Apology Not Acceptable
As a follow –up on the Swedish cake debacle (April 15, 2012), I would like to inform you of the sequence of events that have taken place thus far.
A group of enraged women of African descent, led by Dr. Claudette Carr, founder and executive director of the Jethro institute for Good Governance, wrote an open letter to the Minister of Culture, demanding an apology for her participation and therefore public endorsement of the highly offensive and racist cake (known as the Venus- Hottentot cake). The full story can be read here .
The open letter was then used to create a petition to which people were asked to append their signatures in protest to this piece of “performance art”. The petition was run for about 4 weeks, and during that time, a representative from our core group, along with a representative from the Afro- Swedish community was asked to participate in an interview on The Stream, a program on Al Jezeera Televison.
One of our partners, the Black women’s Blueprint also provided a platform in the United States on their blog radio show, to discuss the various ways in which the artist Makode Linde, the minister of culture and the people who participated in the performance art exhibit had acted inappropriately. That interview can be accessed here.
. After four weeks the petition was closed and mailed to the Minister of Culture in Sweden. In the meantime, Dr. Claudette Carr and Mina Salami took part in an email conversation entitled Racism is no Joke: A Swedish minister and a Venus Hottentot Cake, to be published in a forthcoming anthology called Afro-Nordic landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe (Routeledge, 2012), edited by Professor Paul Gilroy.
We are waiting to hear from the Minister of Culture with regards to our petition/ open letter and the points we put forward as a way to make amends for the gross error in judgment that she displayed by part taking of a culturally insensitive and inappropriate spectacle, which has brought into question her publicly stated commitment as an “anti- racist”.
In the meantime, Mashua Against FGM, an organization we partnered with for this campaign ran their own petition where they simply asked for an apology. They received the apology on June 27, 2012 and you can read it here.
After the initial happiness that an apology had been rendered, I read the apology and to my utter disbelief the apology was exactly the same as the pro- forma apology that Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth had delivered to the press. It was the same non-apology that I blogged about here.
While I am glad that Mashua for FGM is satisfied with this apology. However, I would like to make it clear that I find the apology an insult and therefore do not accept it. The fact that this is exactly the same apology rendered through the press leads me to believe that no effort has been made to grasp the scope of the problem with her involvement in the art project.
I believe I speak on behalf of the original cosignatories to the open letter, when I state that the apology is nullified by the fact that the minister places the problem with her actions squarely on the shoulders of those who were offended by saying that they misinterpreted her actions. In other words, she did not err in any way and the only thing she regrets is that people took it the wrong way. This is insulting on many levels as I have stated before in a previous blog.
We therefore disassociate ourselves from the minister’s second non- apology and look forward to a genuine apology, where it is clear that she has understood why this so called art is a mockery and a dehumanizing act that has sent waves of anger throughout the world. We look forward to an admission of error on the minister’s part,and not this defensive verbiage that insinuates that those who are offended do not understand art.
We also look forward to a solid response to the other requests presented in the open letter. I would also like to make it clear that we will not accept to being condescended to; neither will we go away quietly. This issue is huge and it will remain an issue to be discussed and resolved for as long as it takes for the minister of culture to do the right thing and render a genuine apology. To relent now is to have failed ourselves and those for whom we speak. This would also set a bad precedent, whereby African women can be objectified and belittled with no real consequences. Now is the time to stand up and refuse to be the portrayed through negative stereotypes and oppressive, racist images which only serve to marginalize us further from mainstream discourse about our issues vis-à-vis development and empowerment. It is time that we are front- and- center of such discourse and it is imperative that we lead and direct this discourse. This issue of Swedish racism has provided us a conduit to the fore front of discussions about who we are in relation to the other women in the world and history will not look favorably on us if we “drop the ball” at this juncture.
It is very disappointing that the minister chooses to play politics in an issue where vulnerable women are further victimized, and Black people in general have been affronted. As I have stated before, this non-apology is reflective of and consistent with the Swedish government’s own reticence to address the pressing racial issues and race-based disparities that negatively affect the Afro-Swedish community. We stand in solidarity with the Afro- Swedish community and we stand together with all the African women and all women affected by FGM, whose dignity we seek to restore by passionately seeking redress in this degrading, racist spectacle, which got the seal of approval from a government minister, a woman for that matter. What a shame.