I had an Egyptian friend who was an artist, who left his country about 17 years ago because the views of his countrymen were too “myopic”.
“They are too bound by religion,” he snorted with disdain. “Religion has done more to harm my country than it has to help it.”
“I can see that,” I nodded. I mean, it’s true. The abuse of religion and atrocities in the name of whatever God one might ascribe to in any geographic location has only served to set humanity back a few decades.
“That’s why when I went back to Egypt I did an art show using the Qur’an,” he continued. “I ripped pages from it, painted them red and smeared cow dung all over them.”
“What the hell did you do that for?” I asked indignantly. “Why would you desecrate a holy book like that?”
“You see!” he said triumphantly. “That right there! What makes the book ‘holy’? Why should you have such a visceral reaction? It was done in the context of art, and art is meant to provoke thought! It’s just a piece of paper!”
“So what happened after your show?”
He was pensive before he spoke.
“I had to leave Egypt, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back…at least not to where I’m from.”
I never forgot that conversation with Khalid, and that was well over 10 years ago. He was such a sweet guy, but I just never understood why he would have the need to do something so hurtful in the name of art. Sure, religion has held progress back in some ways, but it has also been the catalyst for a lot of good that has been done in the world as well. Defiling it to avenge some personal discontent is just as deplorable an act as those who use religion to propagate their own evil causes – like war and rape. I’ve always assumed that he was the victim of or witnessed some wrong that was committed in the name of religion, but he never confirmed it. He did state in no uncertain terms that he harbored a personal disdain for Islam, which probably made his sacrilege even more rewarding. I was disappointed in my friend.
These old feelings rose anew in me yesterday when I got wind of the image of a ‘Nigger Cake’ that was circulating around the web. (In the unlikely event that you have not read about this story, you can catch up on it here ) Makode Linde is the ‘artist’ responsible for the work, and is described as a man of African descent. He is clearly mixed race, and obviously identifies more with his European heritage than he does with whatever alleged part of Africa he is supposed to share DNA with. His contempt for his African heritage is obvious. Why else would he seek to make a spectacle of and trivialize this very real issue that affects thousands of African girls and women on the Continent today?
As deplorable as the actions of the (laughing) Swedish officials taking part in the mock mutilation of a minstrel painted African woman, another bigger issue is hardly getting any attention, and it is that issue that concerns me more: The participation of a Black man in this abhorrence.
As I’ve said here on M.O.M. before, it seems like every few months Black women are the subject of some pop culture attack. I sat down for a few minutes yesterday and tried to conjure up a timeline that I could point to to refute this assertion for objectivity’s sake. I failed.
I believe that every Black or African woman can point to an incident in their life when they realized that they were the least valued being in existence, and particularly when pop culture presented them with that truth. Perhaps for some it might have been the illustrated caricatures of Aunt Jemima or Venus Hottentot from decades back. I grew up with Aunt Jemima, and I never equated her image with anything culturally off. However I imagine that an 8 year old girl growing up in the south 60 years ago would like at the pancake icon and say “that doesn’t look like me or anyone I know!” In truth, the Aunt Jemima we know today bares scant resemblance to the woman on the original boxes sold over 100 years ago.
For me, the infamous Don Imus incident was what seared this perception into my consciousness. His remark that Rutgers University’s female basketball team was a bunch of “nappy headed hoes” only served to keep ancient the canon ball that assaults Black female dignity rolling.
From Mammie, to Aunt Jemima, to Venus, to Sheneneh, to Nappy Headed Hoes, to Satoshi Kanazawa and his “study” declaring that Black women are less physically attractive, to this preposterous FGM ‘nigger’ cake…whew! Aren’t you tired after reading this? Imagine how I feel living it!
Now, you would imagine that there would be one group of people best able to identify with the struggles of a Black woman, and that would be the Black boys and men raised by them. Sadly, Black men are more often than not the cause of the ills that Black women face.
Whenever the attack comes, I listen for the voice of our men. This time they will come to our defense! I supplicate inwardly. This time they will come out and roar, saying this far is far enough! However as usual, after Jesse and Al have been told to hold their peace and stay in their place, the collective voice of Black men goes eerily quiet.
You might recall that during the Don Imus incident, Fox News assembled Dr. Lamont Hill, Patrice O’Neal and some other guy on Sean Hannity’s show. Given that Patrice O’Neal was there to defend Imus’ disgusting utterances, he was given the courtesy of speaking uninterrupted by the host. O’Neal even went further to invite Dr. Hill to join in the jest.
“Nappy headed hoes – you know that’s funny!” Patrice declared.
Lamont Hill did not think so, and later on in the show told Patrice that he was up there “soft shoeing” for the majority. Well, Patrice didn’t like that one bit! Are Patrice O’Neals actions and attitude towards my women isolated? Hardly. In fact, they constitute the norm in the Black intra-racial experience.
Look at the African continent and look beyond the issues that get the most media attention – like poverty and access to education -that plague women. Makode Linde chose to bring attention to female genital mutilation, a very real issue on the continent, but by ridiculing it and inviting a bunch of people who have never had to suffer through this painful ordeal to participate in that ridicule. Had he gotten up from the table and said “Look folks, this is a very serious issue, let’s give it some respect”, we’d be having a different conversation. Instead, he lay underneath the table in blackface and let the Swedish Minister for culture feed him a piece of freshly sliced clitoris. But it’s supposed to be okay, right? Because it’s art -“Black” art.
But why the need for FGM in the first place? The only reason young girls are being mutilated is because men, African men in particular, refuse to grow up. They believe that removing a girl’s clitoris will make her less promiscuous, thereby reducing/eliminating the presupposed baggage that promiscuity brings. It’s the same reason for breast ironing, which is “the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl’s breasts using heated objects in an attempt to make them stop developing or disappear. It is typically carried out by the girl’s mother in an attempt to protect the girl from sexual harassment and rape, to prevent early pregnancy that would tarnish the family name, or to allow the girl to pursue education rather than be forced into early marriage. It is mostly practiced in parts of Cameroon, where boys and men may think that girls whose breasts have begun to grow are ready for sex. The most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle normally used for pounding tubers. Other tools used include bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles, spatulas, and hammers heated over coals.”
Why the need to desecrate African women and girls’ bodies? Because men refuse to practice self-control, and NO ONE is willing to force them to do so. They get free pass after pass. Instead of requiring that they practice restraint and dignity, we’re cutting into the intimate areas of babies with razor blades! And why would anyone think that a Black woman’s body was worthy of such mutilation? Why is that okay? For the very same reason my friend smeared cow sh*t all over his Qur’an: it is not respected. It is treated as an object of disdain; and there are no repercussions that really matter.
The assertion that Makonde Linde’s work is not “racist” because the artist as Black is as asinine as the assertion that slavery was not “painful because many of the slave raiders were Black Africans as well”. When an atrocity is committed, the only perspective that matters at all is that of the victim. The victim doesn’t care who hurt her…only that she was hurt! Racism has nothing to do with the color of the person meting out punishment, and ONLY to do with their perception and prejudices against the subject of their hatred. So yes, Black people can be racists.
I am offended, but I am not surprised. We are dealing with a small boy, and a group of cultural illiterates after all.
Linde is just one speck in a collective of Black that needs to grow up and become mature citizens. Black men need to learn how to be men for their own sake, but more so for the sake of Black women as well.