• Thu, Sep 27 2012

Dolce And Gabbana Dig The Hole Deeper By Defending Their Awful Racist Earrings

Yesterday, a bit of controversy hit the Internet after some people noticed that Dolce and Gabbana had debuted some incredibly racist earrings in their Spring 2013 show. As Ashley reported yesterday, the earrings were modeled on a type of racist caricature known as the “blackamoor” which was used in the 1700s for decorative purposes by European colonialists, but has since fallen out of fashion for being, you know, racist. It was also used as a way of perpetuating dehumanizing stereotypes about African people, as racist caricatures are wont to do.

As much as I was hoping the brand would make like Paul Frank and use this as a learning experience, the people at D&G have since responded in a roundabout way by posting an article on their website Swide.com that talks a little bit about the history of blackamoors as a decorative motif, how beautiful they are, etc., while totally omitting the part about colonial oppression:

They are everywhere on the creations of Dolce&Gabbana’s SS13 collection that was presented today in Milan, but they have come a long way. Swide tells you the story of these beautiful artefacts. [sic.]

You might have seen them in some villa or restaurant or hotel in Sicily, dominating the table: colourful head-shaped ceramic vases filled with beautiful flowers. But like many things in Italy, they are more than what they seem.

The head is inspired by Moorish features. Moorish is a term used to define many peoples throughout history. Medieval and early modern Europeans applied the name to the Berbers, Arabs, Muslim Iberians and West Africans, although it has to be said that the term ‘Moorish’ has no real ethnological value. In Sicily’s case it defines the conquerors of Sicily. The first Muslim conquest of southern Italy lasted 75 years, from 827 to 902 AD.

So it’s okay to use blackamoor heads because “moor” has been used to other many groups over the years and not just black people? Got it. Not to mention, “moor” might mean a variety of things, but the meaning of “blackamoor” is pretty clear.

I’d call this article defensive, but it doesn’t really defend anything to talk about the history of this kind of racist imagery. If anything, it demonstrates D&G cannot plead ignorance. They’ve studied the history, they’ve just failed to learn anything from it. This statement is akin to taking a class on colonial history, then writing an essay on why racist caricatures are pretty. And then complaining when you get an “F.”

(Via Fashionista)

Photo: WENN

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  • Roberto

    I love Blackamoor art !
    Especially the Blackamoor statues that hold trays.I have plenty of them in my villa in Venice.
    I think people should stop playing the race card, and just appreciate the beauty of the art.

    • Jamie Peck

      If this is satire, it’s pretty good. If it’s not…dear god.

  • Danielle

    Actually, this show was one of the bets shows this year… And the guys got inspired by the “blackamoor” art… And they wanted to put it in their collection… Art should not be restricted by anything: neither religion, nor politics, nor history… I think that designers are also artists, and they cannot create new stuff if they set limitations to their creativity…
    http://www.katagogi.com/mid18603746

    • queenbee9

      Got it. Swastika’s next (they are actually a Hindu eternity symbol before the Nazis co opted it) Let d & G do some clothing with Jewish women–maybe showing them with gold stars on their clothes and maybe earrings with swastikas and maybe little gold teeth or something, relive the history of Italy which was not so bad for them–when Italy was allied with Germany and almost conquered all of Europe–or is that one off limits for some odd reason?

  • topf

    …”playing the race card”. I think it’s worse to play the “it’s art” card.

    • Ashley Cardiff

      Yes.

    • Jamie Peck

      double yes.

  • Jenny

    If fahion and art can not reflect history or cultures, then what is left? I think this whole outrage over most of these thing is absurd. Learn to celebrate your differences instead of constantly stifling them.

    • Ani

      These earrings are not about celebrating differences, though. These earrings are caricatures (as in, not expressions of reality) of people who have been historically oppressed. While it does reflect history, it reflects an abhorrent one in which these images were used to justify violence, continued oppression, and misconceptions about an entire group of people. This is not the same as displaying such items in a museum. Fashion is ultimately about utility and art, and what sane person would wear something so blatantly racist?

  • Renee

    So wait, if I (rightly) point out that these are offensive, divisive and just ugly, I’m not “celebrating differences” You’re not celebrating my difference as a black woman by wearing “Mammy” caricatures hanging from your ears. It’s not art the same way Nazi propaganda isn’t art. Just because it doesn’t effect or anger you personally doesn’t mean that the people who find it disgusting that in this day and age people still think this is acceptable are not entitled to that feeling. This is not right. There is nothing right about it.

