I am appalled — as I frequently enjoy being — at how well-colonised we have become by the Niceness Imperative of the global mainstream media. Apparently, a cake resembling a ‘stereotypical tribal African woman’ — a claim since disputed by the its artist, who says the face on the cake represented his own — was cut and eaten by a mixed racial group of patrons at an art exhibition in Sweden, in some cases with visible amusement and delight. This has outraged, but outraged!, feminists, people of colour, and one assumes, generous-souled progressive white folks. (‘People of colour’ does not include white people, because white is not that sort of a colour).
And, the artist had screamed in pain every time someone helped themselves to a slice. How perfectly morbid. How very wrong. White people merrily chopping off bits of a screeching black woman and gobbling it. How filthily racist. And misogynistic. Dis. Gusting.
Of course, with a little historical perspective and a little less of the sanctimonious hair-trigger offence mechanism so deeply valorised by our media, lawmakers and the easy-activism industry, one might have interpreted the edible installation thus: “My! What a brutally honest depiction of the history of savagery — physical, legal, economic and social — that black African women have had to face, since the inception of colonialism, at the very least”. One might even have thought, “What an excellent depiction of the brutality minority women — on the lowest rung of the social hierarchy and with the least political voice or cultural capital in every society — have to face every day of their lives”. Indeed, one might have expected this angle to jump at self-consciously coloured people the moment they set eyes on the installation, which, in my reading of it at least, seeks to highlight the voiceless suffering of certain groups of African women by mimicking the practice of female circumcision, and social complicity in it.
At the very least, one might have expected feminists, people of colour and rights activists to go “Hmmm” at the cake for a bit, and not exposed the fulness of their intellectual slavery to the elite-protective biases of the media quite so eagerly.
But this, evidently, would be too much effort, particularly since it would go against the happy indoctrination by the social hegemony of a section of Western-sourced activism, to only be radical in familiar, media-friendly ways (“I will walk without my shirt on for women empowerment everywhere!”). And we can’t be having that. Plus being rational and balanced is always a risk — it’s like holding an open house for the PC Police. Especially if it involves race. Goodness gracious me, we’re actually talking about race? We’re acknowleding it exists? And gender! Still nattering about it? Using graphic depictions which might make former and current perps of almost unbelievable physical atrocities on (minority) women uncomfortable? Inflicting the reality of institutionalised brutality and violence on those women who will never have to encounter anything this tangibly painful? Clearly, good manners and considerations for other people’s sensibilities are a thing of the past.
So predictably, wits worldwide have dubbed this art event cakegate, and Twitter — and all other activist platforms for those prettily plumped armchair bottoms — is roiling in shame, horror, outrage, and the like. The knee-jerk “OMG evil shameful horrible how beastly!” routine, which makes us feel so good about ourselves and boosts our progressive image, have mushroom all over. Because thinking is hard. We all know this. Even when it would save our skins and protect our interests. We’d much rather join the untouched global elite in acknowledging there are “minorities” who are “marginalised” and who need the “aid industry”, to which we will dedicate our careers, or our post-career philanthropic endeavours. But we must never remember these particular particulars, the bloody histories, the actual, tangible socially-approved knifing and cutting and beatings and molestations that continue unabated. Because, eww, morbid much? And it’s putting me off my food. Plus the media won’t cover us if we’re not suitable viewing for the family, and besides, real, well-thought out, contextualised analysis takes up lots of air-time. And it’s like, soooo boring.
Let us just stick to being appalled, aggrived, and ineffectually socially active. Those reactions to race and gender violence, the world understands. There. Isn’t it nice and comfy to be back on familiar territory?
PS: This is a multi-purpose time-saving article. Please make contextually relevant substitutions — with, for example, caste in India — to suit the occasion at hand.