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Wed, Apr. 18th, 2012, 12:48 am
rime_r: Racist cake

Apparently this has gone viral so I imagine you'll be hearing about this elsewhere, if you haven't already. This is so awful that I feel like apologizing for even bringing it to your attention. Like, those could have been a few more hours or days without knowing about the racist cake thing, you know? :(

Basically--correct me if I have details wrong--the Swedish Minister of Culture, supposedly well-known for her anti-racist activism, participated in a performance piece on World Art Day at a modern art museum in Stockholm.

Cut for disturbing, even in summary format

The piece was designed by an Afro-Swedish performance artist, Makode Aj Linde. He put on blackface and put his head through a table, on top of which a life-size cake lay, a cake portraying the body of a cartoonish blackface African woman. The Afro-Swedish Association has spoken out about it strongly and is calling for the minister's resignation. WARNING, VERY DISTURBING PICTURE.

Okay. I was going to try to lay out all the details and then get into my rant, but this is so disturbing to me. My anger and WTF energy is leaving me and now I just feel sick and sad. Basically, the white woman cuts up the cake shaped like the black woman. Starting at the genitals. While the blackface-head screams. There's lots of photos and video, showing the white audience members smiling and snapping pictures. Ostensibly it was supposed to be a statement against female genital mutilation, and to challenge our racist preconceptions and etc. etc.

I'm not really seeing any post-colonial enlightenment coming about, here. The news coverage is maddening. There is so much smug apologist commentary. The "mainstream" coverage also doesn't seem to acknowledge how this is also incredibly misogynist--it's not just racist. A few of the greatest hits:

--It's not racist cuz the artist is black.
--It's not racist because blackface isn't a THING in Sweden like it is in the United States.
--It's art, so if you are offended you are "missing the point." (One particularly sanctimonious blogpost here. The author calls the Afro-Swedish Association "naive," like they are too stupid to appreciate that this is ART, MAN, and therefore totally progressive. (WTF, like artwork can't be racist?) She says critics need to "stick to the point."

Uhhh, I don't think they're the ones missing the point. You can call something "postcolonialist" all you want... but how is this actually "deconstructing" racism or misogyny or colonialism? The white people at the art show. Laughing, smiling, clinking glasses and clicking cameras. While a black woman is symbolically--not even SYMBOLICALLY, almost--dismembered and eaten as a spectacle for them. The people of color speak up, express their horror, and critics shoot them down and tell them it's not actually racist, they just don't "get it." That was ALREADY the status quo.

It's a really good example of how "anti-racists" can do spectacularly racist things. And, after people of color respond, STILL not see it as racist. The fact that real people of color are hurt by this is not what matters to them, for all the talk about deconstructing stuff and progressiveness and postcolonialism. Postcolonialism: you're doing it wrong.

Anyway, this story broke pretty recently, I guess, and I've been trying to find articles or posts that look at this from the perspective of people of color (women especially). I imagine that will be forthcoming. All I've seen so far is some quotes from the Afro-Swedish Association, the artist's facebook page, and a few comments by women of color. I've also been trying to find a place to discuss this and share feelings about it where I don't have to like, argue that it's racist in the first place.

Wed, Apr. 18th, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)

Your cut does not seem to be performing the desired function. :/

There's a video here, for those with stronger constitutions than mine. The cake is screaming. I can't . . . I can't understand . . . well, any of it, really.

Wed, Apr. 18th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC)

Fixed the lj-cut.

Wed, Apr. 18th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)

That is disgusting. How can any person call h/herself anti-racist if s/he thinks that is in any way okay?

Wed, Apr. 18th, 2012 06:12 am (UTC)

Oh my God... I'm not a person of color and this shocks, horrifies, and sickens me. I can't even imagine what a PoC would feel. How can we think this is okay, "performance art" or not? White people are not allowed to say this is appropriate, in ANY circumstances. Period.

Wed, Apr. 18th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)

here's a strong article, that puts this within the context of Europe...


Wed, Apr. 18th, 2012 10:02 pm (UTC)

Whoa whoa, let's back up here.

1) I thought this was debunkingwhite. Why are we judging a black artist's work as racist or not racist here?
2) Where can I find the artists statement so I can understand this piece

Thu, Apr. 19th, 2012 12:51 am (UTC)

Are comments moderated? I typed a long thing in response to you, angelvomit, and it didn't show up. Testing...

