As a Sudanese-born American-raised bestselling author who has been vaginally infibulated since birth, my rage regarding the infamous “Genital Mutilation Art Cake” is like a Hydra with many splintered heads and has scarcely been addressed by anyone in America asked to write about this issue.
My Twitter friend @OwlsAsylum asked me to put my feelings in writing for his blog where I can be as open as I like…so I warn you now…that what I have to say is not going to be what you’re used to reading in Black American publications or even White-ran African ones.
Before I talk about what it’s like to actually live with a ‘cut vagina’ and my conflicting feelings around the whole controversy, let me quickly rehash what happened to cause this brouhaha—a Male Mixed Race Swede artist named Makode Linde (the term ‘mixed race Swede’ being shorthand for White to those of us who come from Africa) engaged in performance art in which he depicted the image of a Charcoal-skinned woman served up at a party as a living edible cake. The party, hosted by Sweden’s Minister of Culture Lena Adelsoln Liljeroth, was supposed to raise awareness about the issue of Genital Cutting in Africa. Honoring the artist’s own claims—his intention was to show how racist White people are by having the mostly White partygoers cut up and eat the genitals of the moaning, screaming Charcoal Woman. With glee, the Whites did exactly that. I’m laughing my ass off remembering it (the video)—but inside, I’m calling ‘Camel Shit’ on the artist’s supposed intent.
Let me ask those who see this as art right now. If it was Makode Linde’s intention to make the world ‘see’ how racist we are by eating the genitals of the moaning cake—then why not make the cake look like a real African girl? An older woman with big bare tits wouldn’t be having this genital cutting experience—a small child would. Certainly, I have no problem with the charcoal skin (what East Africans refer to as “Biblical Days Black”—the color of our original Cushitic mother). But it seems racially methodical to present this African image in a sexually Western stance (the large bare breasts stand at attention unnaturally; not fall to the side despite the fact she that she is lying supine—typical Western pornographic imagery that came in vogue when more than 30 million White women in 18 nations received fake silicone breast implants). Linde’s caricature is definitely not a small defenseless child receiving initiation rites in Africa. As well, notice the frighteningly garish mouth—savage teeth, swollen red lips—the stereotypical Western racist cartoon image that plagues waving Sambo figures on White doorsteps in the Southern U.S. and other grotesque Massa-Welcome images traditionally found comical by those who deny Black humanity.
Why was dreadlock-wearing Linde so insensitive to how his ‘African woman’ looked? My belief is that he never expected video of the party to reach the entire planet. He thought the ‘feel-good racist imagery’ would create a bonding experience between his lonely Biracial shell and the Superior Swedes he’s most likely sought acceptance and solidarity from all his life. Like so many new age Racists of Color, Makode Linde thought this display and all reaction to it would be confined to the upper class and their few ethnic puppets—kept in town, like most of his other art works.
Following the controversy, Linde stated, “I didn’t intend for anyone to feel embarrassed. But we’re talking about female genital mutilation—is there any comfortable or cozy way to talk about it?”
Yes there is—let me do so right now.
I was vaginally infibulated in Omdurman, Sudan soon after my birth. Infibulation in my region of Africa in 1969 meant that the muscles inside the vagina were cut loose and reconfigured ‘tighter’ (supposedly to incur ‘purity’ as the Mullahs claimed that the Koran states: “Woman is Impure”). After the tightening process, the vagina is stitched shut—you grow up having your period through a straw—which can take some women an entire month. On the outer lips of the vagina, seared in Arabic, they put the name of your father and his mosque on the left side—the right side of my vagina was left blank for the name of my future husband to be seared on with a hot poker later. My clitoris was not removed, because my birth mother was an Oromo, not a Muslim and wouldn’t allow what Arab Muslims call ‘the worm of unclean thoughts’ to be cut away. Thus I cannot speak on the horror of having no feeling, no clitoris. But protocol follows that years after this ritual—at your wedding ceremony, the groom is given a small razor. This is to slit you open so he can begin penetrating you on the ‘wedding bed’—a process that can take weeks.
I escaped the Arab Muslim wedding, because my parents were murdered in front of me at the age of six and my Egyptian grandmother handed me over to UNICEF (to be ‘left for adoption’ after she got permission from the Mullahs—adopting being illegal in Egypt) because she could not fathom having a chocolate colored granddaughter in her White Arabic family. Through UNICEF, I was eventually placed with a Black American family in Washington D.C. and did not learn that I was vaginally infibulated until my Black American mother gave me a bath the first time I arrived in America. She and my new Black American father rushed me to D.C. General Hospital that night, horrified at the stitching between my thighs.
