01/23/2014 10:25 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Thoughts on the "Black Woman Chair" Scandal

After the uproar triggered by a Russian socialite earlier this week, I'm not sure what's most appalling, the pre or post-scandal picture.

Here is the pre-scandal picture.


Image from Buro 247 magazine.

In a photo originally published on her new on-line magazine, Dasha Zhukova is seen sitting on a chair shaped in a Black woman's body in bondage regalia. After the Internet descended upon Zhukova and showed the might of its wrath, the picture was changed. Normally, a minimum dose of common sense would prompt the party at fault to replace the photo with a completely different picture. Surely, during the photoshoot they would have taken a variety of pictures, with different scenery, angles, etc. Well, not these folks. In their minds, it seems that a quick little cropping of the photo sufficed. Woof, situation handled in 0.35 seconds. YAAAS!

Here is the post-scandal picture.


Image from Buro 247 magazine.

The picture is still upsetting, because even after Zhukova went through the trouble of cropping the Black woman-object out of the picture, we still know what she's sitting on, namely the figure of a contorted Black woman in bondage. Maybe the black heels in the background are the dead giveaway.

Although, Zhukova is a beautiful woman, according to European standards, a pungent ugliness pervades the post-scandal picture. Those bodiless legs that Zhukova is seemingly unfazed by are haunting because of the symbolism they evoke.

The post-scandal picture speaks to an underlying malaise we are experiencing in contemporary times. Contrary to yesteryears, when the oppression and inequalities which resulted from imperialism and class privilege were galaxies away from those benefiting from it, today's awareness of those injustices is higher than ever.

There is a panoply of images, reports, videos, books which inform us that rather than being a symptom of a failed system, exploitation is rather the Ying to our capitalism's Yang, bonded together in an indivisible whole. The technologies we've become dependant on, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, all come with a varying degree of exploitation. Prior to getting to our tables, or chronically failing to quench our consumerist thirst, these goods were in the hands of humans we have sat on. The most beautiful veneers can no longer hide them, those haunting heels forever present. Of course, there will be those who will convince themselves that these legs (figurative or real) are not legs, but art. To them, I ask, is willful ignorance as blissful as the unsolicited kind? Or does one need to perpetually increase the dosage of delusion to avoid a trip back to reality? The time were black bodies were treated as chattel is still very much a living memory.

But to come back to Zhukova, her pervading ugliness in this photo might be explained by the fact that in her empty gaze, we see a reflection of the nameless, countless souls people have sat on and continue to sit on. Souls that, more often than not, belong to colored bodies, female bodies at the complete end of a system based on "imperialist white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy," as bell hooks would put it. In real life, such ugliness is not in the eye of the beholder, and cropping alone cannot mitigate the damage.