The world has changed much over the last few hundred years, and more so in the last twenty. How people understand the present and the past is often a fine balance between historical context and contemporary, the ideals of; manner, politeness, and most importantly, of tolerance and compassion. With that said, it is still a controversial topic to discuss the concept of racism. Not only does it attach itself to people, but to literature, art, worship, economic development and more. Because of how the world had been previously organised, and the how it was developed, it now means that we are still living with the consequences of those decisions. That said, racism is much more than just name-calling, but about systematically reducing people to fit the ideals of a dominant group.
Can objects be racist?
During the expansion of the British Empire, and global colonisation from other world powers, much art and literature was produced to reflect the power and achievements of the time. Literature was perhaps the most influential and damaging as it created a new range of vocabulary of power prejudice. It not only created many of the divides we have today but the concepts it introduced are still ingrained in our society. Many books and famous songs which originate from that era often depict people of darker skin tones as servants, or in roles which were to assist people of lighter skin tones. The artistic style of Blackamoors are one such example too. They often have a carved wooden figure, in ebony wood, surrounded by lusciously ornate engravings in gold and jewels. This was often done to sharply contrast the darkness of the character.
Hinterland Magazine summarises the purpose of these objects as:
Blackamoors “first emerged during the Middle Ages when Europeans first encountered the Moors, dark-skinned Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East who came to occupy various parts of the continent.”
“The African figure is typically depicted with a turban, dressed in lavish jewels and are commonly fixed in positions of servitude—such as footmen or waiters. They are usually carved from ebony or painted black in the case of porcelain.”
What is the current controversy?
Given what we know should these objects still be worn? The issues was raised when a member of the Royal family in the UK worn such an item. The following Tweet best describes the circumstances.
The wife of one of Queen Elizabeth’s cousins met Meghan Markle wearing a brooch in a style that “portrays exoticized images of servants and slaves of African descent” https://t.co/F23Urj8jOs
— Liam Stack (@liamstack) December 22, 2017
So, just when Prince Harry is to marry Meghan Markle, a woman whose mother is African America, the issue becomes more controversial. Is raises a number of questions:
Was this item worn to hurt another?
Was it worn out of cultural naivety?
Did she think it would be a compliment to Meghan Markle?
It’s difficult to say without speaking to Princess Michael of Kent directly. It does perhaps suggest a stark difference in culture from those in the aristocracy and the ordinary public. However, this is not the first time she has been caught up in such circumstances. She has been quoted as saying:
In 2004 she was accused of insulting a party of black diners at a smart New York restaurant by allegedly telling them to ‘go back to the colonies’ in a row over noise.
Talking of her extensive travels through Africa she said: ‘I even pretended years ago to be an African, a half-caste African, but because of my light eyes I did not get away with it, but I dyed my hair black.
‘I travelled on African buses. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted experiences from Cape Town to right up in northern Mozambique. I had this adventure with these absolutely adorable, special people and to call me racist: it’s a knife through the heart because I really love these people.’
She is not without her own troubles. Given what we know, what do you think? Was this a sign of a racist or perhaps something else. Share your comments below. Alternatively, you can share your thoughts in our dedicated debate chamber Is Blackamoor Art Racist?