Thu, Apr. 19th, 2012 12:51 am (UTC)

I'm certainly open to hearing discussion of Linde's work not being racist. Again, this story broke recently and I think people are still processing it, and I have seen a number of different reactions expressing different opinions about where the racism resides. Like is Linde's cake/performance itself "racist" or is it the glib white people cutting up the cake and laughing, or the blog apologists telling people of color to get over it, etc. or all of the above. Was the point to show how oblivious and racist some "anti-racists" can be? I mean, in that case, it worked.

I absolutely do not know or understand everything, and I am still processing it too and trying to read other people's reactions... and I cannot and should not as a white person speak for people of color, who are the more appropriate arbiters of whether and how this is messed up and racist. So far as I can tell reactions are not uniform... some think the artist's mission worked as intended and some don't accept that.

I have tried really hard to give the artist the benefit of the doubt and turned this over and over in my mind, trying to figure out how it ultimately works as an anti-racist piece... I think it brought OUT a lot of racism, and I'm not sure how much of that was part of the artist's intention. If the point was to do some sort of performance art Milgram experience, to prove that white people will blithely and publicly disembody a blackface effigy given certain circumstances...well, *that* worked, but I'm not sure to what extent the artist was going for that?

People of color in the artist's own country were offended and hurt, and have spoken out strongly about the issue. They know of the artist's stated intent. I found a statement on the National Afro-Swedish Association's webpage (not sure this is a stable link, it's the first thing on the page.):

"While one can question the wit, sensibilities, and intent of Mr. Linde, as an artist he creates an oeuvre whose nuances are not lost among us. No matter how repulsive or grotesque we find it, he is entitled to his freedom of expression. The same cannot be said of Minister Liljeroth. She is a public figure representing your government at all times. Laughing at a performance so many people across the globe find offensive is problematic to say the least."

So in this statement (not sure who it is written by) the writer seems to be trying to cut Linde some slack, acknowledging that he is a person of color whose stated intent is anti-racist, and saying that the problem is not so much his work as it is Lilijeroth's blithe participation with what seemed like really inappropriate reactions.

But basically, I don't think the spokesman of the NASA thinks that Linde's performance piece worked, as an anti-racist piece. The spokesman, Kitimbwa Sabuni says:

“According to the Moderna Museet, the 'cake party' was meant to problematize female circumcision but how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with 'black face' is unclear.”

And he also says, “To participate in a racist manifestation masquerading as art is totally over the line and can only be interpreted as the culture minister supporting the Moderna Museet's racist prank.”

So I think the NASA spokesman, and presumably many or most of those who he's representing, feel it to be racist, although they know the artist is a black man with a professed anti-racist agenda and they have tried to give some leeway there.

(edit: omg why do I suddenly suck at html. Edited to fix hyperlink.)

Edited at 2012-04-19 12:52 am (UTC)

Thu, Apr. 19th, 2012 12:19 pm (UTC)

Like is Linde's cake/performance itself "racist" or is it the glib white people cutting up the cake and laughing, or the blog apologists telling people of color to get over it, etc. or all of the above.

I think this is really the point of contention here. My initial thought is that Linde's... performance is not /racist/ (though as a black woman, I find it SO agitating and exhausting), so I do agree with starsorstreet pointing out that focus on the cake/performance itself is a derail. But! I also agree with you in that it's important to talk about how women of color-- particularly black women-- have not been invited to be the key voices in this sea of "discussion", and therefore white people sitting around waxing on about how people should respond to something like this is ridiculous. For me, it's like, I don't remember asking you how you felt, even if you agree with me. I just went through some bullshit a few hours ago with a white friend who said something problematic about how POC were responding to something racist, and even though I agreed with her on a pure argument level, I was like, you need to recognize that nobody really gives a fuck about how you process people's colonization. And she got all mad because she felt like she had a right to be heard (there goes that entitlement again) and I told her I wasn't going to deal with her being mad that I told her what she said was inappropriate. Whatever.

When black artists use blackface, they use it for a variety of different reasons. While the immediate response to it is "RACISSSST", it's always been a lot more nuanced of an artistic decision, even back in the olden days. So I actually do kind of agree with the argument that it's not racist because the artist is black. Can it still be offensive? Absolutely. Problematic? Definitely. Sexist/misogynist? I'd say so. And it looks like it might even be appropriative. The audience reaction? Totally fucking racist. But the cake/performance? I'm not gonna contextualize it that way, even if it was crappily thought out, a failure in execution, the result of piss poor analysis, etc etc.

