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Your Openness Excludes Me.

23 Jan

As stated before in the recent post on people’s curious interpretations of “censorship:” it’s not what some people think it is. That also goes for the alleged “censorship” that (most feminist) bloggers rain down on commenters by moderating their own digital spaces and deciding on who to (not) let into their private living room. Besides the usual trolls that can be spotted more or less easily and other people who seem to have certain, um, issues with social equality and choose to express them by calling bloggers fat, ugly, b*tch, whore, c*nt, n*ger, n**ger, etc., there are those commenters who insist on debating in “good faith” and are offended if you deny to engage with them.

There are blogs, moreover, who proclaim that letting everyone comment as they please (with very little exceptions) is actually furthering debate culture and leads to the self-exposure of bigoted people that usually don’t need a helping hand in doing so (yes, ScienceBlogs is one example, as there recently was a slightly preposterous debate about my choice to not link to a post anymore – it is just one of thousands of examples, however). I do agree with that assertion: racists, sexists, heterosexists, … usually expose themselves quite quickly, if not with their common first sentence (“I’m no XYZ but…”).

The problem is: they speak for many other people who don’t think what they say is ridiculously racist, sexist, heterosexist, … but “normal.” Maybe a little “un-PC,” but totally within a “normality” framework. To not counter them is to accept that substituting “Black person” for N* in children’s books puts us “on a path” that will “eventually lead to book burnings like those during the Nazi regime” is somewhat of a valid point of view. You might not agree, and you might think it’s ridiculous (yes, it is), but other people certainly do. And for them, this “point of view” is now just one of the many expressed, just as valid, just as argumentative. That’s part mob mentality, perhaps, but part political conviction. To not say anything doesn’t make that problem go away – and to be able to merely (and silently!) ridicule a person who says stuff like that is a privilege some people cannot afford.

That leads me to the next problem: by allowing (almost) anyone to comment whatever they want, you create a space that is heavenly for some people (at least for those with little self-awareness), but completely hostile to people who suffer from discrimination, for example. You might be the biggest anti-racist activist this space-manatee-forsaken place called germany has ever seen; if you let people proclaim that “N* is just a word like every other word and it’s only racist if it’s intended to be racist” in your space, your anti-racist ally-card will be revoked immediately. This rule is based on “real life” experiences: if you don’t stand up for people and/or contradict racists, you are not an ally, you are a poseur. Speaking up here isn’t the job of PoC, it is yours as an ally.

Yet, every now and then, my inner educator too makes me engage people who I think might benefit from a debate and might be arguing in good faith. Sometimes I think it even makes sense to dismantle mere trolls who certainly won’t take anything from it, be it on here or over at Mädchenmannschaft; both highly irregular occasions… This, however, is usually educational only for a completely different set of people than the one it is supposed to aim at: it is educational for myself, and for readers who more or less agree with me anyway (and like to “hear” me shouting or something for some reason – thanks for bearing with me all the time ;)!). It is also entertainment. But is not educating ignorant people, and it is not making a difference in their way of thinking. Or, as a recent commenter told fellow author Sabine over at Mädchenmannschaft: “Your post is fantastic, and you’ve exposed this guy’s argumentation as being completely racist. I still think he’s right, though.” Alright then…

90s-Phrase-Talk-to-The-Hand-Cause-The-Face-Aint-ListeninOn­ly ve­ry rarely do people who co­mment like that change their opi­nion even in the sligh­test bit, de­spite being challen­ged be­cause of their mis­in­for­ma­tion or straw­men or out­right dis­cri­mi­na­tory views – it seems to never have any sub­stan­tial im­pact. That, of course, might be heavi­ly due to my lack of ar­gu­men­tative skills and rigor, but at times, it’s simply due to the fact that people did either not argue in good faith from the start, or are not here to en­ga­ge with another per­son and learn from them or others any­way, and, most im­por­tant­ly, wouldn’t ar­gue for things like calling Black peo­ple the N-word in chil­dren’s books in the first place if they were a) not a terrible hu­man being and b) ac­tually bothered to read or listen to any­thing that might broaden their hori­zon of dis­cri­mi­na­tory nor­mal­cy.

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You Walk Alone.

