The Racial Stir Behind Dolce and Gabbana's 'Blackamoor' Earrings

The fashion industry is the harbinger of cutting-edge, influential, and distinctive trends. The people at the helm of the industry are notoriously fastidious and unabashedly contemptuous of anything or anybody that doesn’t fit within the guidelines of their realm, and a lot of times their world has excluded the use of Black models, unless they happen to be ‘in-season’,  already established, or serve as human background props in offensive photo spreads. And while Black models aren’t always en-vogue in the fashion industry, the utilization of tropes and exploitative images often depicted by their White counter-parts that most Black women are often belittled for, always seem to be the look de rigueur on runways.  

In 2011, repeat offender Vogue Italia, referenced hoop-earring trends as ‘slave earrings’.  --“If the name brings to the mind the decorative traditions of the women of colour who were brought to the southern United States during the slave trade, the latest interpretation is pure freedom.” They wrote.

Not seeming to grasp why misappropriating racially insensitive motifs for use as fodder for the fashion industry to consume and to style White models with, luxury brand Dolce and Gabbana- (most commonly known for evoking provincial images of their native Sicily in their fashion editorials and runway shows) - has upped the proverbial ante and veered off-course, sending their (White) models traipsing down the runway in their 2013 spring collection, ears adorned with … what I can only think to describe as minstrel-ish... earrings.  “There is no creative interpretation or buffer between these earrings and the kind of lamentable, dated figurines you find in airport gift shops. These severed heads dangling from a pale-skinned model's ear are not fun or playful, but simply evocative of some of the darkest times in Western history.” wrote Lexi Nisita of the fashion blog Refinery 29

Considering Domenico and Stefano undoubtedly figured they were channeling the appeal of Blackamoor statues  and presumably weren’t anticipating any backlash, to those of us (Black-American folks) not well-versed in European art history or collectables, it looked more like the usual racial kitsch of minstrelsy. Regardless of the slightly divergent histories between Blackamoor art and the image of the American minstrel, the political implications aren’t dissimilar, as they still show caricatures of Black people in positions of servitude; the recreational display of the Nubian Slave sculptures isn’t that much different than that of Jocko style lawn jockeys on White people’s front lawns, as far as I’m concerned. 

More often than not, collectors of this kind of decorative art don’t fully grasp or understand the historical context behind any of it beyond them thinking it’s cute or funny. They’ve somehow deluded themselves into believing unsubstantiated claims that stories such as those about Jocko Graves and Blackamoor images are celebrations of African Diaspora history, and will find every excuse to indulge in its racial misappropriation. Those not clear about why people of the African Diaspora find the art being used in this context offensive, of course have no reason to get it, since it doesn't offer negligent commentary on their history or image. That the sculptures tend to be painstakingly crafted doesn’t negate the colonialist history behind them; those decrying the backlash tend to be folk who demand that we “get over” the gross exploitation of Black history and images. 

Many argue that Dolce and Gabbana’s use of the Blackamoor earrings were clever and harmless, but what those of us with the sense of awareness noted were two White-European men exploiting and selling overt and highly stylized minstrelsy for the enjoyment of a mostly White, well-heeled crowd… while using all White models.

 [And P.S., Remember how another similar crowd ate up this tasteless stunt and show?]

Here's Dolce and Gabbana's rather opaque and defensive attempt at an explanation... And to note, they still failed to acknowledge the oppressively colonialist history behind the images.


bunnybee said...

I think this is relevant- a link to the "about" page of The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. I wish everyone would read this.

TiffJ said...

Thanks for this!

Mack Major said...

I take a different approach to this. Blackamoor jewelry often depicts African Moors draped in jewels and covered in gold. It is some of the most sought after and highly collected jewelry in all of Europe, though not well known here inthe states. I see it mostly as them revering the African Moors who conquered Spain and Granada and kick started the European Renaissance period. Make no mistake about it: 'they' know how great our race is. You should check out the documentary 'Hidden Colors' on iTunes. They go into great detail about Blackamoor jewelry and how it ties into the historical greatness of the Moors/Africans.