GOOOAAAL: Respect!!!!

World Cup play has been nothing less than thrilling, with enough drama to fill  Bravo’s TV summer line up.  There’s been overly dramatic falls and equally dramatic play, not to mention a little zombie bite between friends.

130422103717-suarez-bite-ivanovic-story-topWhat is also on display, as it has been so often in sports this year, is gross racism.   And I mean gross not just in the quality, but in the straight-no-chaser approach to ugly racial epitaphs, racist costumes, and hate language.

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Some German fans decided their love for team Germany was best expressed by dressing up in black face.  And to make sure they spread their fan feces beyond the stadium, fans uploaded pictures to Instagram, lighting up social media.article-2665775-1EFFF93000000578-788_634x397

FIFA took note of the racist behavior and vowed an investigation into the behavior.  Of course, race has played a gross recurring role in football.  In just the past year alone we’ve seen fans fight it out and even players taunted on the field.  Is it because football fans are racists, or at least more racist than most people?

no_to_racismFootball, like out own American sports, is more than a game, and the ability to paint our faces and pledge our fealty to the world is an old tradition still much desired even in our modern world.  Sport is an opportunity to rise beyond the day-to-day existence  to strive for a moment of glory and greatness–the hero’s summit at the top of his field has millions chanting his name, etched forever into the record books.

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Sport is also a chance to pledge our allegiance to our tribe, to show off our country’s colors, and to win in competion the right to say our people are the best people.

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Hmm, all that competitive spirit, tradition, nationalism and a little beer–or a lot of beer and capirainnias.  What could go wring?

well there’s this

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mideast-egypt-soccer-riot-390x285and then of course there’s this

1386611588000-RSI-SOCCER-BRAZIL-CHAMPIONSHIP-1To be sure on the other side of the coin, sport also brings us together, yes in pitched battle, but one where the biggest victims are ego’s and pride.

But what do these gross displays tell us about race in this moment in time?  When we look for cultural messages, we have to consider the context–where is the message coming from and what is the culture there?  This question is simplified, as a colleague asked me, “Well isn’t it different because it’s Germany?’

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She’s not alone.  Tweets and not a few twits have used the same argument in dismissing the recurrent use of black face and other racialized imagery in sports and other public events.

The general idea is that since black face–as we know it today– originated in the American south, that it is only symbolically powerful when referring to African Americans, but outside of America, black face isn’t really offensive.  That’s like saying since Hip Hop was created as an expression of African Americans, there can be no hip hop anywhere but in America, despite the fact that people around the world have been exposed to it.  Black face has been exported as has American ideology–and now media–around the world.  Let’s be clear:  black face is offensive, even between Germans and Ghanians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black faced magoi for traditional three Kings Day.  Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black-faced magi for traditional three Kings Day. Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany

Black face in it’s American Minstrel mutation is one symbolic representation of brown-skinned people that was part of a much larger, more complex colonial narrative–a story that colonizers told to justify the oppression of colonized people.  Cultural narratives like this are grand and sweeping, showing up in the culture of the time, in literature, art, even science.  The story shows up in entertainment in one mutation as black face.  But that was not the only negative depiction of “others” during colonialism, which operated on all continents.

bri_india02_4074To believe that the message contained in black face –the inhuman and uncivilized dark nature of the  other–was contained in a few short centuries in America alone is to ignore the power and pervasive control of colonialism in all corners of the globe.

conquistadorJust as black face in America today is an echo of the same old racist story born in American slavery, so does the racism on display at the world cup ring the bell of colonialism, and the lingering ideas of racial superiority, poison seeds planted by years of political, social and economic imperialism.

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The games show us that racial conflict persists in our post racial world–even beyond America.  Just as racism in America intensifies as the American population changes, so too with racism around the world.  While America for sure has it’s own unique flavor of racism,  changing demographics and increased mobility are bringing groups of people into new relationships.  To really be a global village that won’t tear itself apart, we’ve got to be vigilant about dismissing the stories of the past so that we are careful they don’t become the stories of our future.

