This was supposed to be a groundbreaking moment. “To me, it was a really big deal because I had never seen a woman in a hijab in Vogue and I’ve been reading Vogue since I was a kid,” journalist, activist and speaker Noor Tagouri says in an interview with Fashionista. That excitement quickly turned to devastation when, upon opening the February issue of Vogue at JFK airport on Thursday morning, Tagouri discovered her Givenchy-clad self identified as Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari. The heartbreaking moment was filmed by Tagouri’s husband Adam Khafif in an attempt to capture what was supposed to be a celebratory time.
“I thought it was a typo,” she recalls, before quickly realizing it was not. “I can give you 10 times off the top of my head, including today, where people have misrepresented and misidentified my work or my career. I’ve had a job in journalism since I was 15 years old. That has been the only [field] I’ve ever worked in and it’s so hard to get that recognition because people are so baffled by the fact that someone that looks like me does work. And it’s because it never fits their narrative and that’s what’s most frustrating.”
The reaction from the public reflected an equal disappointment, as well as anger. Activist and writer Fawzia Mirza wrote her own response: “Come on Vogue, this woman is changing lives and narratives for Muslims and women around the world, and yet y’all got the most basic thing wrong — HER NAME. But y’all got the designers’ names right. Oh, also wrong? HER RACE. Are all Muslim women interchangeable?”
“It’s heartbreaking to watch this video, to see the moment Noor deflates when her dream of being in Vogue is ruined by ignorance and misrepresentation. We have so much more work to do,” wrote Away co-founder Jen Rubio.
An editor’s note affixed to the digital version of the article notes “sincere regret” and a statement posted to the brand’s Instagram and Twitter accounts say the publication is “sincerely sorry for the mistake,” calling it a “painful misstep.” The statement continues: “We also understand that there is a larger issue of misidentification in media — especially among nonwhite subjects. We will try to be more thoughtful and careful in our work going forward, and we apologize for any embarrassment this has caused Tagouri and Bukhari.”
“This never would have [happened] if there were people of color in leadership,” a former Vogue employee, who wished to remain anonymous, says in an interview. “There is a deep-seated discomfort with diversity at that brand, and it permeates through every inch of their DNA from the top down.”
It’s not the first time that Tagouri, a Muslim American born in West Virginia, who lived in Alabama and grew up in Southern Maryland, has been misidentified or misrepresented “to the point of putting [her] life in danger.” In January 2017, Tagouri was misidentified as the widow of the Pulse nightclub shooter by Raw Story. Just last month, another Condé Nast publication, Brides Magazine, used Noor’s photos in a spread she calls “incredibly misrepresentative.” As a result, Tagouri took preventive measures in the lead-up to the Vogue issue release in an attempt to avoid such a potentially harmful error. She says she was ignored.
“Muslim women — especially in America — when it comes to representation in the media, they are not only overlooked, they are constantly put in harm’s way and put in danger, and I have worked my entire career to combat that, not just for Muslim women, but for all marginalized communities. That’s why I think it’s ironic that despite this being the work that I do, it’s what happens to me constantly,” says Tagouri. “I’ve never really said that out loud until now, but now thinking about it, I’ve realized that my assumption going into interviews is that they are going to mess up a fact or do some kind of misrepresentation because my experience more often than not has been that.”
“People don’t always see you as an actual human being,” she continues. “They see you as something that can fit into their narrative, and that’s what’s so dangerous about it because most of our narratives that are being misrepresented are actually being weaponized against us and demonized.”
But Tagouri wants to seize on this moment as a teachable one in the hopes of eradicating such misidentification and misrepresentation in the future. “I’ve been in touch with people at Vogue all day and they’ve been so incredibly apologetic. I had a great conversation with their executive editor about not just putting a Band-Aid on this, how we can use this as a wake-up call for a publication that has a long way to go,” she says. “They have a lot of work to do when it comes to representation and diversity and inclusion, and it can’t just be to fill a quote or tokenize a people. It has to be because you care about these communities that you’ve overlooked for so long.”
When it comes to Vogue, Tagouri says she wants to be an ally and at their service so that they can recognize and react to what she calls “deeply-rooted flaws.”
“Why not cater to the communities you are so-called ‘serving’? That’s where the disconnect is,” she says. “It cannot be because you want to add a little bit of color to the pages; you want to throw in a little bit of diversity so you don’t look horrible. It has to be because you deeply believe in this, and that’s where the change will be.”