, and excellence,” she said. “I like to call this Black Girl Magic. And with this magic we are creating our own publications, we are creating our own television shows. We are creating our own narrative.”

Watch the talk below.

Written by Jocelyn Silver

(Photo: CJ Rivera/Getty Images)

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