 

The Right to Use Wrong Words

This week the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Northern California Native American tribe ran this ad during the during the NBA finals.

The ad is a shorter cut of a longer version that has been making the rounds on the internet for a few months now. Controversy over the Washington Redskins is nothing new–we covered it here. Last season saw louder and more pointed calls for owner Dan Snyder to change the racist moniker, including a statement from the POTUS–all of which he ignored. Makes you wonder who really is the most powerful man in the world….

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Viewers of the NBA finals are sure to have a leg up on Dan Snyder in the cause-effect relationship between racist behavior and team ownership. Snyder has clearly operated under the assumption that his decision on the team name is his and his alone.

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Dan Snyder, Donald Sterling on the line….what’s that Don? Stripped of my ownership? They can’t do that….

Or can they? That is the lingering question in the slow moving explosion that is the Donald Sterling situation. What seemed so clear in the light of our outrage a few weeks ago was that a team owner could not be a raging racist ruling a plantation of players. Despite hard core hold outs on the wrong side of racial tolerance, most agreed Sterling had to go.  Players from across the league boldly put integrity before profit and pledged not to return to play if Sterling still owned the team come fall.

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Despite all of Sterling’s best efforts to get a beatdown in the parking lot have a butterfly net thrown over him in an interview with Anderson Cooper, he still owns the team weeks later. Reversing an earlier agreement to sell the team for a madly profitable $2 billion, Sterling is suing the NBA for a billion dollars. Before you chalk this up to King-Lear-crazy, sure to end in tragedy, consider Sterling’s peer Snyder.

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The term Redskins is a pejorative, racist name for Native Americans, period. The term has a long and ugly history, connected to a genocide, one of America’s darkest legacies. People directly affected by this have respectfully requested Snyder cease use of it many times. Widespread protest of many people, including fans have been to no avail. At what point does the decision to use the term pass from Dan Snyder to someone, anyone, who might make a change? What role does the NFL and the owners association have, if any?

The National Congress of American Indians  released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.
The National Congress of American Indians released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.

 

Dan Snyder is not Donald Sterling. It’s easy to dismiss the crazy Sterling circus, but what we do when the perpetrator is less crazy and more entrenched in both sanity and his property rights? With this protest ad running during the NBA finals, Native Americans are definitely letting the NFL know that their protests cannot continue to be ignored in an era where pointed racism is an unacceptable  way to run a sports team.

With the precedent of the blow up surrounding Sterling, we can be sure that there are a few more rounds in the fight to retract the Redskins  name.  But with the outcome of the Sterling situation still in flux, hard questions remain ahead.

Creating a hostile work environment is against the law, but calling the Washington Redskins the Redskins is still legal even if increasingly unpopular.  If we want to be fair, and respect the rights of people to not be represented in terribly racist ways, then we have to keep the pressure on Snyder and the NFL to make change.

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There is power in protest if it is partnered with persistence, but it has to be more than a few lone voices.  Take a moment to shoot your good friend Dan Snyder a tweet here @Redskins, or a Facebook message here–help him avoid another season of shame.

A Nation of Cubans?

Mark Cuban, outspoken Mavericks owner,  has waded into the shark-infested water that is the Donald Sterling situation with comments he made recently at Inc Magazine’s GrowCo conference this week in Nashville.  Take a quick listen to his comments below:

Cue the media firestorm!  Owner makes racist remarks!  Less than a day later, Cuban has tweeted out a 5 part tweetpology:

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Despite justifiable sensitivity to the still open wound of the Zimmerman case,  I want to put a pause on the mob calling for Cuban’s head.

In our 140-character universe, we have a hard time listening long enough to recognize nuance and complexity.   Listen as the Today hosts brush over Cuban calling out prejudiced behavior as explicitly racist, instead opting to say that the threat response is natural.

