Melania raises eyebrows in Africa with 'colonial' white helmet

United States First Lady Melania Trump on a safari at Nairobi National Park in Kenya last Friday, wearing a white pith helmet - a common symbol of European colonial rule. Earlier this year, she wore an "I really don't care. Do U?" jacket on the way t
United States First Lady Melania Trump on a safari at Nairobi National Park in Kenya last Friday, wearing a white pith helmet - a common symbol of European colonial rule. Earlier this year, she wore an "I really don't care. Do U?" jacket on the way to visit detained immigrant children in Texas.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NAIROBI • A half a world away from the spectacle of Washington, Mrs Melania Trump still managed to create one of her own during a Kenyan safari last Friday, riding out into the grassland wearing a crisp white pith helmet - a common symbol of European colonial rule.

It may not have been the most glaring faux pas the hyper-scrutinised Mrs Trump has ever made.

That title probably goes to the "I really don't care. Do U?" jacket she wore on the way to visit detained immigrant children in Texas in June.

But to some - especially those who study African history - her fashion choice in Kenya was still a big error on the global stage: The sight of a First Lady wearing something so closely associated with the exploitation of Africans.

Hours before Washington woke up, critics were pointing out how Mrs Trump - who is here representing a husband widely reported to have disparaged African nations in vulgar terms - had fumbled this segment of her visit.

Mrs Trump is in Africa on a four-nation tour, with plans to visit Egypt this weekend after stops in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya.

The criticism was not universal. Several large Kenyan news sites focused not on the safari fashion but on Mrs Trump's other attention-grabbing activity of the day: feeding baby elephants, and a fall broken by a Secret Service agent.

But on social media, the angry tweets and hashtags about the helmet rolled in: #FLOTUSinAfricaBingo documented what some felt were Mrs Trump's tone-deaf fashion choices.

 
 
 

Dr Kim Yi Dionne, a political science professor who specialises in African politics at the University of California, Riverside - and a creator of the hashtag - said what looked like a quibble over aesthetics was actually a more substantive criticism of the First Lady's understanding of Africa.

"When people think of Africa, they have these standard narratives," Dr Dionne said. "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."

When reached for comment about the criticism last Friday, the East Wing did not immediately respond.

While in Africa, Mrs Trump has gone into almost no specifics about her visit, except to say that she has hoped to learn more about life in Africa and to promote her child-focused Be Best platform.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 07, 2018, with the headline 'Melania raises eyebrows in Africa with 'colonial' white helmet'. Print Edition | Subscribe