Tag Archives: Racism

The Burden of White Liberal Intellectuals

The initiative of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to change politically incorrect names of its exhibits is big news now.

NYT: The Rijksmuseum is in the process of removing language that could be considered offensive from digitized titles and descriptions of some 220,000 artworks in its collection. Words that Europeans once routinely used to describe other cultures or peoples, like “negro,” “Indian” or “dwarf” will be replaced with less racially charged terminology.

The museum’s management believes that black people coming to galleries would be offended by portraits of long-dead black people painted by long-dead white artists. I think that this assumption is very contemptuous of black people and is, in fact, racist.  This belief assumes that black people are intellectually inferior: unlike white curators, black visitors are incapable of understanding that, sometimes, a historical artwork needs to be viewed in its historical context to be appreciated.

This theory of black people’s inability to come to terms with historical facts is justified by Martine Gosselink, a high-brow Dutch curator of the museum, through what she believes is a valid parallel with a nickname the Dutch are referred to by other Europeans.

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First, I don’t see a problem here. People of Wisconsin, also called Cheeseheads, be they dark or fair-skinned, seem to have no objections to cheer-cheesing anytime, anywhere. Perhaps, a Wisconsin consultant could enlighten the Dutch on ways to embrace and enjoy it, rather than resist it.

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Yes, the guy in this photo looks like a grumpy cat, but I am sure it's not because he's wearing a silly hat. I bet it was an awkward question about his performance during the football game.

Yes, the guy in this photo looks like a grumpy cat, but I am sure it’s not because he’s wearing a silly hat. I bet it was an awkward question about his performance during the football game.

Second, the curator exaggerates the offense. A cheese tasting room in Amsterdam openly invites visitors to “become a cheesehead” and no one complains that the slogan is cheesy.

Third, “Cheesehead” may represent an ethnic slur for the Dutch, but – come on! – the Dutch are famous for their cheese, and they make a lot of money out of it. It’s ridiculous to equate it with the offense contained in the word “Negro”, which reminds black people of the times when they were slaves and worked for food and not being beaten by their owners, staying destitute after decades of hard labour if they were lucky to survive.

The curator’s artless cheese vs.slavery analogy reminds me of a story a friend told me about her birth-giving experience.

She goes into labour; her hubby is at her bedside, holding her hand. While thrashing about in acute pain, she notices her husband’s suffering expression: he is, obviously, in agony, but is doing his best to hide it. She asks him through clenched teeth, “Darling, what is it? I can see you’re in pain!”. “Yes,” he answers, pointing at the elastic band of his disposable med cap, “it’s killing me. It chafes my forehead terribly!”

She started laughing so hard she pushed the baby out.

Yet, there is a voiceless minority group that might be actually offended by this anti-offense campaign. It is the group of dead artists whose artworks are being renamed.

Simon Maris, “Young Girl Holding a Fan,” circa 1900. Old title: “Young Negro-Girl.”

Simon Maris, “Young Girl Holding a Fan,” circa 1900. Old title: “Young Negro-Girl.”

Simon Maris made his name painting female portraits, and being a friend of Piet Mondrian.

At the time, black women were employed as domestic help or concubines, which was not hugely different from slavery. They were referred to as Negroes. They were being dehumanised by “scientists”, white elites, and common people. A year before the painting, Kipling’s The Burden of the White Man was published. Racism, that justified invasions and atrocities in “less developed countries”, was on the rise.

It was at this point that Maris painted a Negro-girl as a princess, bringing out her humanity for everyone to see.

It is not a young girl holding a fan. It is a brave statement that a Negro-girl is as beautiful, graceful, intelligent, and interesting as the most refined white lady.

I guess, Maris, and the girl he painted, would be deeply offended if they learned the title of the painting was changed to please…no, not “a million people deriving from colonial roots, from Suriname, from the Antilles, from Indonesia, and so on” of whom the curator pretends to care, but the curator herself.

Even though I can’t stop white liberal intellectuals in their pursuit of boasting to the world how liberal they are (no one, actually, can stop them), let me know if you agree or disagree with me on this particular case of liberalism mopping up [art] history. 

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How anti-racism becomes racism, or the brave new Orwellian world revisited

A few years ago, an exhibition meant to explore the role of religion in modern Russia was shut down by a group of Orthodox Christian protesters who were offended by it, without actually seeing any of the artworks. As it turned out, all of the exhibits were quite innocent and inoffensive, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the right to discuss the role of religion in a modern society. Shut the f*ck up, was the response of fundamentalist crowds. They successfully used mob tactics, and physical violence to prevent visitors’ entering the gallery.