Feeling threatened and afraid is natural.  When feelings of fear are tied to all  people of that race that’s racist.  All the people of one particular race cannot be painted with the same brush.  The Today hosts and many in the twitterverse point out that we use stereotypical information to assess threats a process of stereotypes.  Listen to that again–we judge people based on stereotypes.  This is bias behavior.  Just because we all do it, that doesn’t mean that it is right, or that it’s who we ought to be as a society.

We do it, now what? Since we don’t make up and manage stereotypes, if we want to avoid connecting these stereotypes to our own personally held ideas about race, then we have to be aware of when that is happening.  We need to call out ourselves–and other–in the moment.

Cuban is right–most people do hold some prejudices.  But Cuban is also right that we must call it what it is–bigotry,  prejudice, and racism.  We’ve got to begin by owning it and being aware of the thoughts and actions we take on a daily basis.

While you cheer the end to the labored Donald Sterling case as he transfers ownership to his wife to sell off, take a good look at yourself. You probalby don’t operate at Sterling’s extremes, but do you think you are bias free?  And which of your biases are tied to society’s stigmas of race, class and gender?

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We are all multifaceted humans living complex lives. Can you be honest with yourself when you judge people on what you see instead of who they are?  I challenge you to call yourself out when you stereotype people with race, gender and class stereotypes. I challenge you to be aware of bigoted ideas that float into your head–whether you want them there or not.  Own them, look at them, and challenge  yourself to think differently.

We can’t change what we won’t see.  Start looking and let me know how it goes!

 

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Boyz N The Biz

Here at smntks, I’m all about good critical analysis of our media environment.  Good critical analysis to me means looking at the content of media stories, the context that they are made in, and the creators and consumers involved.  While we can all look at the content clearly from the outside, there are some parts of what makes media tick that can only be seen by an insider.

This week, director John Singleton ( Boyz n the Hood, Rosewood, 2 Fast 2 Furious) pulled back the gilded curtain of Hollywood to expose the challenges of getting films made featuring African Americans.

As Shakespeare famously penned, “truth will out.”  The truth is that  the small steps Hollywood has taken  are not enough to guarantee a film industry that reflects its customers. Thanks, Mr. Singleton for knocking off that we’re-post-racial-because-12-years-a-slave-won-the-Oscar buzz.

Teachable Quarters

High school sports are an important part of the teen experience, teaching young people character, sportsmanship, cooperation and…racism?  If you’ve been frequenting the high school sports scene, you may have noticed that  racism has been added to the after school curriculum.

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Take , for instance, the hostility leveled at players during and after a game in Mahopac,  New York.  Fists flew in the stands following taunts of the visiting team, including the N word.  When Mount Vernon, New York players took the game 43-40, the racial slurs from Mahopac players  continued in the Twitterverse.

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Mahopac is not alone.  At a high school girls’ basketball game in Bedford, Indiana, Lawrence North High School players were greeted by Bedford North Lawrence High players wearing gorilla suits and safari gear.   Adults in this school dismissed criticism, saying costumes were worn throughout the season., giving students a quick lesson in doubling down rather than open up to listen.

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Or take the case of the Phillipsburg boy’s wrestling team.  The boys posted this picture after beating their rivals from Paulsboro High School.  The picture, featuring two of the wrestlers wearing pointed hoods, drew criticism, followed by a team apology.

What is interesting isn’t the frequency–though that is worth noticing in what too many think is a post racial world–but what follows these events.  Out come tempered apologies as if their actions came as a surprise to the perpetrators themselves.

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Young people in the process of learning to become adults make mistakes.  That “not knowing any better”, “not noticing “, and “not meaning anything” continue to be accepted as apologies for racist behavior seems to be a mistake the adults are making.   Besides, such statements strike me as insincere:  racist words and images are used precisely because of the power they wield.   Saying you don’t notice is at best an indicator of your ignorance of others’ and at worst a lie.