My life is not typical of the African girl who has been circumcised or infibulated. I grew up Americanized. My Black American parents wanted to have my vagina “corrected” at 16—but I refused because it was the only thing that connected me to my birth mother. Losing my virginity at 17 to my Black American tutor (who to me was White because of his egg-nog colored complexion) took an entire month. Imagine having your upper lip pulled up over your entire head—that’s how it feels for a ‘cut girl’ when she first has sex, you literally pass out. On one occasion in the back of his car, we got ‘stuck’ like dogs and had to be “wet” by fire hose to get us apart. It was so humiliating. Each attempt was excruciatingly painful for me, but like any teenaged girl I was determined to prove that I loved my man. Later, in my twenties traveling the world as a model and actress, I learned the value of having “pinhole pussy”—I could manipulate men with it. No matter how many of them I bedded, it appeared to each next guy that I was a virgin. And when men think they are the first and it’s even tighter when they return—they do a lot more for you. My vagina gave me all manner of problems—hormone imbalances; winter time shrinking. But because of my power over men sexually, I grew to take pride in my vagina. I refuse for instance to allow Westerners to tell me that I’m “mutilated.” I don’t accept that. I am different, but my life is not over, I am not defeated and I see myself as inconvenienced; violated—but not mutilated. With its shield face and Arabic writing, my vagina is very pretty to me.
Activists using the term “mutilation” forget that this is a Psychological condition, not just physical. We that are cut have to live our entire lives with our vagina. We have to move on and accept this horrible inconvenience and find joy in it.
I am now 42 and have given birth to two sons by cesarean—yet I am like a 12 year old down there. It does not change. This tightness that is created for male pleasure (no other reason, despite what the religious men say) is a never-ending curse of pain and ecstasy; sexual rapture bound up in brutally inhuman suffrage for the woman. I have learned to live with this—to even exploit it for my advantage. But I would not wish it on anyone. My vagina has been for men…and not for me!
So to watch a man—a man calling himself a ‘Black man’—lay on a table and holler moans that invited laughter as his friends cut chunks of his pink genitals away and at them—was so devastatingly powerful that it reduced me to loud, butchered sobbing. I couldn’t stop crying. Add to that the psychological effect of having to cope with the strangeness of Western reaction—particularly Black American friends defending this image and claiming that the intent of the art was to help girls like me.
Help us how? Who did it change? Who among the masses even understood what they were watching? It looked like a Halloween comedy show! Far and wide—people were laughing! No one watching that video thought of little African infants lying on the ground in rows between Cassava plants being cut on by dutiful old women. No one thought of that.
And that brings me to the most painful experience of the video, the one that came in the days after I watched out—the shutting out of my voice and of women like me by arrogant bougie African American writers and publications—writers and publications that would claim to speak ‘for us’ in delineating the experiences of African women and girls in public forums—yet slander my name and claim that I am “crazy” and shouldn’t be understood or have a voice.
This happened despite the fact that I am a well published author in America; a citizen of America; a Black African woman and a person who is vaginally infibulated. These Blacks at Ebony.Com, The Root and The Grio…the same ones who insisted that Makode Linde’s “voice,” however controversial, should be analyzed and understood on an intellectual basis…dismissed me, an infibulated African woman writer as someone there should be no time for—no understanding of. Herein lies the hateful core of not only Linde’s art piece, but the overall problem with Western Blacks—the innate hatred, distrust and lies they quickly attach to a Black female image when that female image threatens to Blacken them.
Certainly, because I am a noted author, published in eight countries—what I have to say will go into the canon of Black literary commentary whether people like it or not. So I say that these editorial staffs at Ebony.Com, The Grio, The Root and so many other so called Black publications are ‘pretentious,’ ‘privileged’, ‘vain’ and ‘wrongheaded.’ They want to visit Africa like a grave. You dare not be in the room. There is nothing journalistically scientific or factual about their methods when they say that Makode Linde should exist and be heard, but not Kola Boof. This is what Linde’s cake represents no matter where a Black woman goes. Routinely, you hear these American Negroes say when discussing me, “She is crazy”….but not a single one will counter “Why is she crazy?”
