Black women are taking to social media to discuss their personal outrage about casual disrespect and racism at work. The online conversation came about after Anok Yai’s recent retelling of a public display of racism. The event happened while working for the fast fashion brand Zara. The supermodel shocked many after sharing what she endured while modeling for the Spanish brand in 2019. With the now-deleted thread on X, Anok Yai pointed a spotlight on the issue of colorism and racism being dismissed as normal parts of the working environment for Black women.

What Happened to Anok Yai?

Anok Yai detailed her experience working for Zara where she was called a “cockroach” by a photographer on set.

“On the last 2nd to last day the makeup artist starts powdering my face and the photographer puts his camera down and yells, ‘Lotion la cucaracha [lotion the cockroach],’” wrote Yai.

She shares that everyone on set was smiling and laughing. Despite this, Yai details that her decision to endure this insult came from her realization that “at the end of the day I’m young, I’m alone, I’m black… anything that I do will affect me, my family, and other black models.”

Afterwards, Yai complained and expressed that she refused to go on set if the photographer was going to be present. She was assured by someone from the team that he would be fired. They stated that they “don’t accept that type of behaviour,” explained Yai. When Yai arrived on set the next day, the photographer was still working. Yai notes there was added disrespect as the photographer walked by her and smiled. Afterwards, someone from the team pulled Yai aside. They said

“I asked the team what happened and they said you made it up. Honestly, whenever you come here, you’re never smiling and you’re never happy to be here,” Yai shared the team member said to her.

This led Yai to the point of tears. Her tears were not met with empathy, rather disbelief.

“But I could tell she wanted me to sit down and shut up so I forces them to call my car to the airport and pay my full rate regardless,” Yai explained.

The Cycle of Endured Disrespect

The consequences of this disrespect followed Yai beyond this shoot. The supermodel explains that she wanted to share her experience with magazines but was advised against it. Calling for justice against racism and racial discrimination had to take a back seat as it often does for Black women who wish to get ahead in their careers. Yai reveals that she was told to consider the effect it would have on her career.

“That was my first (and not only) time being blacklisted,” she explained

The display of racism speaks to the assumed powerlessness of Black women at work. The photographer, who remains nameless and unpunished, flaunted his disregard for Yai, and Black women in general, by not even attempting to hide his racism. By joking with other team members, he proved what many Black women know or have experienced first-hand, that Black women’s emotional safety at work is rarely honored.

What Social Media Had to Say

Besides the fact that many called for the photographer to be named and shamed, the comments all shared a similar sentiment. The general feeling online was a sense of solidarity and even affirmation. “I believe you”, one user wrote, proving that often, Black women go without the affirmation of support. Black women are often not believed when sharing their experiences. Others declared a boycott of Zara, calling them out as a toxic brand with a history of disrespecting Black models.

Many were outraged at how unprotected Black women are in the modeling industry and working environments in general.

“That’s the thing about being Black in the workplace, it’s everyone’s word against yours,” one person commented.

The comment expanded on the idea of Blackness being disrespected due to a lack of Black people in managerial positions.

“There aren’t a lot of Black people in leadership and positions of power so nobody feels like they have to watch their mouth with you. Everyone knows that you’re not protected and everybody knows that they can get away with way more than you can,” read another comment, showing how unequal power dynamics invite racism.

Other users said they experienced a similar form of racial abuse. One person commented that they were likened to a roach at school by favorite teachers and chose to tough it out to avoid being seen as the “angry Black woman.” In instances like these, it is clear that a shared experience of Black womanhood globally, is to remain peaceful and composed to avoid blame being shifted onto them. Anok Yai states that the incident happened in 2019. Only 5 years later does she feel safe to recount the event and name the brand. Noticeably, Yai doesn’t name the photographer who caused the racial distress. The casual disrespect often goes unpunished by the wider community until Black women have safe spaces to speak about it.