It's 2018, but Sana Safinaz still doesn't understand racism

It's 2018, but Sana Safinaz still doesn't understand racism

Not a first time offender, Sana Safinaz's latest lawn campaign bears some troubling racist undertones
Updated 09 Mar, 2018

It's lawn season again, and you know what that means — nope, not summery breezey joras — we're talking about scandal.

Designer brand Sana Safinaz's highly anticipated lawn catalogue has sparked online outrage this week for its racist representation of the Masai people.

The catalogue, which was shot in the Masai Mara national park of Kenya, features tribespeople positioned with Sana Safinaz's lawn-clad models.

So is it really racism?

While we can't speak to the intention behind the campaign, the concept and styling of Sana Safinaz's campaign immediately insinuate a power differential between the Pakistani models and the Masai models -- and that's a problem.

In one photograph a Masai tribesman holds an umbrella over a model's head. One can't help but view this photograph as glamourising servitude; when you take into account the African continent's history with slavery the image becomes even more troubling. Historically, black bodies have been treated as objects to either serve or entertain their colonisers, and reinforcing this stereotype in a photograph is just plain wrong.

Another photo features several tribespeople performing around a model who appears to assert her authority with a dominant hands-on-hip pose. A third image features a model resting her elbow on a Kenyan man, as if he's an inanimate object.

The images are uncomfortable because they appear to be using the Masai people as props.

We would've liked to see our Pakistani models genuinely interacting with the local population, becoming one with the environment rather than adopting a posture of haughty dominance.

We're not the only ones who think this.

The images have elicited a backlash on social media, with commentators calling the campaign "offensive" and "racist."

The brand deleted some comments from their official social media account, yet the criticism continued to pour in:

Twitter called them out on being repeat offenders.

Many are just surprised that tone-deafness like this could occur in 2018.

Update: Sana Safinaz has issued an apology for their lawn catalogue, saying that they did not intend to offend anyone and that their intention was to "showcase [their] product in a different way, never to exploit or conjure up negative thoughts or ideas":