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As America continues its inevitable march to being a majority minority country–meaning the majority of American’s will belong to a group we now consider minorities–educational institutions need to do what they can to foster greater understanding of race and culture.  Since you cannot understand what you don’t notice, people need to learn to see cultural difference with respect instead of fear or loathing.  Being aware of images and symbols of race is not hypersensitivity, it is cultural literacy, a key skill for every educated individual living in a multicultural country.  Schools seem like a perfect place to start.

That’s Your Boy?

We pose this question to Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Allen who invited his pal Ted Nugent on stage this week at a campaign rally.  After appearing with Allen twice on Tuesday, a snowball of criticism  followed Nugent all week, calling him out for his most recent round of outrageous remarks about the president.

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Nugent is no stranger to pissing people off.  He has been an outspoken spokesperson for gun rights as a board member for the NRA, a drum banger for the Grand Ole Party, and a staunch critic of Obama.  His incendiary comments have offended women, minorities, gun reform advocates, democrats, and animal lovers.

nugeeeey In fact, Nugent has been blowing up the airwaves since the 1980’s, appearing on talk shows, at rallies, and as a favorite guest on conservative radio.  His most recent comments, calling Obama a “subhuman mongrel” among other things in an interview with guns.com, were on the air for a full month before his appearance this week with Abbott, but when criticism required some response from Abbott, his aids countered that they were unaware of comments.   They added the fact that Nuget drew a crowd–in one instance tripling turn out when it was announced that Nugent would be appearing with Abbott–so perhaps adding Nugent to the rallies was just as calculated a move as it seems to be.

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Nor is Abbott the first politician that Nugent has rolled out the rock and roll rant for.  In fact, there is a list of conservative politicians from Rick Perry to Tom Tancredo who have used Nugent to drum up support.  Even as popular-potential-2016-front-runners Ted Cruz and Rand Paul condemned Nugent’s comments this week, you don’t have to look too far back to find them sharing airwaves–and opinions–with Nugent.

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The week ended with a  predictable round of tepid apologies from both Nugent and Abbott.  Let’s be clear:  calling Obama a subhuman mongrel is racist.  Nugent has been making these comments for long enough that his apology is meaningless.  It’s time for his political pals to think long and hard about standing next to Nugent and others who feel free to flaunt their racism on TV and radio.

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The GOP has enough work to do engaging women and people of color.  Alienating those voters by locking arms with Nugent is an easy mistake to avoid.

Mistrial: Justice Denied

The jury is back in the Michael Dunn case, mistakenly dubbed the “Loud Music Case”.  A mistrial was declared on the main count:  the murder of  Jordan Davis.  Though he was found guilty on the lesser counts, the murder remains unresolved.  Once again, a young black man was killed, and the legal system supported his killer with the murky permissiveness of Stand your Ground.

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George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara wondered aloud on CNN if “perhaps Stand Your Ground has emboldened Dunn and other people to take the law into their own hands.”  Just six months before, this same attorney defended Zimmerman’s right to hide behind the law as he stalked and killed Trayvon Martin.  O’Mara further stated that he sees racial disparity in the system “all the time.”

How can the man who defend the law say that he knows the system that spawned it is racist? How can the boy listening to his favorite music with his friends be cast as villain by this law before he is even old enough to vote?

How can we say we care about our children in a country where lax gun laws, over-permisive self defense laws and a climate ripe with hate of all stripes results in the death of hundreds of children and thousands of people every year?

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On the eve of Jordan Davis’ birthday, make a personal pledge that you will do what you can to stop the killing of young black men.  Get involved in nonprofits working to change gun laws and end Stand Your Ground.  Tell other people to get involved.  Talk to the people in your life about the impact of implicit and explicit racism on all people.  Hug the children in your life and teach them to fight for their rights.  Whatever you do, you can do something right now, this week, this year.