They don’t even acknowledge the moaning cake.
I have slapped Amiri Baraka for repeatedly calling me a bitch at the Harlem Book Fair. While heckling me on stage, he also stated that I was a “CIA Agent” and…”really a man.” A year before that incident, my books were banned by Black American bookseller Eso Won—the top black bookstore in Los Angeles. I never had a single ‘run-in’ or altercation with anyone in or near that book shop ever. No explanation was given—my publisher was simply informed that my books and I were banned from their Afrocentric shelves.
After discovering that 12 other Black women writers are banned from Eso Won bookstore, including Pulitzer nominee Wanda Coleman—I felt something akin to Linde’s Sara Baartman cake. The perpetual cutting, mentally as well as physically, is worldwide for Black women.
One local Black radio talk show host befriended me and had a different take. He said that I am despised by Black Literati for being ‘too truthful’ in my speaking style, for focusing quite forcefully on dark skinned Black women’s issues and for refusing to accept America’s one drop rule and see Mixed Race people as “black.” This last one in particular angers them he said, because so many of the leading Black movers and shakers in publishing are mixed race blacks or Black men with White spouses and mixed offspring. Years even before that, however, I was lied on by Black American scholars that I’ve never met, as high up and influential as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West—granted I can’t stand them and they probably knew that from reading my books. But the thing is, why would intellectual Afro-descended people be so afraid of the rising career of a Black African woman? I hadn’t slapped their friend Amiri yet. I hadn’t done anything but be an African Womanist artist.
And then there’s smaller fish like Dr. Goddess, Deesha Philyaw, Dan Billin, Dominique DiPrima, Arab-funded ESPAC reporters and so many others who gossiped incessantly behind my back and made one nefarious claim about me after the other—all without ever having met me. These are supposed to be smart Negroes and Arabs of high importance.
In the canon of Black history, they have the delusion that I am an unimportant ‘folksy’ figure (shocking and vulgar they say) who will one day disappear while they (cloaked in white collars, college degrees and visits to Harris-Perry’s Nerdland) will go on to be remembered as intelligent, fearless, Black-loving auteurs of what they called ‘the African Diaspora.’ Something more organic to them than me, mind you—because Whites owned them and they now think with the same arrogant self-importance of the White Tower. What could I, the dirty ground possibly have to say? This is very sad indeed as this is a virtual re-enactment of Zora Neale Hurston and the Niggerati of the 1930’s. And yes, as a writing talent and a critical thinker, I am comparing myself to Zora, most definitely.
One has to sigh and fan oneself, because naturally, I’m not innocent in this mess. From the beginning, I’ve been a complete bitch to anyone that dismissed my reality or my right to have a voice. I gave it right back to them with all the pent up relish of my life long suffering. But how dare an African mother come here and do that! We’re Black and we want our place in the White people’s great society—but she, our own mother, is not one of us!
Makode Linde personified more than anything the modern Black conscious when he fashioned that cake. And I promise you—the Cake Is Baked. Linde is not alone in that tar-black butchered bitch fantasy, which is why so many Blacks are defending him. Whether it be our own black sons on the radio calling us “Bitches and Hoes” or proclaiming in their latest works of art: “I don’t date Dark butts—why did my baby come out so Black—White women are better”—the Cake Is Baked. The men’s yellow icing drips down the side of our much-despised nappy heads like a golden blond weave. If we protest, we are called ‘angry…bitter.’
The violent-voiced male rapper is not a threat to the community. Barking like a dog is his right by virtue of testicles. Pathetic Nicki Minaj draped in Barbie Doll drag while referring to little black girls as ‘nappyhead hoes’ in more than two of her songs is not a threat to the community. But we, the moaning burnt cakes with savage teeth and thick red lips—our sliced up fudge-inducing pussies threaten the Black community’s Mulatto follies—their niggerstock delusions of a bright future. As I wrote in a book once: ‘The Black Woman is the most unprotected, unloved woman on earth…she is the only woman on earth…that grows unwatered.’ In America, where they believe (or want to believe)…that that Bitch in New York Harbor is their real mother…it sticks to their fingers like frosted truth. Since none of us in the Black community plan on staying black—we don’t have time to care about Black women. So of course the bougie Negro journalists must consider Makode Linde’s brand of art—he’s their sanctioned portrait maker!