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Hide couture

By Russell Grenning - posted Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Princess Michael of Kent, the wife of the Queen's first cousin Prince Michael of Kent, has been forced to issue a grovelling apology for wearing allegedly racist jewellery to a recent lunch with Prince Harry and his new American fiancée Meghan Markle.

The brooch is what is referred to as Blackamoor art which features black people in historic costumes as everything from Sultans to slaves. Princess Michael's brooch featured the face and shoulders of a black man in a richly embroidered costume and wearing an elaborate jewelled turban.

The British press went wild.


The British public was reminded that her father Baron Gunther von Reibnitz, a German aristocrat who died in 1983, was a member of the feared and loathed Nazi SS although no mention was made of the fact that he was expelled from the Nazi Party and the SS where he was a cavalry officer in 1944. He had been in frequent trouble with the Nazi authorities being accused of denigrating the swastika to calling SS Chief Himmler "a chicken farmer" which, in fact, he had been but he didn't want people to be reminded of it. In 1948, he was cleared by a de-Nazification court as being equivalent to a "non-accused person". None of that mattered to the British press.

They also had a field day alleging that not only was the brooch intrinsically racist it would have been particularly offensive to Ms Markle whose mother is a descendant of black African slaves. Ms Markle made no comment and neither did any member of the Royal Family except Princess Michael.

In her apology statement issued via a spokesman, Princess Michael said the brooch had been a gift which she had previously worn many times without comment but the statement added, "Princess Michael is very sorry and distressed that it has caused offence." You can bet that it will never ever be seen again.

Perhaps Prince Harry would have had quiet sympathy for Princess Michael. In 2005, aged 20, the Prince was unwise enough to wear a crude replica of a German Afrika Corps uniform complete with a swastika armband to a fancy dress party. The torrent of criticism was tsunami-like. Senior Labour Party figures even demanded that he be refused entry to Sandhurst, the prestigious military academy. Happily he did and served in the front line in Afghanistan rising to the rank of Captain.

Until this incident I was unaware that jewellery could be racist but how woefully mistaken I was. Even the most cursory inquiry showed any number of previous similar offences.

In March 2017, students at California's Pitzer College were treated to a message on its "free wall", a location on campus where students can spray paint their comments on any issue. The message read, "White Girl, take off your hoops" followed by three exclamation marks.


The "white girls" on campus had no idea what that meant and one sent out a campus-wide email asking for an explanation. Hoops, incidentally, are large circular earrings.

The reply came back from a black female member of staff who said that she had written the message because white girls who wore these adornments were racists and "cultural appropriationists". The explanation continued,. "The art was created by myself and a few other WOC (women of colour) after being tired and annoyed with the reoccurring theme of white women appropriating styles that belong to the black and brown folks who created the culture."

It continued, "The culture actually comes from a historical background of oppression and exclusion" and, further, "...we wonder why should white girls be able to take part in this culture (wearing hoop earrings just one case of it) and be seen as cute/aesthetic/ethnic. White people have actually exploited the culture and made it into fashion."

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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