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.”