TL;DR version: calling it a "racist cake" is speaking out of turn, but centering the discussion here on the white response-- both in person and on the blogosphere/news media circuit-- is important.

Fri, Apr. 20th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)

I want to say this respectfully, and I in no way mean to be contrary or argumentative. As a white person who tries to be as outspoken an ally for anti-racism as possible, reading the description of your frustration and anger with your white friend makes me wonder how we as white allies can express our... I dunno, genuine solidarity, support, visible outrage or whatever without seeming entitled to express it.

Fri, Apr. 20th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)

Well, I feel like what you're asking about and what my friend did were two different things, and they'd be obvious if you witnessed them. It's fine to be outraged at injustice. But it's not fine to get angry at POC for not responding to or behaving in the face of racism the way you feel like they should.

She'd read an article written by a black woman about her experience as a WOC, and I guess the piece was general and maybe even conflating blackness with racial Otherness. That's admittedly problematic, but not to the point where a white lady should feel like it matters that it "bothered" her that no mention was made of other racial Others in the discourse. She was like, "Why isn't she thinking about Asian/Latina/Native/etc. women?" Maybe she was. You don't know. Thinking POC think as myopically about race as white people do is not the smartest bet to make. Plus, maybe her article wasn't as pulled together as it ~should~ have been because maybe she's just learning about this. Consciousness is a privilege and as colonized people, we're all at different stages with it. I can't imagine any situation where it's okay for a white person to criticize a POC's internalized racism issues. That shit is preposterous.

So, when confronted with rage, ask yourself: "Is my anger with the system that perpetuates these injustices, or the POC living and functioning within these systems?" And if the answer is number two, it's the wrong answer.

Sat, Apr. 21st, 2012 01:44 am (UTC)

So, when confronted with rage, ask yourself: "Is my anger with the system that perpetuates these injustices, or the POC living and functioning within these systems?" And if the answer is number two, it's the wrong answer.

That's really helpful to me (not the person who asked), thank you for that.

Thu, Apr. 19th, 2012 12:51 am (UTC)

Okay, I think my comment was just too long, here's the 2nd half of it:

Here's a blog post better expressing some of what I was trying to say: http://ereyes312.tumblr.com/post/21320137637/why-i-think-makode-aj-lindes-cake-was-a-poignant

This person interprets the whole shitstorm as intentional on Linde's part and thinks it worked: http://inqueerer.com/painful-cake-racist-spectacle-or-art-in-her-most-raw-pure-subversive-and-inflammatory-form/

A black woman's post: http://www.forharriet.com/2012/04/saartjie-baartman-revisited-thoughts-on.html She says she has been in discussion with other black women who did not have a problem with the piece, but she "diplomatically" disagrees. I'd really like to hear her opinion in more detail.

Here is the artist's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Makode-Linde/92718443762
It has a lot of links to different articles, as well as people commenting directly on his page. I haven't found like, a specific artist's statement about this piece though, besides the brief quotes I have seen in news articles (like the one in the OP).

The quote seemed to suggest that his piece was intended to be about female genital mutilation in particular, and "romantic" conceptions of African people vs. the reality of racism and violence. That doesn't seem to be to me to be what was actually brought up by the piece, really, even if you count the piece a success. (That seems to be the analysis of the author quoted in Elizabeth Reyes' blog.)

Again, I think people (myself included) are still trying to process this whole thing...I'm sure there will continue to be a lot of discussion.

Thu, Apr. 19th, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)

Also I thought this was a good quote from a commenter on the Jezebel article by user "Ulookinatmyjunk", especially cuz a lot of the commentary seems to ignore the gender aspects:

"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive." - Audre Lorde

Watching this video brings new meaning to this quote for me. I see a black man taking ownership of and depicting a pain that only a black woman can experience. And then white people treating black women as a cause to rally around and support but still not appreciating our humanity.

I think I'm done with this thread now. Too sad.

(please work html tags)

Thu, Apr. 19th, 2012 06:41 am (UTC)

This one's good. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/18/racism-becoming-the-norm-sweden From a Swedish politician of color who's been cruelly taunted by racists in the past for objecting to their humor.

As a woman living in Denmark, let me just say that this incident doesn't surprise me. Children here still read from a book called "Little Black Sambo," and the blackface parties the author mentions are not considered a big deal, nor is the use of the N word here. Surprisingly, I had thought Sweden was supposed to be much more accepting of diversity and much less tolerant of such displays than Denmark. It's normally how it's portrayed here.