Thug / Life: When Keeping It Wrong Gets Real

Here’s that word again: thug.  You’ll remember that we talked about Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman’s public skewering just a couple of weeks ago.  After a bragtastic post-game interview the twitter verse and TV were positivly abuzz with the word thug.

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 There was some debate, some finger pointing and–most coherent of all–Richard Sherman’s own thoughtful analysis that the word thug has come to stand in for the n word as acceptable hate speech against black men.

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To his point, a Google search of the word reports a sharp uptick in its use  in the last two decades.  Before you blame all that on hip hop, I’m pretty sure Fox news analysts who called Richard Sherman a thug aren’t bumping TuPac on the ride home.

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This week the word thug is on trial–literally–in the case of Florida v. Michael Dunn.  Dunn is charged with shooting into a car of 4 teens, killing 17 year-old Jordan Davis.  He is defending himself with an affirmative defense, claiming he shot the teen in self-defense under Florida’s  abominable controversial Stand Your Ground law.

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Rhonda Rouer testified in a Florida courtroom on Saturday in the trial of her fiancé.  Rouer testified that when she and Dunn pulled into the convenience store parking lot next to the victims’ Durango, he said to her, “I hate that thug music,” in reference to the music the teens were playing.  Lest you think this was an isolated “thug” and nothing should be made of it, consider this quote from Dunn himself:

The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs…. This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these fucking idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.

Dunn wrote those words from a jail cell where he sat charged with second-degree murder for killing a young boy whom he referred to as a thug just seconds before shooting him.

Sit with that irony for a second.

Words create the world around us.  Words are the material that we use to build societies.  Words like good, bad, man, woman, us and them set the boundaries of our culture, and help us decide what is worth doing and what isn’t, who deserves our compassion and who doesn’t.  Words matter.

Thug.  Trap.  Hood.  Gangsta.  Brute.  Beast.  Nigger.  These words are a chain tying men of African decent to centuries of oppression.  These words are used not in ignorance but presicely because they come packed with meaning, hate in four letters, a reminder of the persistence of racial prejudice and a time when such words were weapons wielded by lynch mobs.

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Now the words are on the stand.  They come out of Rhonda’s mouth and in four letters point an accusing finger at the only the threat in the parking lot that night:  Dunn’s own racism.  Before Dunn had any interaction with the four young boys in the truck next to him, he had called them thugs– the last word in a coded chain of hate words going back to this country’s worst hours.  In other times, a man might have chosen a rope, or a whip, but Dunn chose a gun, and decided  who would live and who would die.

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He was a grown man with a deadly weapon.  According to Dunn’s own testimony the boys turned down their music when he asked, but when he heard swearing a few moments later he stated “I wasn’t asking for any more favors.”  He decided the punishment for noise was death, then claimed stand your ground justified his actions.

Jordan-DavisIt’s 2014, not 1814, so we free people of all races have to make sure our imperfect union does what it can to realize the dream of all men and women being created equal and where we have the right to life, liberty and loud music if we choose.  Just like those men before him, we must hold Michael Dunn accountable for the racism and violence he visited on his victims.   Let’s pray the jury makes that gun toting thug aware of the weight of words with a simple “guilty.”

Cheerios Graces Superbowl With Interracial Family’s Return

Sunday’s Super Bowl is here!  If you can’t decide between the Seahawks and the Broncos then you’re probably one of millions of Americans that tune in to the big game to see the commercials.  The Super Bowl is the single biggest draw for advertisers all year.  With a $4 million price tag for every 30 seconds, all the advertisers are going to want the biggest bang for their buck.  Cheerios is making their first Super Bowl ad debut in the 48 year history of the game.

This spot, entitled Gracie is a follow up starring the interracial family from this summer’s spot, discussed right here on smntks.  So when General Mills finally decides to pony up the $133,000 per second for an ad on the big day, they choose to feature a family that created more controversy than any other Cheerios pitchman.  What gives?

