Tag Archives: racial stereotypes

Clitoridectomy Performance in Poor Taste

racism, clitoridectomy, sexual abuse, female circumcision, controversy

A lot of controversy over this horrific image at a Swedish art show. Picture via: Frihetssmedjan

When a friend posted a picture of a bunch of laughing women cutting into a cake shaped like the caricatured torso of a black woman I was shocked, and like many others, saying WTF? The artist of this piece Makode Aj Linde in Sweden does various performances and art that look at racial stereotyping. The “cake” actually has the artist’s head sticking through, where he is done up in blackface. Swedish Minister or Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was asked to cut into the genitals to enact a clitoridectomy. The artist screamed and shrieked as this was done, with the rather gory, red cake interior revealed.

I thought this was only a torso but there are vestigial arms across the ponderous breasts. The artist’s head is done up in black face with a large cartoonish mouth. Many of the pictures show people laughing, taking pictures and eating the cake. The articles were somewhat biased with titles like “nig*ger cake,” “racist cake” and Lena as a  “self-confessed ‘anti-racist.'” The backlash was incredible and ironic since Liljeroth had been invited by the Swedish Art Organisation to speak about artistic freedom and the right to be provocative. Linde’s piece was definitely provocative but if I was an art critic I’d say it didn’t quite come off the way he was expecting.

On first glance we have three affronts: a doubly racist cake with the black person laying there, the black face upon the head, and then the mutilated cake torso smacking of outright cannibalism. On second glance we have people partying and eating the cake, disturbing considering the focal point. As I delved deeper I found a video that showed the artist screaming as the cake is cut. Several friends who viewed this changed their opinions from one of outraged effrontery to admiration because they were chilled by what they saw.

racial stereotyping, female genital mutilation, racist  cake, black person

Little Black Sambo is another racial stereotype: the big lips, white eyes and the watermelon.

As a provocative piece Aj Linde’s piece excelled. It definitely has provoked people to call for the Swedish minister’s resignation. It has outragedthe Association of African Swedes. Did it bring attention to the brutal act of genital mutilation? Yes, it did that too. But that seems secondary to the rest and was in all senses poor taste. Maybe there is no other truly effective way. I could see the human torso cake perhaps at a Hallowe’en party but as a means to highlight female mutilation, it could have stopped before people started eating the cake. What was the point of that? There are some stereotypes of Africans being cannibals and putting people in stewpots, but did that come across? And maybe most disturbing of all is that everyone overall seems to ignore the horrificness of such a cake and just party it up.

Is the laughter nervousness at being confronted with the uncomfortable thought of female genital mutilation? Is it a sign of people oblivious to events outside their purview? Is it a sign of blatant racism? Is it a sign of numbness to all the horrors in the world today? Is it narrow mindedness (if it’s not about me, it’s not important)? Maybe it’s all of these. It certainly is disturbing to me. For anyone who wants another look at female circumcision in terms of fiction, read Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, which might have been one of the first widely read accounts of such a practice.

Was this performance piece successful in what Aj Linde hoped to get across? All I can think is that in some ways, yes it was, though I think it misfired. I think a piece that mimicked the circumcisions with the screaming would have worked without the cake, but maybe the promise of a tasty confection drew everyone in at the end. If nothing else, this certainly did support an artist’s right to provoke.

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Flip Spagnoli

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Are Hallowe’en Costumes Racist?

Hallowe'en, costumes, racism, culture

STAR's campaign against racism

If you’re on Facebook you might have seen this picture all ready, circulating all over and many jumping on the politically correct bandwagon and saying, don’t do this. Don’t be insensitive. It was a poster done by STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) out of Ohio.

I’ll probably get shot over what I’m going to say here. I’m very much against racism and bigotry but I believe this is a case of mixing apples and oranges. First let’s look at Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, when it was believed that the veils between the worlds thinned and that ghosts and creatures of the underworld walked the night. It was a time when the world grew dark, lands were bereft of food and animals slaughtered for the winter larders. Back far enough, primitive peoples probably wondered if the sun would come back, if they had offended it somehow. That’s why there were always festivals of light on the winter solstice, when the longest night arrived and then the days grew longer. No one knew if it was gods or not.

Hallowe’en’s Celtic name is Samhain (sow-en) and as time went by it became a time to dress children in costumes; scary creatures, ghosts, goblins, skeletons and other things that go bump in the night. It evolved to other costumes but there is a long and complex history of Hallowe’en, with trick or treating, guising, asouling or in costume. Masquerades have existed for centuries.

So dressing up is part of Hallowe’en and has been so for a long time. Now the pictures above have a child of (I’m presuming) African-American, Japanese, Mexican and Arab ethnic groups. They each hold up a picture of a cartoon or a person in costume and it says “This is not who I am and it is not okay.” The top says We’re a culture, not a costume.” And indeed all cultures are very complex.

costume, Halloween, stereotyping, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Dutch regional costumes...is this racist?

This campaign was started to stop racial stereotyping, which is a good thing and all airports and police should really pay heed to that. Now the Arab costume has the guy wearing a bomb, as a terrorist I suppose. That is extremely in poor taste, just as dressing like the World Trade Center with a plane flying into you would be. So that costume needs to be tossed. The other pictures have a guy on a donkey, and a Geisha girl. They are indeed stereotypes. They are of earlier eras when in fact there were some people who dressed this way. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t unusual, it was the way it was. They were part of the culture of the time. Just as wearing a dress with a white linen apron, a cap with tips out and wooden shoes was a traditional Dutch costume. Stereotypes start as types.

I doubt there are few people who would put on a costume of a sailor, or a turbaned Maharajah, or of a witch (image from here) and presume that is the way people dress now and that all of a race are like this. Yes, I add witch because branches of neopaganism (Wicca) have members called witches. While there might be a few pagans who get upset at the stereotypical green-skinned witch dressed in black with a wart on her nose as a costume, most will keep a level head and understand that people don’t see them this way.

witch, costume, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Is wearing this witch mask racism or bigotry?

I think we need to understand that dressing up in a costume from cultural history (whether a Hawaiian hula dancer, an Aztec king, a French prince, a Viking, a Chinese Mandarin…) does not mean we presume that all people of a particular race look or dress this way. It is part of history and traditional dress used in various festivals to this day imitate those costumes of long ago. Of the four pictures above, the terrorist one is wrong, the other two are historical aspects of a culture, and the last one is what in terms of racism? A person should not be bitten by a vampire? Is it racial stereotyping of vampires or black people because vampires only go after them? I don’t think I understand that one and would it be better or the same if a white person was being bitten? Dressing as a member of the Ku Klux Klan would be very tasteless and downright dangerous in some ares, though it would indeed be scary.

So what is right and wrong here? Hallowe’en does not say to treat all costumed people as bigots or racists, nor does it support racism. It doesn’t emulate racial stereotyping. It does let a person dress up. If First Nations went as a cowboy, and a white person as an Indian, would that be wrong, or just having fun with stereotypes of old?

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