I have for a number of years been actively engaged, in terms of research, art, music and just opinions on ‘everyday’ representations of people by themselves, of others and through others, like the media and various esteemed authors. It’s the ‘everydayness’ of certain ideas which create stereotypes that contain misrepresentations through ‘common-sense’ ‘facts’ which always calls me to object. Such inaccuracies are usually backed up with the illogical claim of ‘that’s how it is’. Hardly anyone can actually explain logically exactly what ‘that’s how it is’ really means. In other words likes become naturalized and unacceptable. Many politicians do this for a living. Donald Trump is the most loud and reactionary example of this. His views on Muslims and his dangerous claim that he could even kill some one and still be a leading candidate are the lowest levels of intellect (if we can call it that) which a politician has slumped to. At the same time there are ‘everyday’ stereotypes which we often partake in, consume, accept perhaps without even blinking an eyelid. There are also companies and organizations who use stereotypes every day to justify their existence and ultimately sell products and make money. I want to question this in terms of a number of 3 everyday products and brands in Cyprus which depict Africa/Africans/Africaness in clearly derogatory and racist ways. Interesting that all of these ironically come from places which aspire to be alternative/different making their impact more disturbing and questionable because when racism becomes so every day, so subconscious even, it is more harmful as it’s just accepted as the way things are .
The oldest one that comes to mind, and I have been complaining about this since the early 1990’s is the logo of Laiko Kafekopteio, an allegedly progressive organization whose name translates into English as ‘The People’s Coffee Grinding Company’ – which is linked to AKEL – The Communist party of Cyprus. Since 1948 the company logo contains a depiction of an African looking ‘bell-boy’ serving different packets of the company’s coffee on a tray. The expression on his face looks shocked, motionless and uncomfortably placed historically. As offensive as the ‘golliwogs’ that used to be on Robertson’s jam jars and very ‘sambo’ looking . One can only assume that despite its allegedly progressive image as a company Laiko’s main shareholder’s must be pretty conservative, insensitive and ‘red-neck’ in their unwillingness to change their logo. Furthermore this stance leaves them frozen in time, trapped somewhere before the pre-civil rights era of the 1940’s when racism was far more entrenched and exclusivist. With a logo likes this, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Steve Biko, Maya Angelou, Public Enemy and Nelson Mandela, never apparently happened.
Then we come to ‘Afrika’ newspaper, which reflects an oppositional view to the establishment and status quo in northern occupied Cyprus. Its owner Sener Levent is outspoken for his criticism of nationalism, occupation and the division of Cyprus. It is baffling, again, how someone so oppositional and allegedly ‘progressive’ can call their newspaper ‘Afrika’ – ‘Africa’. Had the paper been published in Africa or if its content was Afrocentric, fair enough but take one look at the above logo , where the ‘I’ in the word is represented by a sketch of what looks to be a yellow (symbolizing cowardice) faced ape, sitting sideways submissively with its face looking down. Levent made the ‘transitition’ (SIC) in name when ‘Avrupa’ meaning Europe become ‘Afrika’ apparently as a political protest over 10 years ago after he had spent time in detention for expressing views against the former self-declared leader of Turkish Cypriots, the late Rauf Denktash, who lets face it was seldom tolerant to differences of opinion. The newspapers name reflects a wider ‘everyday’ societal stereotype in Cyprus sowed time and time again by people (often politicians) who claim snobbishly that ‘Cyprus is not Africa’ or ‘Cyprus is not like a small country in Africa’ which assumes Cyprus is perfect, a better place than anywhere in Africa . Well folks like you all got it wrong, according to this newspaper ‘Cyprus’ is ‘Afrika’. Whereas in reality Africa is a radically different from such demeaning and degrading imagery and text, and again, the racism of this perverse idea reflects a bygone era of Apartheid and systematic oppression of Africa and people of African origin worldwide.
The final example is the most offensive. It comes from ‘Politis’ newspaper, again allegedly a newspaper that is supposed to be independent politically – a difficult thing in Cyprus – the divided ‘Carob Republic’ which has never been totally free nor independent. Every Sunday ‘Politis’ has a cartoon by Thanasis Papaspyropoulou entitled ‘Sti Hora Ton Zoulou’ which translates in English as ‘In The Country’ or ‘land of the Zulus’ . The image has a caricature of the cartoonist on the left looking a bit smarmy gripping his pencil and pointing his finger rather nonchalantly. Some very poorly designed graphics carry the title with the word ‘Zulu’ done in a self-styled ‘Savanah filled’ font. The word ‘Hora’ is pieced together in a ramshackle way like badly constructed fencing. On the Y (Ypsilon in Greek) of the last letter in Zulu a caricature of a monkey smiles cheekily, with all white teeth shining while holding a rather small banana. We can assume the monkey is about the eat the banana as its half peeled and its size relatively speaking indicates its local produce – Cyprus bananas are tiny compared to the same fruit from anywhere else where the fruit is naturally grown. The content of the cartoon is irrelevant as no matter what is being conveyed this headline logo alone would never be acceptable to Zulu people, who are proud of their culture, identity, roots and traditions. So this one would not wash at well in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and if by chance the cartoonist does find himself some day on a flight to King Shaka Airport Durban I would suggest he thinks twice about stepping off onto the tarmac – just in case someone has seen this ridiculously racist caricature.
What’s disappointing about these three examples is they all come from so-called ‘alternative’ sources. What we expect from overtly racist people and their organizations is to be expected, challenged and rejected accordingly. So I say ‘Laiko’ Coffee, ‘Afrika’ and ‘Politis’ newspapers change your mindsets. Stop pandering to racism through these depictions and be more respectful to Africa, Africans and the richness and diversity of Africaness, and while you are at it maybe read a book by Franz Fanon called ‘The Wretched of the Earth’