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What gives is that Gracie and her interracial TV Mom and Pop turn out to be good business.  When Gracie first appeared in the summer, trolls tweeted out a host of hateful comments about the ad and interracial families in general.  That would have been  a sad end to the story, but haters weren’t the only ones that took to the web.

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Many more thousands of people weighed in with their support for the positive representation of interracial families.  Cheerios themselves celebrates We are the 15% , a real world group formed in support of families like Gracie’s own fictitious folks.  Social media and mainstream talk also weighed in to support what is increasingly a portion of the continuum of normal families in America.  The moral of this story?  The changing face of America has a place and space in mainstream media.

Gracie’s return to the airwaves should come as no surprise to her many supporters.  What is more interesting is that General Mills is willing to put 4 million cheerios front and center  Super Bowl Sunday to bet on the mass appeal of a multiracial household.    Running the ad on the biggest day of the year tells us that when all was said and done in the summer, customers responded positively to the representation of interracial families.

Is the Gracie series racist?  No. True, they are leveraging public support to improve their brand, but that’s all about green, not just black and white.  So Sunday, pour out a little salsa for Cheerios’ fan favorite fam.  And General Mills, since it’s working so well to show families stereotype free, maybe you could stop with the cool-ed up Nelly-Bee…or did you mean to play both sides?

Bondage Chairs and Black Cakes: When Art Isn’t Art

This week as we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day Russian socialite and editor of Garage magazine Dasha Zhukova showed just how far we’ve come by perching atop a chair in the form of a black woman in bondage for the website Buro 24/7.  The image ricocheted around the world, followed closely by outrage, and a limp apology.  The chair is a reproduction of designer Allen Jones 1969’s version featuring a white woman—which, by the way, is bad no matter what race of woman is represented.

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In the chatter that followed there were not a few people who excused the image on the grounds that the chair was a work of art.  It should be pointed out the artist that made it makes no claim that this is supposed to provoke race conscious thinking.  Anyways, the argument goes that part of the job of art is to provoke so no matter how offensive people may find it they have to give it a pass—an art pass.  It brings to mind another piece of provocative art by Swedish performance artist, called Ni**er Cake.

Let’s be clear–both examples of ‘art’ are racist as hell.  In both cases, those responding to criticism defend their use of racist imagery by throwing the art pass.  But here’s the problem with that argument:  we aren’t seeing these images in the controlled context of an art establishment.  The chair is not standing alone, but is to us part of the set for the cover of a magazine.  The cake is not confined to its gallery performance but slingshots around the world surrounded by the laughing minister of culture.   

A smiling Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, seen to the right, happily poses before cameras-797913

When we see these magazine covers or press conferences, these are media constructions, not objects of art, so they are governed by different rules of production and viewing.  Given the careers of those doing the apologizing, they were likely to have a very good idea of just how much attention such images would generate. These images, and the fire stores they create are no accident, but are carefully constructed to generate attention.  That’s what media is.

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What we see that so rightly sparks outrage is a scene where people lounge and laugh as they engage with these racist objects.  There is no critique of power and prejudice, so only anger is provoked, not analysis. In both cases, it is the way these objects of art serve as set pieces for powerful white people that reinforces the old school racist imagery of white dominance over black bodies.

So no to your art pass, and no to your apology.

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One more thing.  They say turn about is fair play.  Russian artist Alexander Kargaltsev released his own image (warning:NC-17 material)Alexander Kargaltsev in response to Buro 24/7.  By reversing roles, Kargaltsev say  he “reverses the visual injustice and offense perpetrated by that editorial and in a way restores the equality of genders, races, and sexual orientations.”  But to act out the same scene of degradation you object to only turns the wheel around again.  Offended?  You should be, but we have to rise above those we resent rather than continuing to play tit for tat.  As we see from the examples above, just because you create provocative images, that doesn’t mean that they will provoke change