Graffiti and right wing agenda just don?t mix, far as I?m concerned. But this is Berlin, where every upright surface is a canvas for street art. There are bound to be peculiarities. By my count, there?s one Bomb Irak tag for every 5 million Fight the Power, Peace and Love, and indecipherably disorienting hipster-friendly photo tag in the city. Not bad. Still. Strange.
Six and I have a conversation about that war-mongering piece of politically incorrect graffiti every time we pass it on the way to the neighborhood Thai spot. I?m black American of Caribbean origins, living in Europe for the last decade. He?s born and raised in East Berlin. For how different we are at the root, we stem out with many similarities. Tall. Athletic. Wordy. Avid travelers. Asian food aficionados. Anti bomb-Iraq-ers. Who would graffiti such a thing?
We settle into the pillows at a table in the back of the eatery, and bicker about whether or not you can order the summer roll without meat, the correct pronunciation of the ?u? in ?Huhner? (chicken), and whether or not a Thai place should sell mango lassi. Fluorescent lights flooded out any romance, and left the atmosphere conducive to debate.
?Everyone just jumped straight to saying Dolce & Gabbana are racist. What if they meant it ironically?,? he says.
Say what? We?re off Iraq, and on to Dolce and Gabbana?s spring 2013 collection, which featured images of (what seemed like) happy slave woman mammy earrings. The cast of models was all-white.
?I didn?t say Dolce & Gabbana were racist, I said the show was racist.?
?What?s the difference??
On both sides of the aisle, the misconception is that good people don?t indulge in racist expression. I cook. Doesn?t make me a chef.
?Maybe they use these images to put a mirror up on the privileged white people who buy their clothes. Like saying, If you think this is cool, you?re ridiculous.?
Like some sort of sartorial satire shining a light on a Euro-American/western culture that profits from slavery, colonialism, and the cultural appropriation of colored folks and their styles?
He?s right. That didn?t occur to me for a second. What is it we think we?ll lose by changing perspective?
Ok, I said, biting into my spring roll (or was that a summer roll?), Where was the wink? The hat tip? The joke? Why does everyone think that slapping a bunch of racially inappropriate images together equals satire? Too often the funny falls flat, you?re just left with a failure. A big fat racist failure.
Alas, when it comes to race in Europe, you?re almost always wrong. One of the reasons I love it here. According to Dolce and Gabbana?s inspiration site, Swide, the images/iconography screen printed onto the concave bellies and dangling from the earlobes of white models (I think I saw one Asian in the bunch), are not African, per se. They are ?Blackamoors?; Sicilian ?curiosities?; memorial iconographies of the Moors that ruled Sicily in the 800?s. Man. Could?ve sworn those were slave mammies.
I remember walking through the streets of Barcelona with a black Argentine a while back, when an intoxicated homeless man yelled ?Moros de mierda!? at us. ?The Moors? colonized Spain, too, off and on from the 700s until 1492. That said, the term couldn?t be less scientific, having been used by Europeans throughout time to describe any people with skin darker than a decent suntan. ?Shitty Moor? was just too?quaint. Too Shakespearean. Too this-has-nothing-to-do-with-me to take seriously as a black woman and still live with myself. I laughed. Sometimes it is just misnomers, cultural misreads, and some incredibly unappealing, and still questionable couture.
Eyeing Bomb Irak on the way home, writ large in bubble letters on a street named for a famous Jew, ?This?, I tell Six, ?This is irony?.