Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Swedish Racism is Leaving a Bad Taste in My Mouth...

You'll get my pun in a moment.

Sometimes American liberals like to go off into a kiss-ass-fest with Scandinavian countries. Places like Sweden, Finland, and Norway are touted for being examples of socialism going right: universal health care, quality government day care, and paid parental leave are all waved around as reasons for us to partake in the Scandinavian lovefest. And it's totally valid because those are all areas in which American lags behind.

However, it's really important to remember that no culture is perfect and we've got to continue to think critically about what we see happen around the world. In that vein, Sweden has sent us a big reminder of that with a really racist debacle going down. As covered at Colorlines:

On Sunday the Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cut in to a large cake shaped like a black woman as part of an art installation which was reportedly meant to highlight the issue of female circumcision. The event took place at Moderna Museet which reports say is partly funded with public tax dollars.  
Makode Aj Linde, the artist who created the installation and whose head is part of the cake cut by the minister, wrote about the “genital mutilation cake” on his Facebook page: “Documentation from my female genital mutilation cake performance earlier today at stockholm moma. This is After getting my vagaga mutilated by the minister of culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth. Before cutting me up she whispered 'Your life will be better after this' in my ear,” the artist wrote on Facebook.
Coverage of the event has caused an uproar. While it's purported purpose was to highlight the problem of female genital mutilation, it instead has invoked racist and sexist imagery. The pictures pretty well illustrate why everyone is so upset:
Makode Aj Linde as the cake woman
Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cut and fed the cake woman

I just--I mean...that is horrific and it's actually hard for me to even look at. Even if you could strip away racist and sexist imagery, who the hell wants to eat what looks like a bloodied body?! But truth is, you can't strip away levels of shit going on here. Amongst the critics are the Afro Swedes' Association saying that the "art" relies on a racist caricature. Here, here. Other critics took to Twitter. As Professor Blair LM Kelley said, "Blackface, check. Red distorted lips, check. Man portraying a misshapen black woman, check. Laughter, check. That's minstrelsy." 

It's clearly very hard to deny the racism here. I mean, we have someone in black face and a bunch of white people are digging into the body, literally devouring her. It's sick. And just as old as minstrelsy, we have the sexist element of the disembodiment of women, whose parts are isolated and emphasized in an effort to deny their humanity.

But beyond all that fucked-up-ery, I simply fail to see how this possibly conveys that FGM is a problem. It seems to mock it instead, from the fact that Liljeroth had to say that disturbing line to the imagery of them all yucking it up as they eat the woman's labia and body--I mean, what the actual fuck? How is this remotely conveying an anti-FGM message?

No no no no no. 

So just remember, we've all got a long way to go until we find that utopian society. 

For more about this, I recommend you check out Shakesville.


  1. I´m from sweden and i´m a feminist (hense why i read your blog sometimes). Everything you say is true but I get offended by the headline, is there anything that can actually be called "swedish racism"? the event above was massivly critized in sweden in all newspapers just because most people are against that sorts of thing and was disgusted by it. When I talk about racism in America I don´t call it american racism, i call it "some people in america who are racist and stupid as fuck". racism is the same whereever it is.

    With that said i totally agree that in countries like ours that often are reported to be in the frontlines of (for example) genderpolitics, people seem to forget that we still have work to do. feminist in sweden are still very angry, unhappy and not very happy about the patriarchy that very much still rule the norms. it is actually the one thing i am most upsetted about as a feminist talking about gender issues with whomever i meet; the lack of understanding that even tough we have come a far way we still got loads to do. "think about the arabiq women instead, they are ruled by men" is often an answer i get when i talk abour injustice amongst swedish women. "the women in sweden has such a good life and all they do is complain". allow me: RROOOOOOAAAARR!!!

    you have to excuse my probably misspelled words and bad grammar but i think you understand what i mean anyway. take care!

    1. Hi Fridos-thanks for your thoughtful comment. I apologize for the offense. I just meant it as "here's a racist thing that happened in Sweden" not to reflect upon all Swedes. Sorry this is so short. I only have my iPhone for Internet right now.


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