Monday, 5 March 2018

FARAFINNA (my new book for children, available on Amazon)

Farafin-na, which means “land of the dark-skinned” in the Manding languages, refers to the African continent. This book exhorts young readers as well as adults to displace the gaze in order to go beyond the usual images.

The texts, in French, are inspired in the pictures accompanying them, a selection of paintings by Matteo Ciccarelli.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Racism does not come with a warning

It’s a winter Sunday. It’s cold. With my husband and our two children, we want to relax somewhere nice. We settle for a visit to the museum. The Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt is offering an exhibition on dioramas. It’s supposed to be great for kids.
In the hall, on the ticket counter, a notice warns visitors that the exhibit contains an explicit representation of a human body. Fair enough. When you take young children to see modern art, it’s good to know roughly what to expect. In fact, we are fine with the body. It’s a bad piece of art, rather sexist, but quite harmless. What we are not fine with is what we see afterwards. We are in a big hall which only features dioramas and pictures of animals of all sorts. All animals, except that…
A screen shows an old documentary video taken (most certainly by a white person) somewhere on the African continent. This does not depict animals. Here are people. Black bodies. Bodies with no voice. Bodies exposed to the white gaze. Like animals.
I hastily pull away my children. We’re not going to look at this. They are used to it. Used to me dragging them away from something. They already know. No, we’re not looking at this, mum, it’s racist.
That’s what racism is. It comes unexpected. It feels like a punch in the stomach. You want to run away, and you do, but it stays with you. I wish we had been warned.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The frustrations of a race talk

There are two book titles that come to my mind almost on an every-day basis. Both have to do with the frustrations of a race talk and with the things left unsaid as a result of such frustrations. One is the title of a novella by Afro-German author Sharon Dodua Otoo: “The things I am thinking while smiling politely.” The other is the title of a blog post by Black British journalist Reni Eddo Lodge that eventually became a book: “Why I am no longer talking to white people about race.” Both titles (and books) are very powerful and poignantly express the feeling of being stuck in a cul-de-sac when confronting white people who believe themselves to be non-racist or, even worse, anti-racist, while unawarely perpetrating a race discourse positioning people on a false level of equality and hindering any possible open and healthy talk about ways of ending racism. Yes, the allures of colour-blindness are too strong for white people to let go, and that is understandable (there is too much to lose in renouncing this illusion). But then, we are not going anywhere further. There is no way we can progress in the fight against racism if we deny its existence and refuse to see deep into the workings of structural racism (institutional and social) at all levels of our experience. There is no possible anti-racism (from whites) without a constant exercise in critical whiteness and a recognition of the power relations affecting the lives of people we pretend to see as equals.

Almost every day I encounter a situation in which I see myself smiling politely and thinking I am no longer talking to this person about this. But, in fact, I cannot afford to stop talking. There is too much at stake, if not for me, surely for my children. And, no matter how frustrated I feel, I resolve to go on, as a drill, hoping to bore a hole somewhere, even in a hard ear. I know what I am talking about. I was once on the other side (and I am still, as a white person, in a very privileged position). It can be done.