The First Lady of the United States sparked outrage online after wearing attire that symbolized white imperialism and oppression from the 19th century.
Melania Trump was photographed wearing a white blouse, khaki pants, brown riding boots and a white pith helmet during her visit to Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday Oct. 5. The outfit is being widely criticized by those who say she resembled colonial officials from the Victorian era.
During the 19th century, pith helmets were typically worn by European soldiers, explorers and colonial officials in their colonies throughout Africa. The helmet was “one of the necessary props of imperialism” that emphasized the difference between Europeans and natives according to George Orwell’s essay “As I Please.”
Matthew Carotenuto, historian of African Studies at St. Lawrence University in New York, compared the First Lady’s attire to “(showing) up on an Alabama cotton farm in a confederate uniform” on Twitter. He added, “Melania completes the stereotype trifecta–elephants, orphans and even the pith helmet…..#FLOTUSinAfrica2018.”
A political science professor who specializes in African politics at the University of California, Riverside, Kim Yi Dionne, told the New York Times on Friday, “When people think of Africa, they have these standard narratives. … Her attire is a signal of her understanding of what Africa is in 2018. It’s tired and it’s old and it’s inaccurate.”
Social media users also slammed Trump’s fashion choice.
“That pith helmet you have carried was used by colonialists during the dark days. Doesn’t sit well with us Africans. Who advised you?” a Twitter user wrote.
“Melania Trump wearing pith helmet on her trip to ‘Africa’ is more than a silly satirical choice. It’s a reflection of her outdated understanding of Africa.” a person tweeted.
Trump fired back at critics and told reporters on Saturday, “Focus on what I do, not what I wear.”
The FLOTUS was also criticized for a jacket she wore in June, printed with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” on the back of it. She sported the controversial jacket during her visit to a Texas facility that held immigrant children who had been separated from their parents.