Diversity Dopeness on Project Runway Season 16

Project Runway (PR) Season 16 proves how dope real diversity is because real diversity has no time for tokenism. And real diversity shows you that no ethnic group is a monolith – rather, it includes many different types of folks. Just as there are many variations on the theme of whiteness, there are black people who: are same-sex loving, embrace a variety of denominations, consider themselves unicorns, ski in Utah, eat sushi and much more.


I have loved PR for years since its inception based on the designers’ sheer talent level and the innovation of each week’s creative challenge but also because there was always at least a designer or two of color.  But now the show is really taking off.  The new season began with sixteen designers (including five white, seven black (from all over the Diaspora), one Japanese, one Puerto Rican, one Mexican, one Taiwanese).  (Stirred into this mix is also a set of irritating twins, a gender fluid person, a few gay folks, and a Muslim.) Two of the black designers have already bid “aufwiedersehen” but because there was no tokenism, there were no cries of racist foul about their departures. Both displayed shortcomings in the design execution area so the boot they got was fair.

And that’s not all that’s new. This season the runway showcases models who rock sizes 2-22 and several are black, brown and beige, with a flourish of varied hair styles from natural curls to a full panoply of wigs, extensions and weaves.  These models get speaking parts, too, rather than being resigned to manikin status so we hear them discuss the fit as well as the feel of the clothes they must wear. One model, who claims the “plus-size Naomi” crown, even announced – despite one outfit’s obvious shortcomings – that she would nonetheless “work it”.    

With such a non-homogeneous crew, the weekly judges are able to recognize and reward artistic talent only without concern for politically correct or incorrect issues. When you have legit diversity (instead of “diversity-lite”) the entire entity is enriched by the experiences and cultural history each person brings to the competition.

Curious to see if other viewers were as excited as me, I read a bunch of blogs reflecting on this show’s new season. For the most part, people tended to focus on the size diversity.  Why are many of us so afraid to touch the race and gender potpourri, which to me are even more powerful?

We really need to stop being hesitant and careful about discussing race. If we didn’t know before Charlottesville, we definitely should know now that there are people who want nothing less than all people of color (and those who think colorful lives matter) erased from the earth, aka dead and would actually enjoy watching them die, to the point of running them over with cars. This is a hell of a thing to have to swallow so I understand that some of us would rather pretend racism is a relic of the past but Charlottesville proves it is very much in the realness realm. In addition to the violence purveyors, there are also those white folks who think it is okay to discriminate and prefer not to live near or interact with people of color.

Racism is not going to disappear calmly into the sunset and has to be dealt with on many levels. One level that colleges, institutions, governments, corporate offices could learn from is the way PR achieved diversity this season. Throw the old rules out. Be daring and unafraid to enlist more people of color than everyone else in your field.  Just do it – what a concept!

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