As a white person, it's not my place to tell nonwhite people what should and shouldn't offend them. Sometimes it's difficult to determine if my viewpoint matters at all. As a person concerned with social justice, I think it matters perhaps a little bit, just like as a woman, I think the opinions of male feminists matter just a little bit, and I'd rather men identify as feminists than opt-out with the excuse that it's not their fight. So, I'd rather identify as someone concerned about establishing a future of social equality than say it's not my fight, but it's not always easy to determine the best place to direct my feelings regarding issues of race, as they are certainly and justifiably less important to the global conversation than a nonwhite person's feelings regarding the subject.
However, I think I found a place where my opinion as a white person might matter on this one.
Dear Dolce & Gabbana:
As a white person with a Western European heritage, as your apparent target customer (judging by your models), I'd like to talk to you about the product you are putting forth. I understand that your stated intent was to pay homage to a specific type of artwork created throughout Italian history. However, what I don't understand is why you feel this type of artwork is worth the homage.
You see, I, too, am from a country with a history steeped in colonialism and unjust treatment of nonwhite persons. However, unlike you, I do not think that is an era of history that should be softened, glorified, or relived with appropriate social critique. As a white person, I am not proud of that era for white people, and I am not proud of the ways in which it continues to seep through into current culture. I do not want to revisit that timeline without an accompanying exploration of what went wrong and how we work to fix its still-lingering effects.
As a result of this, I do not feel comfortable wearing imagery of a nonwhite person condescendingly created by a white person during an era of colonialism. Furthermore, I do not understand why it would even occur to you to screenprint this imagery onto a bodycon dress. I do not understand why, when sourcing inspiration material for this collection, you did not shake your head when you came to this page in your art history books and then move on. I do not understand why you tagged it, why you photocopied it, why you tacked it onto an inspiration board, why you sketched it onto a dress, why hundreds of other people saw this go through production and said nothing. I do not understand why I am supposed to think that these dresses and earrings are "cute" instead of shameful.
As one white person to two others, I simply don't understand. Unfortunately, I think the problem here is that you don't either.
Madeline Pendleton Hansen
The Gaurdian did a brief write-up that I think covers a lot of the bases on this, so I'll leave you with a quote from that:
"Some might argue that they're harmless, even cute, but there's nothing cute about two white men selling minstrel earrings to a majority non-black audience. There wasn't a single black model in Dolce & Gabbana's show, and it's hard not to be appalled by the transparent exoticism in sending the only black faces down the runway in the form of earrings...Bygone eras and cultures are constantly drawn on by fashiondesigners to re-appropriate on a whim. But when you're explicitly pandering to such a shameful era of western racism and colonialism, it's time to move on to the future."