Lawn 2018

A post shared by Sana Safinaz (@sanasafinazofficial) on


Shakeel Mar 09, 2018 03:58pm
We live in a country were most people are racially the same. The only place people will see someone racially different from them in Pakistan, is likely to be on TV. Pakistan doesn't have a history of mistreating black Africans or the guilt associated with colonialism. For a photoshoot to be done depicting tribal Africans in the background, isn't really racist in the Pakistani world, because the intention is not to undermine the Africans as lesser people in those images. There is no history of doing that, no context. We also live in a "global village", the world is smaller than ever and designers should be a bit more aware of what their images and ideas might be understood as on the international market.
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irfan Mar 09, 2018 04:11pm
It's just make a mountain out of the molehill.
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Amer Rao Mar 09, 2018 04:14pm
No, its not raciest ad. Its simple the culture. When you visit some new places, you just try to capture the local culture.
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Wasif M Khan Mar 09, 2018 04:23pm
Very heartening that so many people actually noticed the affront to humanity. Given how pathetically low we've sunk as a civilized nation, this is the most surprising (though pleasantly) thing for me. The 21 'no big deal' only testifies to the appalling insensitivity we still have to deal with
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saqib Mar 09, 2018 04:59pm
Pakistanis and indians never really understood the concept of reason, only when it is directed at us brown people from the white man. Works both ways apparently
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Tina Mar 09, 2018 05:04pm
I think that's what the brand wanted; to be talked about. Of course they would have known this but it seems a deliberate attempt of popularizing their ads whether in a good sense or not. Negative publicity is also a publicity after all.
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Sadaf Shahzad Mar 09, 2018 05:12pm
You forgot to take screen shots from their campaign videos that showed these models with face paint similar to what many African tribes apply for their religious and traditional ceremonies. Taking bits and pieces from African culture and using them to adorn your lawn campaign was blatant cultural appropriation. The way the locals are depicted is completely racist and promotes the ideas of colorism and colonialism. Seeing as how the subcontinent remained a British colony for 200 years, you'd think that the people behind this campaign would remember the suffering of their ancestors and elders (who are still living btw) but no, these people disrespected the martyrs of their own country too. The worst part is Sana Safinaz continues to post images and posts of this campaign all over without a single hint of apology. They could not get any lower. Shame on them!
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Fan Mar 09, 2018 05:22pm
@Shakeel The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It doesn't matter if SS didn't "intend" for it to be racist. It is perceived as racist. The H&M shirt which featured a black kid wearing a T shirt that said "coolest monkey in the jungle" was also not intended to be racist but it was. H&M apologised. Will SS do the same?
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Najum Mar 09, 2018 07:18pm
It's actually very racist, indeed.
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anum Mar 09, 2018 07:52pm
useless brand. resorting to cheap tactics to stay in the news.
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Kashif Malik Mar 09, 2018 08:35pm
The brand has 'cleverly' achieved the publicity within no time.
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Pakistani1971 Mar 09, 2018 09:57pm
Pakistani people should boycott Sana Safinaz's products and Sana Safinaz should apologize for this kind of advertisement and promotion.
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Faisal Khan Mar 09, 2018 10:59pm
They did well while going to Kenya and taking the pictures and giving jobs to local people. But i dnt like how they are using it for branding. The good way was to take shoots with the people from Kenya in a way like humans do. It feels like they are the servants of this fashion girl. I am okay with doing a job, but everybody has some self respect. I am okay with some people being rich, but being a poor does not mean, that they need rich people. I am sure, they must have taken pictures of giving some love to those people, why not use those pictures while dancing with them for the advertisements.
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Shahryar Mar 10, 2018 12:30am
@Shakeel I would have to disagree Pakistan has a lot of ethnic diversity and understanding that this diversity is a strength for us is important. At the same time South Asian culture has a history of looking down on dark skin and valuing lighter skinned people. We need to acknowledge this ignorance in our culture to be able to overcome it. I've spoken to highly educated people who show these biases and racism. There is a lack of ethical education, training and grooming in our society.
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BRR Mar 10, 2018 02:07am
People like her are tonedeaf
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TRUTHBETOLD Mar 10, 2018 02:42am
@saqib "Pakistanis and indians never really understood..." Bhai, can you leave Indians out of your conversations for once? Pak-Ind bhai bhai when it comes to appropriating shame, but sworn enemies when it comes to everything else. How convenient!
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dawn Mar 10, 2018 03:37am
It surely is not racist. The Masai entertain visitors to Masai Mara (that is where these pics are shot) with their cultural performances - for a fee. Every tourists form around the world has this opportunity.
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Nusrat Mar 10, 2018 05:50am
Every one of us understand what’s racism but either don’t bother or do it deliberately to assert our own ethnic complexes,that we exhibit within our own races and within our own societies devided on cast, linguistic and ethnic bases!!In a country where people vote on ethnic and lingual grounds rather than bring a change in their own life and rest of country, what do you expect from such a devided and insensitive society to do some thing sensible regarding any aspect of some moral and social responsibilities.
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sajid Rafique Mar 10, 2018 09:47am
As a pakistani child in east pakistan, i realized at an early age that we were being racist against the darker skinned bengali pakistanis.
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Haider Rizvi Mar 10, 2018 10:33am
It could have been creative if locals were wearing the targeted theme clothes instead of wanna be nasty looking racist model.
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nida Mar 10, 2018 12:41pm
It may be termed unethical way of advertising. But to call it racism is wrong in my opinion!
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Ali Mar 10, 2018 01:17pm
Happens.. When you take ur ideas from foreign fashion magazines and try to blend that with ur brand. Total mess
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Roz Mar 12, 2018 07:21am
Great publicity stunt by the ladies bravo
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mehreen Mar 13, 2018 08:36pm
That's just so sad. and what makes me even more sad is the fact that the moment this lawn will hit the stores, they will forget all and still rush to get the first print, stitched first and displayed on their bodies first...all while fueling and further funding this campaign. Maybe living outside of Pakistan, its easy to say i'll boycott their designs this year since I wear desi clothes on occasion but if i were in the country i'd do the same. I encourage you to think twice before purchasing the new fashion wave that's about to hit the markets.
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