Melania Wears White Pith Helmet in Africa, Evocative of 'Colonialists'
It just keeps getting weirder and weirder for the Trumps. No matter where they go, no matter what they do -- it doesn't even matter what they wear -- Trump Derangement Syndrome accompanies them on their travels.
Melania Trump is currently in Africa on one of those first lady goodwill tours that are designed to make the president's spouse look busy. But Mrs. Trump could never have imagined that a hat would have brought out the Trump haters in full force.
Equatorial Africa, as many of us know, is hot. It's very hot. When Europeans first arrived a couple of hundred years ago, they realized they would die of the heat unless they took some commonsense precautions.
One of those precautions was to wear a hat. European militaries used to wear a broad, white bonnet they called a "pith helmet" to keep the hot sun from frying their brains. Naturally, it was colored white so that as much of the deadly rays of the sun as possible would be reflected away from the wearer's head. Any other color would have allowed the hat to absorb the heat, eventually making scrambled eggs of the wearer's brain.
But lurking in the hidden history of white presence in Africa is a secret. The pith helmet isn't worn to keep cooler. In fact, it marks the wearer as a racist colonialist.
The hat was widely used by European militaries in their colonies throughout Africa and in India, according to Gentleman's Gazette, and became a popular sun hat for civilian Europeans visiting or living in colonies in the 1930s. US President Theodore Roosevelt wore his pith helmet while on the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition after his presidency in 1909.
Matt Carotenuto, a historian and coordinator of African Studies at St. Lawrence University, compared the hat choice to "(showing) up on an Alabama cotton farm in a confederate uniform," saying that Trump on Friday "(completed) the stereotype trifecta—elephants, orphans and even the pith helmet."
Well, he doesn't have much of a point, does he? If he knew anything about American history (not African), he'd know a modern first lady would be crazy to show up in an authentic confederate uniform anywhere in the deep south. Civil War uniforms were made out of wool and were notoriously uncomfortable — even dangerous — in warmer climates. Since much of Alabama's climate resembles equatorial Africa, Melania arriving in a full dress Confederate uniform would be silly and perhaps fatal to her health.
Not quite as silly the "stereotype trifecta." Who knew that showing concern for orphans and having a care for endangered elephants would be considered racist gestures?
While pith helmets are still available for purchase online and in hat shops, they have come to symbolize white colonialist rule over the years, and, according to The Guardian, "a symbol of status -- and oppression." It's unclear if Trump was aware of the meaning, and her office has not responded to CNN's request for comment on the hat.