Minstrels and ministers make bad bedfellows

Art installation or not, politicians have no business taking part in minstrel shows, argues Carmen Price, an American freelance writer based in Stockholm, in reaction to the 'racist' cake controversy involving Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth.

Minstrels and ministers make bad bedfellows

After reading Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth’s defense of her actions in Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, I get the feeling that the minister of culture is more interested in rendering herself a martyr of artistic self-expression than genuinely apologizing to her offended constituents.

According to Adelsohn Liljeroth, “art must be allowed to provoke” and “pose uncomfortable questions”.

Give me a break.

Adelsohn Liljeroth may not be an overt racist, but she has shown herself to be both overtly ignorant and overtly narcissistic.

Her participation in Makode Linde’s performance art installation at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet’s celebration of World Art Day was offensive in the deepest way, and she had no business taking part in a minstrel show, art installation or not.

Since Shakespeare’s Othello, people of African descent have been caricatured in various degrading manifestations of black face, but the American minstrel show, from which Linde clearly derives the inspiration for his aesthetic, has undoubtedly played the largest role in spreading racist black archetypes across the globe

Minstrel shows began as black face variety acts performed by both black and white people in the Antebellum South. These shows caricatured black people as lazy, happy clappy, and/or buffoonish.

The menacing, white-woman crazy Buck; the back-talking, insubordinate Mammy; the eye-bulging, watermelon-gobbling Pickaninny; the hypersexual Jezebel – these are just a few of the abominably demeaning images still deeply ingrained in our collective psyche, and black people across the world are still chained to the erroneous beliefs surrounding these stereotypes.

Black Swedish artist Makode Linde clearly uses these archetypes as a way to critique and lampoon racism, and it is his right as an artist to do so.

I may not like it, it may make me feel uncomfortable, but in a free society to you do not limit artistic expression. In a free society we all agree that the value of a work of art is left up to individual aesthetic judgment, even at the expense of our own opinions and sometimes morals.

That is Free Speech 101.

But Adelsohn Liljeroth is not an artist or private art patron–she is a public servant.

And any good politician knows that their ability to exercise free speech is limited by the constraints of political correctness: when or where have politicians ever been allowed to say or do whatever they want? Since when are politicians supposed to be provocative and offensive by way of installation art?

Adelsohn Liljeroth’s brazen and audacious performance of a “clitorectomy” on a racist cake is more than a bad judgment call – it demonstrates her lack of respect for African-descended Swedes, a lack of respect for the office she holds, and an unnerving sense of entitled arrogance.

Sweden isn’t that far removed from the days of the Statens Institut för Rasbiologi (‘The State Institute for Race Biology’) and race-based forced sterilizations (not to mention mock slave auctions at Lund University) to be in a position to have their white minister of culture making a mockery of institutionalized racism.

Despite Sweden’s global reputation as a bastion social liberalism, it is in no way a paragon of racial equality, as evidenced by the nation’s confusion regarding how to integrate their burgeoning multicultural populations beyond the confines of parallel societies such as Malmö’s Rosengård or Stockholm’s Rinkeby.

Adelsohn Liljeroth’s actions have not raised more “awareness” for genital mutilation in Africa and frankly, I don’t see how a gathering of cultural elites at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet could do anything to put a halt to the horrors of female circumcision.

The performance art installation was certainly a display of self-congratulatory avant-gardism, but in my opinion, it did nothing to effect real social-change vis-a-vis women’s rights and the protection of women’s bodies.

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then a video speaks a million.

In this case we have both and they portray Adelsohn Liljeroth with the white, Swedish left-wing elite laughing, smiling, and drinking wine all while cheerfully engaging in a racist minstrel spectacle.

And there wasn’t a black face in the crowd (except for that of the artist in the cake).

Adelsohn Liljeroth clearly sees herself as the victim of the general populace of philistines who don’t “appreciate” or “get” modern art.

So let me put it to her this way: If the cake had been a Nazi-era Jewish caricature, would you have gone within five kilometers of the knife, minister Adelsohn Liljeroth?

Carmen Price is a American freelance writer and former Fulbright fellow based in Stockholm.

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Swedish teacher fired for racist Facebook posts

A newly-hired teacher in southern Sweden had her contract terminated after the school discovered anti-Muslim posts that she had written on the internet.

Swedish teacher fired for racist Facebook posts
Photo: Brennan Linsley/TT
The teacher was meant to start working this August at the Montessori school in Kalmar, but after the school principal took a good look online she decided to end the already-signed contract due to the teacher's openly racist views.
The principal, Ann-Sofie Stensdotter, told Sveriges Radio that the teacher's extremely negative opinions about Muslims and "illegal immigrants" go against the school's values.
She added that the school will begin looking at what job seekers write on the internet in advance to avoid hiring people who are actively fighting for values not in line with the school's code.
The teacher published several video clips on her Facebook page where people, allegedly Muslims, engage in such acts as animal abuse. She had also commented on several of her posts, writing that "these people are God's punishment" for Sweden becoming a secular nation.
Another picture of a thin, old white person and a well-fed dark person was captioned with claims that "illegal immigrants" take all the government's money, leaving nothing to Swedish pensioners. 
Hanna Oxell, front desk manager at Wise recruitment agency, told The Local that workers at her agency usually check online to see if the person interviewed matches the person online.
"We want to see if it strengthens the image of the person we are recruiting," she continued.
Stensdotter stressed that the biggest problem was not the teacher's views, however, but the strength and openness with which she shared them. The teacher's extreme views against those with Muslim backgrounds would be clear to students, Stensdotter said. 
In a report by the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and Bisnode about how Swedish employers look up potential candidates, 75 percent were revealed to have some kind of policy in place for background checks on job seekers.
About 45 percent search their candidates on Facebook, and nearly 40 percent use search engines like Google.
"It's not that common, but companies tend to say no to job-seekers in serious cases," Oxell told The Local. "For example when their opinions doesn't match the company's values."
Isabela Vrba/The Local