While Banks thought she was being loving toward Richardson, in hindsight, their interaction came across as a woman in a powerful position using said power to destroy the confidence of another Black woman. It didn’t feel like love; it felt cruel. But in our cultural consciousness during the time of the episode, and in our memory, it felt like little more than a joke, as many moments of reality television do. In the context of a reality show, it’s easier for viewers to laugh off something harmful than to really engage with it as we’re doing more than a decade later.
Though the “we were all rooting for you moment” is emblazoned in our brains, it’s not the only time Banks targeted Black models, in particular, on ANTM. Twitter user @moneymakinmuva and others have been chronicling many of ANTM’s most problematic moments, including a white model being photographed in Blackface and a clip of Banks mocking Dani Evans, a cycle six contestant, for refusing to cosmetically close the gap between her two front teeth. We’ve known for a long time that Banks made several mistakes on ANTM. In fact, media critic Jennifer L. Pozner (who has contributed to Bitch) wrote in her 2010 book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, that “America’s Next Top Model is a perfect case study of how violent imagery plays out in the reality TV landscape.”
She wrote about the show’s sadism, which “pioneered a whole new standard of placing women in danger, sometimes imaginary and sometimes all too real,” and made pain a “basis upon which the girls were judged, in contests requiring the women to repeatedly fall from platforms and crash onto barely padded surfaces, recline in bikinis on ice sculptures in frigid rooms, and so on.” But such feminist statements weren’t as readily palatable in 2010, and it was easier for consumers to continue to watch mainstream, racist, fatphobic content than to find spaces that encouraged analysis and questioning of their everyday pop culture consumption. Our reaction to these unearthed ANTM clips says much more about our changing cultural consciousness, especially regarding beauty, than it does about how we regard Banks as a cultural figure