23 Sep

[Content note: rape culture, sexual(ized) assault and violence and language, victim blaming, racism]

Ever since a police officer told a group of of students in 2011 to not “dress like sl*ts” so they wouldn’t get sexually assaulted, women* in Toronto, Canada, started out a quickly spreading action movement against this culture of sl*t shaming and victim blaming by initiating the so-called “sl*t walks” in protest. In an effort to reclaim the word sl*t and (at least partially) regain access to the discourse about women*’s sexuality and rights to bodily integrity, demonstrations titled “sl*twalks” took place in 75 cities worldwide at the end of 2011. In Berlin, germany, the first walk took place in August last year with about 3,500 participants; another sl*t walk marched just last week.

The under­lying rea­sons for a pro­test move­ment like the “sl*twalks,” Fe­mi­nism ™ agrees on that, are tre­men­dously important: the fight against rape culture, sl*t shaming, victim bla­ming, sexual(ized) violence and (street) ha­­rass­ment, objectification, trivialization and the common disregard for women* who are being thought of less than a human being in (public) space. Sl*twalks are a non-centralized, diverse action movement that seems to profit and suffer from the same strategies and in­herent difficulties that the (non?)political concept of “openness” brings with it – a chance for people who are not politically organized to participate anyway, but the inevitable perpetuation of systematic social discrimination when one does not explicitly reflects and/or strongly advocates and acts against it (cf. the remarkably similar – no, that’s not remarkable, that’s irony - problems of the Occupy Wall Street movement). Importantly: having an open movement like sl*twalks that invites as many women* (and men*) as possible to participate, it is not only about preventing discrimination, and, in certain regards when establishing this “open” concept, discrimination is basically part of the deal; the reaction to incidents or even whole structures of discrimination becomes vital, and here is where many sl*twalks fall short.

There has been anti-racist criticism of sl*twalks – and not just once, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. There has been anti-classist, anti-heterosexist, anti-ableist, anti-cis-sexist, … criticism of sl*twalks – and not just once, here and here and here and here and here and here.  And these links are just the result of a quick Google search, by the way – there’s a whole lot more.

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(Not) Only In Germany.

27 Aug

I’m afraid I’m again suffering from a bit of racism overkill (mixed with a hint of white people fatigue), so this clearly isn’t a nuanced analysis, this is exasperation talk. Racism is a world-wide problem, it is a world-wide structure of systematic oppression, and, if only due to personal experiences, things are far from being  fine and peachy everywhere else.

And yet, today, this would be my (non-exhaustive) experience-summary of germany’s explicit racism in 2012 so far:

Only in germany…

... is protest against Blackfacing white actors brushed aside as “USian” political correctness and it is possible to state that Black ensemble members don’t make sense for any theater company anyway, due to a lack of “Black roles,” and cultural and theater critics and the general public heartily agree.

… is it perfectly acceptable to be unaware of any form of colonial history and to essentially negate related genocides by stating that the planned murder of people had happened too early to be classified as a genocide anyway - again, to general agreement. Does anyone recognize the bitter irony of stating that anything regarding genocides that happened before 1955 in germany, when this country implemented the UN convention, doesn’t really count? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!

… do people think that we’ve talked about the Holocaust long enough and people really should move on now, because past. Yeah, tell that to Jasper von Altenbockum, who thinks that even fascist pogroms have their perks; and anti-Semitic murder phantasies as “Death of a critic” by Martin Walser may have been called out by former friends (this is when FAZ’s Frank Schirrmacher actually had something valuable to say), but continued to be bestsellers, not ten years ago. Günter Grass just won’t shut the fuck up either.

… does it seem possible that one of the biggest and well-respected national daily newspapers commemorates the 20th anniversary of a fascist pogrom by stating that it had its upsides, namely putting “social romantics” who advocate human equality (…please!) in their place, and “opening up” the door to further immigration restrictions, without facing a substantial backlash and consequences for the author, who isn’t just an obscure guest columnist, but the actual editor in chief of the newspaper’s internal affairs department?

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Back To Shouting, Then.

8 Jul

One of the dangers of social media tools is that you’re always up to date, and this makes my particular decisions whether or not to be witness to yet another incidence of failure rather difficult. Discovering this morning that the public radio broadcasting company, Deutschlandradio Wissen, had decided on a round table, discussing an unorganized array of video games, cultural impact and sexism, and yet, did not have a single “expert” there who wasn’t a self-identified man*, this Saturday morning started out rather troublesome.

