Fashion: A Blackhole of Advocates or A Mirror of Our Own Demise?

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When the Summer and Spring collection of Dolce and Gabbana revealed an accessory depicting an African icon molded during colonial times, fireworks went off — not within the fashion industry, but within the social advocacy community. The set of earrings depicted an androgynous black female adorned with a fruit basket atop her headdress, obviously meant to be a flattering counterpart to her unflattering African coiffure.

Following the first questions of ethics surrounding these earrings, the press unleashed a series of defensive statements with a call to the spirit of the free winds of fashion. The “celebration” of colonial African women contends that interpretations of the African during colonial times is not racism. Unfortunately, it deconstructs the barriers of racism by unearthing a buried past and recycling the errors and ignorance of the assigned scribes of that period. It creates an artistic representation that reconquers a victim who still lives with the historical legacy of what happened generations before. Slavery has ended, this is true, but our institutions and structures of power still benefit from that era of cruelty.

Some online currents have expressed that fashion should not be held accountable for its political incorrectness; however, as a medium of self expression that is under constant surveillance by the public eye, fashion has a direct influence on our perceptions of culture.

The act of remembering injustices committed towards a people, a nation, or a continent, is a process that requires one to dig through the disguise of ideologies that make up our history. In this particular case, the representation of the African is placed against a slate of emptiness – as if there was no traumatic past to contend with. What does the African look like? On the one hand, this absence leaves space for emerging ideological offences to counter the submissive traits associated with an entire continent over another. On the other hand, it reveals the extent to which the wound has only deepened since colonial times.

At this point a historical approach would include not an open book test on colonialism, but rather a reconstruction of the collective African memory which undermines any form of institutionalized corruption seeping in through its borders. Colonial power dynamics cannot define themselves without a rhetoric of the superior and the inferior race, and if this is the case, then power – the ability to interpret, represent, construct and deconstruct – should be levelled horizontally. African cultures can and should actively participate in the interpretations and representations of their past, their history and the myriad of associations that come attached.

Some online currents have expressed that fashion should not be held accountable for its political incorrectness; however, as a medium of self expression that is under constant surveillance by the public eye, fashion has a direct influence on our perceptions of culture. When regressive material gains acceptance within the fashion community, the backdoors are opened to a potential influx of racial insensitivity. An entire community’s continual efforts to heal are jeopardized by the insinuation that the wound has already been stitched up, that slavery is a thing of the past, and that the colonization of an African woman’s face in the name of fashion is unconnected with her past trauma. The Dolce and Gabbana earrings take a stance against the collective memory of those who were slaves, and act as a detrimental blow to human rights infrastructure. When the question of whether or not the colonial is guilty emerges and society takes a defensive stance, it is time, at last, to prosecute the artist.