After last week’s Nivea debacle and the Summer’s Eve incident before it, you would think that every brand in the market had learned a great lesson in cultural sensitivity. Much to our dismay, a similar problem arose when the news started spreading about Vogue Italia’s trend story, inappropriately titled “Slave Earrings”. Upon first hearing of it on Twitter, I thought it was just a case of bad translation. As a language major, I know the difficulty (especially in translating fashion or art) that Vogue Italia has had in the past so I immediately assumed that “slave” was just the wrong word.

When asked to look into it further and read the article, I was indeed brought to the part discussing the reference to “women of colour who were brought to the southern United States during the slave trade”. I then knew the piece would start a flurry of controversy.

Is the piece insensitive? Completely. To me, it is akin to referring to an egregious event like the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust, solely for the purpose of fashion. A trend is something that people want to prescribe to and that is prevalent in the industry. I hardly think that anything calling on the attire of slaves should be seen as a fashion statement.

Why I was not hurt like most were is because I know the depths that fashion designers and editors dive into when searching for inspiration. Not all are positive including Alexander McQueen’s obsession with death and suicide (skulls are still one of his signatures) or Duckie Brown being inspired by skinheads. Inspiration and creativity come from a wealth of sources, both positive and negative and though sometimes crass or seemingly harsh, it is just the creative liberty that some choose to take.

Though first changed to “Ethnic Earrings” and then removed, I do believe that our approach could have been different. We requested an apology, which hasn’t been given of yet. Instead the page reads: “WE’VE DECIDED TO REMOVE THE ARTICLE FROM THE SITE TO PROVE OUR GOOD FAITH AND TO SHOW IT WASN’T OUR INTENTION TO INSULT ANYONE”. What would the apology say? It is truly a catch 22 as one of the only non-black publications who has given black women visibility and a voice wrote this piece. Vogue Italia’s Black Blog has been praised the world over and they have had more all-black fashion spreads than I can count. Is it that they truly do not care about black women and are racist, despite these efforts? I do not believe that is the case.

What I find is that we often come from a place of anger instead of a place of knowledge. Despite it being 2011 and all of the ways the world has changed in terms of race, there are still so many ways in which it hasn’t. To be African-American is a culture that is a mélange of so many different things, with so many layers and intricacies. To expect others to understand it or even grasp it is near impossible. Most really are ignorant to what offends us and what makes us tick and lashing out instead of explaining doesn’t really solve anything, nor does it help to change what insensitive comments might be made in the future. If we can tell anything from the “Slave Earrings” piece, Nivea and Summer’s Eve advertisements, people think they know us, but indeed they do not.

Racism and prejudice come in many different forms, but those words shouldn’t be thrown at everything in which we feel that we are depicted unfairly. Many say they have lost respect for Vogue Italia and will not be reading the magazine and blogs anymore after this incident. I think we should also use this a call to really embrace and support our own publications like Essence, Ebony, Jet and more. Out of negativity can come great positivity and if we continue to discuss in a productive way and provide solutions to make sure no brand feels like this is acceptable, we will be well on our way to instituting real change.

See the article below.

What did you think of Vogue Italia’s “Slave Earrings” trend story? Do you find it insensitive and believe that black women deserve an apology? How can the publication do better going forward?

-Faith Cummings

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