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The Fashion Press Picks Up On Dolce and Gabbana's 'Racist' Earrings, But Are They Really Offensive?

The offending Dolce and Gabbana SS13 earrings

In at interesting case of delayed reaction the world fashion press are reporting on the racially suggestive Spring Summer 2013 collection by Sicilian design duo Dolce & Gabbana. The collection which incorporates elements of Sicilian culture also includes faces of black women in the form of earrings and are incorporated into some of the collections print. Though it was the collections earrings which have the fashion press doing a hissy fit.

According to the design duo who are known for using their cultural heritage as inspiration for their collections, the black female faces represents Sicily's history of African moor settlers from the 10th century and fits into the collections use of other Sicilian cultural references.
Many of the articles focusing on these 'racist' earrings explain that this 'mammy' or 'blackamoor' looking jewellery are derogative and serves only to romanticize slavery. I'd care to disagree!


With all this fuss over the black female face on these earrings the press seem not to have noticed that the earrings also came with white female faces in the same style. Clearly the image of a white female draped in fine jewellery and wearing a head dress is far more digestible to the public consciousness then that of a black female. I see no reason why the image of black people pre-1900's should automatically be racist nor should it need to automatically link to slavery as not all black people where slaves nor should slavery be the only historical era to define black people.
Having said this, if these journalists knew anything about the history of racism they would know that the 'mammy' character is a African American house slave who were burdened to serve the needs of their white masters, raise their children and maintain their homes. While the mammy image is tied to that of a black woman in a turban, never have I seen one draped in fine jewellery with adornments on their head wear!
Also the the discussion of the 'blackamoor' resemblance is a whole different argument altogether since this movement/era was not offensive solely for its depiction of black people but that at the time it served to exoticise black people and culture. Not that we are any more responsible to digest this type of imagery today but the image of black women traditionally dressed and beautifully adorned with jewellery doesn't need to be derogative. In fact these types of imagery are traditionally celebrated in parts of the world like Brazil's Namoradeira ladies or the tradition historical dress of any Caribbean country.

Brazil's Namoradeira lady (left),  Jamaican tradition dress (right)

The Dolce & Gabbana earrings of a adorned black female are far less racist and far less offensive then Vogues 'slave earrings' trend (see past post entitled "'Slave Chic' is in fashion"). Also the earring can be seen as a positive image of black women since their appearance in a collection inspired by Sicilian culture dares to highlight the black existence in Sicily and its contribution to the country’s history and culture!
I'm not saying Dolce & Gabbana are off the hook so easily as I am always sceptical when Western fashion designers use non-Western cultural reference in their collections. Though while the Dolce & Gabbana earrings do not offend me the collection as a whole doesn't particularly sit well with me. Though branding the designers and/or their collection racist is going a bit too far.

Dolce and Gabbana SS13 collection

Going back to my earlier point made, with all the fuss the fashion press seem to be making over these 'racist' earrings that debuted during the middle of Milan Fashion Week (18-25 September2012) why is it only now (during Paris Fashion Week I might add) that they feel the need to kick up a fuss, whats with the delay?
I find this delay quite interesting since it really shows our societies misguided racial consciousness. The fact that none of the fashion journalists present at the fashion show spotted the racially sensitive references in the collection in time to publish it in the collections early runway reviews though felt it important 3 days later to pick up on clearly shows the press' blase view on issues of racism. - And not very good journalism I might add!

The discussion I feel the fashion press need to be having in regards to this collection isn't whether the earrings are racist but whether the collection itself is appropriate or tastefully done? Labelling people racist doesn't help to eradicate racism nor does it help to identify the racist behaviour that needs to be corrected. Instead by labelling the Dolce & Gabbana earrings racist could be sending the message to other designers to avoid using positive historical imagery of black people in their collections in avoidence of being labelled racist!

What are your thoughts, are the Dolce & Gabbana earrings racist?


Article Links:
Dolce and Gabbana in racist earrings row, telegraph.co.uk
Dolce And Gabbana Dig The Hole Deeper By Defending Their Awful Racist Earrings, thegloss.com
Dolce and Gabbana racist earrings, globalgrind.com
Dolce and Gabbana shows racist mammy earrings and fun fabric prints, jezebel.com

Comments

  1. Yep they are racist--to bring into present consciousness a time period which was derogatory to Africans no matter how fondly remembered by whites and to do so when Italy is at a point of racial tension and hostility due to the influx of a lot of Africans and in particular due to the burgeoning trade of African prostitution is a joke--but hey--it IS history. So what next--I know... Let's do swastikas as earrings, maybe with a gold molar impaled on each. Gold has always been big in italy and not all Jews were deported. In fact the swastika is actually an ancient Hindu eternity symbol and Italy is well known to be the ally of Nazi Germany--surely they were "glory days" for Italy in that there was Nationalistic fervor---okay... we can lose the molar and just use the swastika then show some tasteful Jews and maybe Rabbis on the clothing, throw in a few Yalmukas and some hassidic jew head dresses--I feel a fashion trend coming on--that would be okay wouldn't it---It IS the history and not all context about the holocaust or WWII has to be bad, right? Or is this freedom to objectify horrible periods and demeaning caricature just for Blacks? BTW--that is not decoration on the headscarf it is fruit with some of it only being from the new world which means SLAVERY. got that?

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    Replies
    1. While I don't dispute that the collection is distasteful, branding the designers racist I think is somewhat extreme and oversimplifies contemporary racism/race debates in Europe.
      The issue the post also raises is how the worlds press failed to react to the collection and when they did days later, the central focus was on just the earrings, which no, I don't think was the most racist of the collection!

      I do however think, in relation the brand, which is known to reflect its Sicilian heritage. That their decision to explore the history of black Sicily is quite significant, especially considering what you raised about race relations in Italy. The collection may not have been done tastefully, though I think a thought should be spared to what the designers were trying to convey, as I think this would have been a more successful discussion on race to be having.

      To incorporate the swastika into western fashion, would be to much extent be a public anti-semitic admission, which is not really the same discussion on the Blackamoor is it! While I understand that you maybe referring the sentiment of racial hatred, I also really don't think that the designers where trying to confess their hatred for black people with the collection. I also think this would be a really stupid move for a global brand to do, especially when they are said to be going through financial issues!

      While I am more then happy to engage in friendly debates (that's the reason for the blog), I BTW do not appreciate your tone, nor does it do anything for your argument!

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