Gatwech was the victim of a racist tweet by a prominent psychiatrist and has made a career despite industry prejudice
“Would he consider his wife or his child a freak of Nature?” Nyakim Gatwech wonders after Nyakim Gatwech was the victim of a racist scandal that rocked an Ivy League university. “His words affect me and all dark-skinned girls, including those who have been to Columbia, or any girl with darker skin who wants to visit there. It can have a profound effect on her, especially if it comes from a psychiatrist.”
Jeffrey Lieberman is a US-based clinician who has been a top choice for over two decades. He was the long-standing chair of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry. His research and publications about schizophrenia were highly respected. The former president of American Psychiatric Association was known for another thing last month.
Lieberman, who seemed out of place, retweeted a picture of Gatwech and called her a “freak” of nature. This was because the original post had used the pronoun it to refer to Gatwech, while falsely claiming that she was the Guinness Book’s person with the darkest skin.
Lieberman’s fallout was prompt. Within days he was suspended from his post at Columbia, stripped of his psychiatrist-in-chief position at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian hospital and asked to resign as director of the New York state psychiatric institute – a post that paid him almost $250,000. Lieberman was also widely condemned online and met with scorn from many of his colleagues in New York’s elite medical field. According to a former colleague, Lieberman is a destructive personality who did a lot of damage and who is now being held responsible after decades of impunity.
Lieberman sent an email to his university cohorts. He wrote: “An apology from me to the Black community, women and all of you isn’t enough.” Nyakim Gatwech took a screenshot before his tweet and Twitter accounts vanished.
Gatwech has seen white people gaze at her all her life as if they were modern-day Hottentot Venus. This is a common stereotype of African female curiosity. She has not let the demeaning comments stop her from going after a career in fashion modeling, even though she is at risk of being subject to more discrimination in an industry that is notorious for it. While many industry players were quick to support the George Floyd-born antiracism movement and promise greater inclusion, Black fashion model still struggle to break through. The same problems of cultural appropriation, and racism persist.
Gatwech is determined to be like Duckie Thot, Alek Wek, and other dark-skinned models around the world. Gatwech worked as a Minneapolis teacher, a Buffalo, New York Panera Bread manager, and was pursuing an education degree. She also collaborated with photographers to create her own photoshoots and posted her favorites to Instagram.
Through the following, she was known as the “queen of darkness” due to her cultivated reputation. This nickname probably helped Guinness take on a new life.
Lieberman retweeted the photo of Gatwech on a hotel bed, mock-reading a newspaper. It was taken from a shoot she did two years ago. She says that this incident would have affected her for years.
Gatwech has been through a lot in her 29-year-old years. While pregnant, her mother fled war-torn South Sudan. She was born in an Ethiopian refugee camp and lived in Kenya for nine years until she immigrated to Buffalo, at the age of 16.
In addition to the ridicule for her inability to speak English, there were also constant racist comments made about her skin tone. She recalls, “I used to sit in the classroom and all the other students would jump up, as if I had some sort of disease, or that my clothes weren’t clean, or whatever.” “And some of them were other Black children, to be very honest with you. They were social distancing from my family.”
Gatwech recalls the moment when the projector’s lights went out in the classroom. When she raised her hand, a classmate wouldn’t mind asking her: “Can you even view her?”
Gatwech was bullied and had to weigh her options for bleaching her skin, something she did with her older sister. Gatwech recalls that she was like, “Here are the products but it’s no way to solve anything.” “As you grow older and get further along your career, people will still say things about your skin color. It’s important to learn to love yourself and not let these people’s opinions affect your life.”
They began a daily routine of affirmations, remembering their mother’s sacrifices to get them this far. The family decided to move to Minneapolis when the racial and racist taunts became too much. They found immediate community among the local east African expats. After her confidence had returned, Gatwech began to consider a career as a model while binge-watching America’s Next Top Model after school. She says, “When Tyra Banks was on my radar, I thought, ‘Wow, she can do that, I can too’.” “But that was before it occurred to me that my skin tone isn’t really accepted in this industry.”
After conducting independent research on colorism, she came up with the idea of a shoot featuring Black women from all skin tones. It was an outtake in which she sat next to a model with fair skin who launched her career. Gatwech says that she was the one who pretended to be her manager for my three first big campaigns. She Googled various rates to find out what she could charge for the work.
It is frustrating to see model agencies still hold on to their narrow views regarding rostering Black models. Gatwech said that “If an agency has a Sudanese model with dark skin, they will continue to work alongside her.” She attended the Twin Cities Black Lives Matter rallies after Floyd’s death. But that doesn’t reflect diversity. “Why can’t there be only one?”
Gatwech has been on the rise in social media, but has not yet signed a contract with a major modeling agency. Gatwech, who divides her time between New York City and Los Angeles, says that there has not been a chance where a brand said, “We want you to be on the cover of a magazine.” “At the very least, not yet.” She believes God has a plan for her.