When I saw the Swedish minstrel cake fiasco this morning, I literally could not believe my eyes. It was one of the most disturbing things I have seen in a while. It was so completely offensive, on so many different levels. And then, of course, people’s responses to it online added to the offense, many trying to excuse the racist act by saying the “artist was a black man”, as if that makes it any better. It’s inexcusable.
For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, pictures and videos have emerged from a tax-funded, Swedish World Art Day party that took place on Saturday, where the Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, performed a clitoridectomy on a cake negatively depicting a black African woman in a minstrelesque-type way. Apparently, this piece of “modern performance art” done by Makode Aj Linde was made to raise awareness of the plight of female circumcision in Africa. At best, it tragically made a mockery of the cause, and managed to stir up outrage and pain that has been inflicted on African women for hundreds of years.
Putting aside the racist overtones for a moment, it does not take a genius to realize that not only did this event bring absolutely nothing positive to the plight of female circumcision, it went further, adding insult to injury, by the negative depiction of the African female. It made me sick to my stomach to watch the artist, with his actual head (in black face) connected to the cake, pseudo-screaming as people cut into the body of the cake. The jolly faces, laughing, and enjoyment of the party-goers do not reflect people who are aware of the seriousness of genital mutilation. As a matter of fact, they seem to be having a great time, and enjoying some cake. This brings the level of disturbance up a notch for me. Watch the video for yourself:
Not only did the alleged “message” of the “performance art” completely miss the mark, but the cake in and of itself was a repulsively racist minstrel parody of an African woman. It reminded me of the 1800s, when Saartjie Baartman was stolen from South Africa and taken to Europe as a sideshow spectacle. Europeans, young and old, paid money to gawk, point, gasp, laugh and jeer at Saartjie’s naked body, exhibiting features the white people were not accustomed to. Saartjie was dehumanized and humiliated for the entertainment and enjoyment of others. And of course Saartjie was unfortunately not the only one subjected to this inhumane treatment, as the tradition of “black mockery for white entertainment” went on for hundreds of years, even taking different shapes and forms.
I imagine the Europeans who gawked at Saartjie Baartman looked very similar to the faces found in the crowd of Swedish cultural elite, as Liljeroth, the self-proclaimed “anti-racist”, feeds the “African” a piece of her very own body; smiles, laughter, camaraderie, and not one single look of protest, disgust, or opposition.
Arguments that “the artist is black, and that makes it alright”, or that “performance art is an extreme medium known for shock factor” are outlandishly absurd. The people who say things like that act as though things are being blown out of proportion, “It’s performance art. What’s the big deal?!” I suppose a generation of people raised in an intrinsically racist system, where even Bugs Bunny occasionally dressed up in minstrel black face, have trouble seeing the harm in this. Photographer and activist Dwayne Rodgers tweeted, “The big problem is the “right” everyone seems to have to play with very painful images of Black people.”
I wonder what the response would be if photographs and videos emerged of a group of Germans laughing and eating whilst standing around a Holocaust victim cake. I think people would be a little offended, to say the least. I suspect total outrage would be more like it. And if the person who baked the cake was Jewish, would that make it any more okay or right? Of course not! Because there is history there, and it would be completely insensitive to even imagine such a thing.
I’m not sure what is more disheartening to me, the fact that preposterous racist occurrences like this continue to happen in these modern times, or the fact that so many people are so quick to defend them, seemingly wanting to hold on to that “right” that Dwayne Rodgers speaks of. As if a Minister of Culture taking part in something like this isn’t bad enough, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth herself has tried to justify, rationalize and make excuses by saying that the event is being “misinterpreted”. Right. Sigh. Liljeroth’s out of touch, “let them eat cake” mentality is ironic to say the least.