Protests in Russia against the opening of the ICONS exhibition

Western human rights groups and artistic communities, including many black artists, said it was unacceptable repression of artistic freedom by the tyranny of Putin. Putin had nothing to do with it directly, except fostering religious nationalism, of course.

In 2002, a terrorist plot to attack a church in Bologna, Italy was foiled by police. The church has a 15th-century fresco showing the Prophet burning in Hell. No Muslim fundamentalist could get offended by it, as to get offended they had to go inside, and that’s something blasphemous in itself. The offense was about the right of a Christian artist (five hundred years as dead) to express opinions about Islam.

International outcry was strong, though not as strong as when a Dutch film director was murdered two years later for expressing his views on the ways women were treated in Somalia in a short film. But, well, the guy was actually killed. Remember Salman Rushdie and the fatwah on him.

In both cases, Western human rights groups and artistic community, including many black artists, said it was unacceptable repression of artistic freedom by Muslim fundamentalists, inspired by Iranian ayatollahs, who, unlike Putin, were directly responsible.

A few days ago, a Barbican gallery was to stage an art exhibition by a South African artist. The show was to feature black actors chained and in cages to depict the horror of slavery.

A performer, captioned the Missing Link, revolves on a plinth in Exhibit B. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

It was canceled when a crowd of offended protesters blocked the entrance, which was the climax point of their campaign to banish the show.

What was offensive about the show?

The lady, who kicked off the campaign, started her petition with “A piece of work, ‘Exhibit B’, by the controversial white South African Brett Bailey is coming to the Barbican Centre in London this September…”

Wait a second, I am OK with “controversial”, for most art is controversial today, but what has being “white”  to do with evaluation of an artwork? If I start criticizing an artist by stating he was “black”, most people would be repulsed so much they wouldn’t read any further. I mean, putting race as the argument of the first order (or any order, for that matter) is racism.

Now, what does the lady have to say next?

“I’m a Black African mother from Birmingham.”

What does sex and motherhood have to do with it all? I am a father of two. Does it mean I am always right against a father of one, in the wrong against a father of three, and immeasurably indebted to a mother of one or more? Or is it simply an expression of certainty that white people should be barred from talking about racism? Isn’t it racism?

The lady’s position is explained in her final press-release. I skip some of the populist mantras that are, actually, 95% of the text.

“The barricading of The Vaults occurred because the Black community refuses to have racism defined for them by wealthy, white liberals.”

Is it OK if racism is defined by poor white conservatives? Or maybe by nationalistic white trash?

I wish Lenin said a just society could not be defined by a German philosopher for Russians. We could skip the communist revolution then. Alas, ideas don’t depend on the race or nationality of their creators, and live their independent lives.

The above is, in fact, the only valid argument against the exhibition (all others being falsified assumptions and misrepresented quotes about the artist and black actors participating in the show).

This argument is, perhaps, best expressed by Lee Jasper, one of the campaign’s most prominent supporters, “Could you imagine a similar show today with Jewish people in gas ovens, lets say produced by a German? No, neither can I.”

This is a funny way of wrenching facts. Were that show to celebrate dying Congolese workers with Belgian soldiers cutting their hands off as punishment for low productivity, perhaps, I could agree with the sentiment. Comparing the deadly Holocaust to a humiliating Human Zoo? No. But even in this comparison there is a further sharpening of cards, because Germans did produce art about “Jewish people in gas ovens”. I could suggest talking to Heinrich Böll, a Nobel laureate in literature, but he died thirty years ago, so…reading some of his books might be a good starting point for further discussion.

I feel I’ve seen this tactics before: among fundamentalist Christians in Russia, among fundamentalist Muslims in the West, and now among anti-racist (and also anti-liberal – do you see a contraction here?) activists. They like getting offended by others having an opinion because those “others” are not of the same colour, financial position, or marital status.

The interesting thing is that deep down these campaigns have nothing to do with the art objects that are used to fuse the bomb. The central idea is getting noticed, going supernova on Facebook, in the press, on TV.

I am sure this is the case now. The Barbican Centre caved in, and canceled the show. The moment when London boroughs start surrendering to Sharia law is not in some distant future. White liberals are great at surrendering to activist groups. Here, I have to congratulate Scotland though: I am surprised it didn’t secede, and excited to find a country where common sense can still beat populism. You don’t see it often nowadays.

Orwell would be curious to see that it is not only war that can be seen as peace, but also anti-racism that can become racism and vice versa.

Disagree with me. Or agree with me. I’d love to hear your view. I welcome all opinions.

