Wednesday, April 25, 2012


On why the Swedish minister’s Apology is really a non-apology

"I am sincerely sorry if anyone has misinterpreted my participation," the
minister said in a statement.

"While the symbolism in the piece is despicable, it is unfortunate and highly regrettable that the presentation has been interpreted as an expression of racism by some. The artistic intent was the exact opposite."

Firstly there are many things wrong with what the minister believes is an apology. It makes an excuse for her participation in the whole project. This is why she is being challenged; not because people are misinterpreting her participation, but that she should not have participated at all once she realized what she was expected to do. As a national leader it is her responsibility to ensure that she does not in any way tarnish her office through dubious or in this case outrageous associations. It is also her responsibility to ensure that all the constituents she represents are treated with equity under the law. The idea that she participated because she had been asked to talk about “freedom of expression and the right to offend”, is no excuse for her involvement in what was a mockery of African women by depicting them as a grotesque caricature. In this day and age, 2012, global village, social media and all that, her gross failure in judgment has left her probably one of the most controversial women around the globe at this time. She has demonstrated a total lack of cultural competence, a lack of awareness that in this day and age it is racist and egregious to use imagery that evokes the despicable era of black slavery and colonialism, evils that the whole world has condemned. The black woman cake is highly offensive and evokes haunting and degrading images of the Minstrel shows in which white actors painted themselves black and performed degrading stereotypes of African Americans and Africans in Europe as stupid, lazy and less than human beings. The African Community in Sweden has, understandably, no faith that this Minister can ever represent them, because her participation in this project placed her squarely on the side of those who believe that racism is not a problem in Sweden. She has placed herself on the side of those who think black people who are offended by this caricature of black womanhood are “too sensitive”, therefore trivializing their genuine hurt and anger.

Secondly it is not the symbolism of this cake that is despicable it is the actual cake itself! What is truly despicable is the enactment of cutting the genital area by the Minister and the accompanying screams by the artist Makode Linde, who then goes on to face book and writes:  “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.” This is really a mockery of women who have undergone Female genital cutting, an issue that this project was supposed to highlight. How do you justify mocking and degrading a group of people as a way of raising awareness? So you highlighted the serious and devastating issue of female genital cutting by cutting an ugly cake, while laughing and drinking and taking pictures? The outcry from women who have had experienced genital cutting and women who work for the eradication of this cultural/ public health problem has been enormous.

Thirdly, an apology that contains ‘mis’ words is always suspect.  The phrase “ Anyone who misinterpreted”, apportions blame on those who feel slighted. It insinuates that they are the ones who got it wrong and who do not have the intellectual capacity to understand the artists’ intent. The minister adds more insult to injury with this “non-apology”.

In the light of this global outcry, the minister’s apology rings hollow because she refuses to take ownership of the huge public relations and political blunder that she has made. This renders her less respectable and unfit for the post she holds. The point is that people are angry and people feel insulted. Any politician worth their salt would rush to do damage control instead of uttering patronizing statements in the name of apology.

In the same vein, the Swedish government has been silent about this issue, an issue which has the potential to have political fallout and to tarnish the image of Sweden. It is obvious that they do not care, just the same way that they do not care about the Africans who live and work and pay taxes in Sweden who are subjected to racism but are told again and again that “there is no racism in Sweden”.

In 2011, Jallow Momodou reported to the police that students were having a party in which they were painted black with slave chains around their necks.

“Apart from threats against me and my family, a manipulated picture of me as a slave in shackles was made into posters bearing the words, in Swedish: "This is our runaway nigger slave and he answers to the name Jallow Momodou. If you should find him please call this number." These were put up in several different spots around my workplace, Malmö University. But hey, “there is no racism in Sweden”.

In 2010 a white Swedish man went on a shooting spree in Malmo, shooting more than 20 people of color and killing one. The killer was officially considered to be an isolated case with psychological issues, but not a terrorist with racist motives. This man has still not been prosecuted, and “there is no racism in Sweden”.

In early 2012,  there was uproar over a sex education film in which a black man was having sex with a white girl.  There were over half a million comments by Swedes who were appalled and disgusted that a white girl would degrade herself by sleeping with a black man. Others were lamenting the contamination of the pure Swedish gene pool. Once again, there was no comment about the blatant racist comments by any political leader, because ‘there is no racism in Sweden.”

WAKE UP SWEDEN! Being silent about this issue and denying the existence of a serious human rights violation only means one thing, that you are giving racism a seal of approval, something which goes against the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (September 2001). States were required to sign their commitment to combating contemporary forms of racism against Blacks, Muslims, xenophobia, negrophobia and anti-Semitism. Sweden is a signatory to the Durban Declaration. Honor your commitment SWEDEN!

Sweden is not an island and the context is the global village.

Barbara Mhangami

Dr. Claudette Carr –Director of the Jethrow Institute for Good Governance

 Samantha Asamandu –Black Feminists UK

Minna Salami

Black Women’s Blueprint

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