Of course the Swedish cake thing is fucking racist

One normally tries to raise the tone of the blogosphere – keeping the language clean, avoiding “lol” memes, never ending a sentence on a preposition, that sort of thing – but on seeing this, and the reactions to it, I’ve been overcome and must re-state the Swedish cake thing is fucking racist.

If you don’t know, here’s what happened: a Swedish artist of partly African descent made a cake to look like the worst kind of racist stereotype of a black woman’s body – I’m not going to put the picture in here, you can see it in the link if you want to – supposedly to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation. There’s the punchline, you see: he was hiding inside the cake and gave a groan whenever someone sliced a bit off. The Swedish culture minister, Lena Adelson Liljeroth, began the fun by slicing off the clitoris (female genital mutilation, but tasty, geddit?) of the thing. African and anti-racist organisations in Sweden are, obviously and rightly, outraged.

The reaction to the reaction has displayed a level of obtuseness and of wounded pedantry that we have seen before (most recently in the Trayvon Martin case, but think also of the “Danish cartoons” of a few years back) but, given the grotesque obviousness of the caricature ‘s racism, still remains shocking. The response come in two stale flavours: one, the artist is and Afro-Swede and is raising ‘questions about power and colonial perspectives’. Second, he didn’t mean to be racist and it’s really about FGM so you should be talking about that, or be guilty of a reverse racism that romanticises the practice.

First, yes, the artist Makode Aj Linde, is an Afro-Swede. He’s also a man, so he doesn’t have a clitoris to chop up, and it’s pretty off to mock one up. If he wants to make a point about Female Genital Mutilation, why not invite survivors of, or activists against the practice in to the installation? What would they think on seeing themselves depicted in this way? Nor, is the minister of culture, or the gallery African – they are Europeans, making use of the shock value of the image of the black woman’s body as primitive, ugly, and lasciviously naked. This is not questioning colonial power and perspectives: it is exercising one. It is literally impossible to imagine a white body portrayed in the same way (although contempt for the female body, for the working-class body are also ubiquitous) because, guess what, white people don’t suffer from racism.

This leads onto the next objection, about what racism is. But he didn’t mean to be racist, right? Who does? This objection reflects the fundamental liberal myopia about what racism is. In this reading, for an act to be racist, one would have to lodge a notice of racist intent with the department of defining racism a week in advance. Whenever someone shouts at a football match “you black bastard”, their excuse is that they weren’t being racist, they just wanted to insult someone (and they liked Yo MTV raps, some of their best friends,etc, etc) That’s not the point. Racism is not a matter of individuals deciding they don’t like members of another pre-existing ‘race’. There is no race before or without racism: they are part of the same structure of oppression that has, since the rise of capitalist imperialism and slavery, categorised certain people as inferior to others so that they or their lands could be exploited. Sometimes the basis for this categorisation is physical, such as skin colour, and sometimes it is not. The Irish in the UK were not ‘white’ for centuries. The Greeks in Greece are ‘white’ in relation to Pakistani immigrants: they’re not in Australia in relation to descendants of Anglo-Celtic immigrants. The constant, however, is the deployment of array of racialising images that then constitute the oppressed category: the lusty moor, the treacherous Jew, the primitive African. When you use or act out those categories – for example when you shoot a black teenager not because you don’t like his skin but because ‘everyone knows’ they’re dangerous, or when you do up a golliwog cake of a black woman – that’s racist.

But female genital mutilation is important and wrong, right? Yes, it is. Who the hell are these people who are supposedly going round ‘romanticising’ it? This sounds like the argument that political correctness is condemning people to “honour killings” and so forth. This is rather reminiscent of the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ episode. The problem with this is there are plenty of active feminists and feminist organisations in Africa combating FGM. FGM is indeed one of the many horrible and dangerous practices that result from the denial of women’s autonomy over their own bodies. But its victims and the organisations that combat the practice need solidarity. They don’t need to have themselves portrayed as gurning troglodytes to make the point by someone who doesn’t even have a clitoris to cut off.

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Posted on April 18, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Of course the Swedish cake thing is fucking racist.

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