Looking for a white friend

Russian experts from the Anti-Monopoly Committee of Russia (no surprise here) did not see this billboard as racist, and gave their go-ahead to the campaign. The slogan is, “I am looking for a white friend”.

The experts agreed this was not a dark-skinned woman from India or South East Asia, but an overtanned Slavic lady, actively looking for a lav bowl. One of the experts was a professor from the Immanuel Kant University. I wonder what the great philosopher of the 18th century would say himself, given that he was the first to foresee the union of enlightened European nations.

I am looking for lav. Only whites may apply.

I do not ask you if you think this is a racist poster, because it is obviously based on a vulgar racist joke.

Sometimes the depth of advertising humour leaves me speechless, and a bit sad that this is happening in a country that was once at the forefront of European culture.

Between Love and Hate, there’s Indifference

I once read that London was a melting pot of cultures, the multicultural capital of the world. Well, I have a real-estate kind of question. How can cultures melt if they are segregated into city blocks or areas, price differentiated, and closely guarded?

For instance, this quiet area of London is loved by white upper middle class (and higher) representatives who happen to have very liberal and tolerant views on other cultures, but pay about 30 to 50% more for their flats to stay away from the next-door area populated by Muslims. A tiny flat in a townhouse here starts from $1m.

It’s the intolerant lower classes that have to actually melt with the immigrants from Pakistan. It’s the intolerant lower classes that produce BNP stormtroopers that the higher liberal classes do not approve and even are ashamed of.

I find it somewhat hypocritical and an obvious proof that behind those walls racism is in full bloom, regardless of what the media or politicians say. Politicians also happen to favour this area, by the way. 

Impoverished people often turn to loathing other impoverished people who differ by their race, culture or religion. Frankly, I blame them less than those empowered snobs who camouflage their hatred by albums of Muslim art they “collect” and monologues about tolerance.

When I say that I don’t like certain art coming from certain cultures, my British upper-class contacts react in an indignant, almost offended way. Come on. If I don’t like something, it doesn’t mean I hate it. I just don’t like it. There’s indifference between love and hate, that famous indifference that is encapsulated in the “Live and let live” principle Britain is so proud of.

If I admit I am indifferent, I am honest about one important thing: I don’t harbor any hatred. If I start lying about loving other cultures, I start hating myself for lying and then I blame this guilt on those other cultures that made me start lying. And then I start hating them.

And, OK, that was a preface. Unlike European co-existence of religions, Mexico offers an interesting example of cultural fusion, and a Sunday market in Mexico is the place I will take you to in my next post. Goths, indians, a pagan take on Christianity, human sacrifice – you’ll see it all, and that’s where I am going to take you next!

PS Human sacrifice is symbolic nowadays.

Violent violet and racist remarks

Some X-mas trees in Courchevel are apparently coming from Hell, and that’s quite understandable, for the Demon of Glamour and his cousin, the Demon of Consumerism rule this village in winter, especially during the so called “Russian week” (the first week of January). At this time, the village is flooded by Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs and corrupt government officials with their wives, lovers, prostitutes, and bodyguards. A few years back, the Russian president firmly advised his minions to spend their winter holidays elsewhere, but they still come en masse, in force, and in the state of constant drunkenness. Hell can seem an attractive place if you are possessed by demons.

Violet violent

Speaking about Hell, here’s the racist remark issue I’d like to hear your opinion on.

Today, my son complained he’d gotten furious on a chair lift, when a Russian lady was complaining to her daughter about James, my son’s snowboarding instructor.They just happened to sit through the lift on the same chair. The lady said she was feeling uncomfortable around negroes, because they seemed dirty to her, among a few other comments about James’ black skin. I think I would have translated her words to James, and then called the police. If that Russian lady got her visa cancelled that would be the least punishment she could hope for. I believe racist remarks of this sort are a criminal offence in France, aren’t they? What would you do, if you happen to know two languages and happen to be on a chair lift with a racist doing these remarks in his or her native language, expecting no one to understand what he or she was saying? You have to take into account that the lady was with her husband, a burly man, probably a corrupt KGB officer or similar.

Fortunately, not all Russians are corrupt officials or thieves on a grand scale, and there are still a few places in and around Courchevel that can be enjoyed in unglamorous way. Besides, I have friends there, true friends who can be called in the middle of the night. I can stand glamour, if I am friends with these guys.

Good friends are like this inviting warm glow of lights:

Come in, but wipe you feet from snow

And, of course, the mountains.

The mountains don’t care about race, gender or persuasion. They entertain, survive and occasionally kill anyone, regardless )

P.S. Courchevel 1850 is a ski resort in the French Alps, a part of the Three Valleys skiing area, the largest in Europe.