  • Jenny

    There are depictions like this all over here in Europe. There are entire cities whose symbol IS a woman like this. It is on buildings, manhole covers, flags, you name it. It reflcts the places and their history. People don’t have fits about it. Is it because it is jewelry that it bothers you?

    • Jamie Peck

      Nope, it’s because it’s racist. And people do “have fits” about it if they care about racism. What city has a racist caricature as a symbol? And why do people have so much trouble seeing that this is just as oppressive and hateful as a swastika? (Which is also “part of history” but which Germans have rightly decided they don’t want to represent them.)

    • Jenny

      I live in Germany. And it is incorrect to say that people in this country don’t care about racism because their centuries old cities have Moors heads symbols all over them. Look at Coburg if you want an example. This symbol probably has racist origins meaning to comment on world reach, it was a product of its time. It is also a very good question as to why people don’t view the “mammy caricature” and the swastika as equally offensive. But it probably has to do with the fact that at one point one of them was “art” and one certainly wasn’t. And to be clear, I wouldn’t wear these ugly D&G abominations, but I am truly interested in what people chose to take issue with. Because I saw all of America wearing “Native American” prints this past summer.

    • queenbee9

      No you didn’t. I live in America and me and mine most certainly did not wear Native American prints even though we are part Native American.

  • Fabel

    Wow, what? How do they think saying it’s “Moorish” make it less racist? I just keep thinking of Othello, where it’s pretty accepted now that “The Moor of Venice” is a pretty racist description.

    • Elizabeth

      I would disagree, actually. I mean, in the modern world, of course you couldn’t get away with calling someone “the Moor” of anywhere. In the context of that play, though, it’s a different story

      I would make the argument that Othello is not a play about race — it’s a play about otherness. Several characters call Othello “the Moor,” but this is a title, not a racial slur. The only character who makes negative comments about Othello in relation to his race is Iago, who will make unfair negative comments about pretty much anything. Othello is an outsider in the society, and this mostly registers in himself and the way he acts rather than in how other people perceive him. Othello is from a different world and lives by different rules, but he is very well respected and honoured by those around him, and the fact that he is racially different doesn’t make (most) other characters treat him differently.

      Sorry — this is completely unrelated to the original post (which I agree is a worthwhile discussion). I just have many thoughts about Shakespeare.

  • Inna

    I will start by mentioning that I am not american. Americans (the cultural ones) are sensitive to anything mentioning ethnical differences, especially when It’s not made by someone of that ethnicity. You have to understand that in other parts of the world (like Italy) racial issues are not the huge matter that they are in America. Your history with race is much more relevant and affective these days than theirs, therefore calling it racist based on YOUR perception of what “racist” is, is just not relevant. In their perspective it’s just a cultural reference, or a hommage to a disappearing culture, if you will.
    I personally do find it tasteless, and I think it’s careless and stupid to ever display these earrings but I think you can only accuse Dolce & Gabbana of being self centered narcissists.

    • Jenny

      This is another point that you can not forget. Racism is a whole different story in America.

    • queenbee9

      Italy is amazingly racist and for black women, very, very hostile. I have been to Italy many times on business and initially I loved both Rome and Venice but on my last tour with my husband and children (in 2004) things had changed.

      It appeared that a lot of African women had been brought in and forced into Prostitution, this did NOT endear black women to the Italian women who treated me abominably until they ascertained I was from the US and not Africa. ON the other hand, I endured days of being approached in stores, stopped in traffic by Italian men who massaged their crotches and offered me their wallets because they assumed I was a ho. My indignation still got me followed as they watched my backside yelling obsenities and what they thought were compliments “bella! bella, mwhaa! (kissy, kisses)

      Finally a woman who I had known told me that it was not a good time to be a black woman traveling in Africa because there was a lot of resentment as Italian men seemed especially fond of black females and italian women felt humiliated. Fast forward to now–I would not be surprised AT ALL if the racism was intentional and ugly and meant to humiliate black women –a sort of tongue in cheek statement hiding behind history or art as if the fact a place has racist jugs or blackamoors centuries ago means it is okay to display or revive this now–we have not gotten past dehumanizing people? What next ? Swastikas and relliving the glory days of Mussolini–that is part of the italian history too–showing some Jews boarding trains of wearing yellow stars?

      Where does this and the mentality that excuses this, END?

