Shackled by Vogue Italia's 'Slave Earrings'
1 year ago
How black women's oppression gets easily packaged and commodified
I didn’t get my ears pierced until later than most girls, my junior year of high school, but I quickly developed a preference for hoop earrings, the bigger the better. I’ve purchased vintage hoops at quirky little stores on the third floors of Washington, D.C. townhouses, at malls in Minnesota during downtime from covering the Republican National Convention in 2008; and even on especially trashy occasions, I’ve rocked giant, flimsy pairs from Target.
So it was particularly surreal to see the magazine Vogue Italia dubbing some of my favorite styles “slave earrings,” and telling readers "if the [Slave Earrings] bring to the mind the decorative traditions of the women of colour who were brought to the southern United States during the late 18th century, the latest interpretation is pure freedom."
Vogue Italia, which not long ago won the hearts of many when it featured an all-black edition in 2008, backed off and revised the copy quickly, blaming the messenger—or in this case, the translator. But that implausible mea culpa doesn’t erase the editorial’s original intentions: packaging and sanitizing the experiences of black women for consumption by white women.
The magazine’s apology failed to understand that it wasn’t merely the describing of bangles in slavery terms that was offensive. It was the idea that the experiences of women who were sold into bondage exist close enough on the spectrum to the experiences of wealthy consumers that those two wildly differing situations can be in conversation with each other.