I came across this video on tumblr yesterday and I was HORRIFIED. My skin crawled, my stomach churned and I found myself feeling physically sick. I didn’t share the video because I felt that it would be wrong to put something so disturbing out into the ether without a context. Well, I got what I wished for:
Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, a self-proclaimed “anti-racist,” was photographed eating a cake made in the image of an African woman in minstrel makeup.
According to an article in Fria Tider (a Swedish publication), the minister of culture was celebrating with a “n—ger cake.” To add insult to injury, Liljeroth was invited to open festivities of World Art Day by — brace yourself — “performing a clitoridectomy on the cake” to bring awareness to the global practice of female circumcision.
There are so many things wrong here. So many things. There’s the feminist issue, what with the symbolic act of butchering a woman’s crotch … and then eating it (how exactly does turning genital mutilation into a grotesque joke raise awareness?) and then, of course, there’s the race issue.
Somehow, this all feels worse than the average run-of-the-mill racism. According to The Root, Liljeroth has previously taken a strong stance against racism, which suggests to me that she is either a raging (formerly closeted) racist or that she is completely oblivious to what she’s done here. Neither option is all that appealing. Either she knew exactly what she was doing (making light of the vicious practice of genital mutilation among certain tribes in Africa) or she had no clue (which, for a woman in her position would be incredible).
I recognize that every country’s history and experience with racism is different and that some have difficulty foreseeing the offense that can be caused by their (always “humorously” intended) actions. Honestly though, in this day and age, it isn’t nearly an excuse. Everyone knows better by now. If the entire premise of your “joke” is based on dehumanizing an individual or mocking them because they happen to be a different color than you are, it’s racist.
If your joke is based on slicing the crotch of a screaming cake shaped like a black woman, you’re a monster.
UPDATE: Minister’s defense:
Speaking to the TT news agency, she conceded the cake installation was provocative and rather bizarre, and said she had been invited to speak about artistic freedom and the right to offend.
She added: “They wanted me to cut the cake.” Ultimately, the artist was to blame for any confusion, she said, arguing that the situation had been misinterpreted. “He claims that it challenges a romanticised and exoticised view from the west about something that is really about violence and racism,” she said. “Art needs to be provocative.”
Oh, they wanted you to cut the cake! Well, what could you do? It’s not as if you should have recognized the heinous nature of this stunt masquerading as art and put a stop to it right away. You know… as the Minister of Culture.