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.