Many things were wrong with this “round table” and the fact that three men* kept musing on about what Women* (TM) really wanted in video games or what Feminists (TM) might have to say about sexism was just the most ironic part. The fact that a representative of this radio station felt the need to answer my twittered criticism by saying that if I didn’t like it, I should read newspapers or blogs instead and they thought it was a good show (surprise!), was also just another example of how alleged “professionals” deal with people who criticize their pseudo-“artistic freedom” (when this artistic freedom is nothing less than the marginalization of certain people) in germany. Not even the l**e [I apologize for using ableist language - thank you for pointing it out, zweisatz!] bad  excuse that the radio station simply couldn’t find any women* competent enough for this debate, that shit happens and that we should all calm the fuck down was particularly exciting. [Check out Femgeeks for their reaction!]

What annoyed me the most, yet again, was the publicly spoken white privilege and its subsequent defense. Two quotes were particularly sharp, namely – when (rightly) aiming at criticizing the white-man-default of video games – the continued talk of “people of other skin colors” (other meaning not white, as was the guests’ unspoken agreement, because white universality is awesome), and the half-sentence about the irritation of being prompted to battle against “Taiwanese 15 year-olds” when logging on a game.

Most people who have heard a thing or two about white privilege and racism probably understand what my problem is with this. Hints: whiteness as default and its constant reproduction, racialized clichés about “ethnic” groups, general dumbassery.

And, as it was to be expected, this was just too much for some people on Twitter. As this post might come across as putting the boot in with more than 140 spaces, let me just say that: 1. Totally. 2. Ben is just a wonderful example for a line of argument and behavior that is typical for some people.

So… Ben showed up! Male, atheist, non-smoker, and self-declared debater who thought that I read “too much into” the whole thing, and that finding racism wherever I can was my personal “wishful thinking”. Yes, he apparently believes I actively hope for discrimination, because I’m hooked on that sucker like no tomorrow. I am, actually, but not in the way Ben thinks… The “debate” rapidly worsened, because Ben was determined to show that the “context” of white privileged expressions (such as “other-coloreds”, or complaining about those videogame crazed Asians, amirite?!) is crucial, and posed investigative, multi-layered questions: if I always thought that racist language was a sign of racism, what about oral presentations about racism that are critical of racism by pointing out racist language, are they racist too…? Huh? Huh?!

I tried. Honestly. Because once in a blue moon, I think that debating people might help, and I shouldn’t virtually shout at them right away. So, I tried. I tried to explain that racist stereotypes are racist. That racist language is racist. That having three white dudes debate whether women* like a good rape background story in Tomb Raider is a really bad idea. But Ben kept asking for evidence!1! of where the actual racism or sexism lie in these words and interactions.

Not being convincing enough, he called me a “child”, accused me of trying to read between the lines (of “other skin-colored people”, because that’s such a subtle innuendo…), of being a coward and telling me that he totally believes in structural racism and sexism, but that he doesn’t want me to bring it up so much when talking to him, because he sees me as a human being, not as a woman* (yes, I had to chuckle – this sums the sexism issue up, basically…), and that I didn’t even know him, so I shouldn’t be so mean. He just doesn’t think that racist stereotypes and racist language mean racism, because context.

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Your Childhood Memories Don’t Trump Mine.

14 Jun

[TW: racist language used as illustration]

“Ew, it stinks of Negro in here.” / “Iih, hier stinkt’s nach Neger.”

This is what I heard in the school yard, while you played with your allegedly beloved Black doll, which was called a Negro doll or simply “Blacky” back in the 1970s and 1980s, and you still think is fine to call exactly that in 2012.

I have tried to ignore the majority of german white people’s reactions to Sarah Kuttner and to not even get into the whole thing, but the sheer amount of either posts or comments on posts, be it on “Chinese/Negro dolls” (…the best/worst examples in a long time…) or “Childhood literature” or the reactions to pieces trying to explain again why it is racism to insist on the use of racist terms, kind of makes this impossible to not write a short statement.

Language changes for a reason. And while people love to stifle this discussion by stating that this is merely a post-modern or post-structuralist or Foucauldian concept that ignores material circumstances, I say that language is an expression of material circumstances (what else would it be?), and even if you don’t believe that language can (re)produce the latter, the mere fact that you express racism with certain chosen words should probably give you pause.

The change of certain language and descriptions and concomitant ideas about certain people was and is the hard-fought result of actual struggles of said people, which you ridicule and negate by deciding you don’t care about it. The discrimination of people of color by constant verbal othering, by the employment of historically loaded and systematically degrading words, and by the complete ignorance displayed towards the multitude of descriptive alternatives that have been self-chosen as empowering self-descriptions by people of color is the verbal expression of ingrained belief systems that devalue the importance of both the voice and presence of people of color.

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