Indigeneity, Language and Authenticity

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Eating the Subaltern or a Swedish Racist Cake

cake

Sweden as a country has a tendency to present itself as a bastion of equality, human rights and anti-racism and yet time and again reality tells us that far from being the truth, my other home is as abhorently racist, sexist and unequal as any other Western country in the world.

This past week has been a perfect example of this.

Earlier this week I ranted about the fact that a school in Liksjoe (Lycksele) went out of the way to forbid children from speaking their indigenous language. As you probably remember, I spent a substantial time there wanting to kill everyone for a while upon reading about yet another example of obvious colonialism back home. I guess that between this and an act which in many ways can be described as nothing short of literally eating the Subaltern, i.e. our white female Minister of Culture ritually performing a FGM on a cake shaped like a black woman – earily reminisent of the San woman Sarah Baartman who was exhibited all over Europe and whose bones and preserved genital parts were kept on display in France until the 1970’s and not returned to South Africa in order to be properly buried until 2002 – it is only natural that it has been hard to not be utterly disgusted with Sweden for the majority of this week.

So, seeing as I’m stuck at work waiting for students to perhaps turn up to their open school night, let’s talk about the cake and a number of related issues and let’s start by quoting Mariam Osman Sherifay at the Swedish Centre Against Racism:

In Sweden, it seems to be comme il faut to caricature Africans in ways we could never imagine portraying other ethnic groups which have been persectuted: for example Jews, Romani or Saami people. Still in the 21th century we haven’t dealt with the stereotypical notions of Africans that seem to have been passed on by heredity in Swedish mentality — Mariam Osman Sherifay

The quote above addresses a number of issues I have with Sweden in general and the cake incident in particular: on one hand it highlights the appalling in having a Minister of Culture, so immersed in a white saviour complex culture, that she sees nothing wrong in dismembering an African woman – it doesn’t matter that this one happened to be made of cake – for shock value in order to highlight the issue of female genital mutiliation in African countries. Provocative art has a place in the public sphere but I see something deeply problematic in anyone who isn’t a black woman affected by FMG making an art installment based on the exploitation of these women’s experiences. The cake maker is one of a precious few prolific Afro-Swedish artists, musicians and writers, but there are some things you don’t treat as something to be objectified as art if you’re a man, regardless of your race.

But while the artist’s intention – i.e. to shine a light on FGM and the ways in which it is portrayed in Western media – perhaps could be justified on some very strange level (I really don’t think this can be defended with the simple statement “freedom of artistic expression” though), what is most shocking about this is the way everyone at the event reacts – note how no-one save the artist seems to be black.

People are smiling, in fact, the cultural editor at the Swedish paperExpressesntalked about the performance’s “initially humouristic” tone when commenting on the issue and my answer to this could be nothing more but a simple WTF?

If you, as a white person can see any-fucking-thing remotely humoristic in the ritualistic slaughter of a black woman, you’re so brain-damaged by the white, colonial attitudes in your society that you’re constituting a very real danger, not just to others but to yourself. The fucking cake was crying and while we all do get the basic idea behind catharsis, the reactions from the white attendees were not in any way cathartic, but rather grotesque examples of racism and just wrong on so many levels.

Going back to the quote I posted above: Miriam is pointing at one of many beefs I have with many Swedes – To this day, Swedes have a tendency to dress up in blackface during parties – especially first year students at our many universities seem to go out of their way to dress up as racist stereotypes of literally everything (Swedes want to be Americans and when it comes to cultural appropriation, we’re in many ways worse than you, we have people who do it on national television on a regular basis) – and no matter what you say, there’s no way these people are going to care. Or, if they do care, then it is because another white looking, preferably male tells them to do so as the majority of non-white voices in Sweden, unless approved by the establishment, are denied any space in Swedish society. And the ones who do get the Swedish seal of approval have to be twice as good at whatever they do to be considered half as good as a white Swedish person.

Just take Zlatan Ibrahimovic or football in general – we still have a plethora of wankers who shout racist abuse at our black football players on a regular basis – and despite the fact that Ibrahimovic is arguably the best football player to have ever come out of Sweden, he is generally written off as cocky, arrogant and showy because of his background. This despite the fact that ethnic Swedish players like Ljungberg are as guilty of the very same accusations as Ibrahimovic. Swedes just can’t accept the fact that you don’t have to be called Svensson to be “as good as one of us”.

What is more, when Miriam mentions the Saami and Jewish people in her quote, she does not mention the fact that in order to paint Saami and Jewish people as the Other to be feared, they’re traditionally always depicted as dark –  the darker the skin and hair, the worse the person.

And this in turn feeds in to the fact that I’m pretty confident in saying that Sweden’s cities are some of the most racially segregated in Europe: suburbs are either white or inhabited by foreigners, “mixed schools” do not really exist in Sweden.

At all.

I could say more about this but others, far more intelligent people – primarily Afro-Swedish women, other African women (Patel etc.) and other second generation Swedes (cf. Shafiyam) – have said far better and more coherent things then me because I generally just ramble so I’ll just stop there and go and play pool with my students instead.

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