  • AphroGaga

    Why does the depiction of a black female image pre 1950 era automatically considered racist?
    The image of black women traditionally dressed and beautifull adorned with jewellery doesn’t need to be derogative. In fact these types of imagery are traditionally celebrated in parts of the world; take Brazils Namoradeira ladies or the tradition historical dress of any of the Caribbean country.

    Read Get Perspective article here…
    http://getaperspective.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/the-fashion-press-picks-up-on-dolce-and.html

  • Siiigh

    Have people failed to mention that they had white versions of these earrings going down the runway, too?

  • http://www.facebook.com/eoin.koenig1 Eoin Sioda

    This is horrible.

  • Alex

    I am a goldsmith jeweler in Venice Italia I want to give my contribution to make known the true origin of the jewel Moretto (Blackamoor).

    Forgive me but I do not see the ghost of racism on this type of objects, I assure you that in my shop I sell these jewels also to many African American people and I’m really enthusiastic about their purchases, even a client of mine asked to dedicate their earrings election of the American president doing write on the back of the jewel the name Obama.

    Here is the original story of Moretti:

    The baroque blackamoor broochs are products of the local goldsmith’s tradition, born from the original synthesis, which took place in Venice, of different cultural trends.The origins of the blackamoors go back to ancient times, when the Saracen pirates plagued the Dalmatia’s coasts. During the Hellenistic age in Fiume (Istria) similar golden earrings with black and white enamel decorations were produced, having a talisman function. During the centuries of the Turkish invasions, the populations of the coasts always wore them and gave them to the churches as thanks for the avoided danger. So the amulet came to Venice, not to exorcise sea attacks, but to represent the enslaved Turkish pirate.

    In the course of history we find blackamoors in the Carpaccio representations, as a quiet gondolier with turban and feathers, part of a beautiful lagoonal scenography; and also in a famous novel by Hemingway.

    As the dominion of the Serenissima on the Adriatic consolidated, the earring representation disappeared to give its place to different objects – with different meanings – for the representation of the blackamoors. In our century the originality and phantasy of the Venetian people created an endless variety of blackamoors representations: bust and tuban have become a space where the best local goldsmith’s techniques are represented, with fretworks, engravings and filigrees. In recent times the monochromatism often prevailed with pearls, brilliants, emeralds or rubys for an extremely selected clientele like noble and royal families; even Grace Kelly owned a blackamoor. The blackamoors have been appreciated also by persons of international prestige as Barbara Hutton, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Rubenstein, Elton John,Liz Taylor, and continue to be a longed-for object for élite collectors and for the international fashion. The royal family of Spain has recently purchased in Venice beautiful blackamoor broochs. There are some really ancient and valuable blackamoors, destined to few; some of them are particularly big (12 cm.), which are to be observed more than worn, and these are appreciated most of all by American people; In our workshop we produce precious and interesting, modern and antique-looking ones, to represent all the solar oriental soul.

  • Portia Watson

    I think all of the hoopla over this is unnecessary. Clearly people are not educated on the history of the blackamoor art pieces in Europe. Africans came to Europe during the dark ages and gave them medicine and shared knowledge. Europeans loved and revered Africans before slavery and degradation based on skin color took hold. There are many candelabras, vases, figurines, pendants, earrings, rings, brooches, and bracelets that depict Africans and their cultural attire that are adorned with gold and precious stones ie; sapphire, diamonds, emeralds etc. It is not possible for depictions of a group of people wearing gold and jewels to be considered demeaning or “racist”. What people think is racist is actually an homage to their ancestors. We black people should be proud that we once were seen as beautiful and our ancestral religious views were depicted in such a great way. People make jewelry out of what they consider to be beauty and they have gotten inspiration from the great African people who helped them advance to where they are today.

    • queenbee9

      It IS racist. Times have changed the large influx of Africans to Italy is resented as it the proliferation of black prostitution run by the Russian Mafia. I was in italy, and was mistreated until an Italian woman explained that I should immediately let shopkeepers know that I was American. It turns out that Italian women were sick and tired of Italian men spending hard earned money on black prostitutes and so any black woman was to be scorned and reviled. I took her advice and more than one lamented to me (In Rome) about the “awful black women who were disgraceful” this was a backlash hidden under the guise of history–swastikas should be next–with the glory days of Mussolini–they are Italian history too–when italy along with Germany almost conquered all of Europe–relive those “glory days”