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Land of Ideas: 2013.

24 Jan

In case you were wondering to which lows some white German people are not afraid to sink during the current “debate” about racist language in children’s books: take a look at the comment sections of online articles, letters to the editor of every other newspaper and magazine, and this piece of writing by the German author Claus Cornelius Fischer.

Fischer has written this e-mail to Mekonnen Mesghena, the father whose explanatory letter to Otfried Preussler and his family has resulted in their and the Thienemann publishing house’s decision to delete racist language from their new editions of Preussler’s children’s books, such as “The Litte Witch.” Fischer, to be clear, has not been contacted by Mr. Mesghena nor asked for his opinion, but decided to chime in the chorus of terribly affronted German middle-class intellectuals (and I use that term loosely) who agree that this is the single event that has sealed this forsaken place’s fate of terrible, terrible, not-good doom.

We have already heard that an author’s decision to substitute a single racist word in his book constitutes “censorship,” that not using racist language is counterproductive to the cause of anti-racism, that if you don’t read racist bed time stories to your kids, how will they ever learn about racism, and that this is very close to the book burnings by the Nazi regime and its millions of enthusiastic followers.

racism

(c) Beatrice Murch

Sure.

Mr. Fischer, whose crime novels have been successful not only in Germany but in many other countries according to his former publishing house Bastei Lübbe has now successfully solved another riddle in a piece of (potentially) criminal writing: how to expose yourself as the racist that you are. May I quote?

[Content Note: racism, sexism]

“Dear Mr. Mesghena, How pathetic you are! Thanks to your ridiculous initiative, the Thienemann publishing house is acting as a censor of children’s book classics. Heinrich Böll would turn around in his grave, given the rubbish you are staging under the guise and letter head of his foundation! I am not in the mood for anything but writing a children’s book that is full of Neger, Eskimos, Turks, Gypsies, Sheiks and Indians, and all of them are eating Negerküsse or Mohrenköpfe [racist terms for chocolate coated marshmallows]. After that, surely “the” [using the neutral "das" instead of feminine "die", thus mocking germany's federal family minister for giving an interview saying that she thinks God has no gender] family minister Schröder has a reason for outrage, and you and she can blush while reading to somebody. Oh, God – blushing! That’s a no-go! And dressing up as a Turk or an Indian, good gracious! Why don’t you rather care about the literature of your home Ethiopia than the country that has admitted you? Surely you can annoy many people with your laughable political correctness there?! Alert regards, Claus Cornelius Fischer, author” [translation of his German letter that you can find here]

I trust I don’t have to explain why this is a racist letter by a person who seems to lack every trace of basic human decency? Even better: according to Wikipedia, Fischer himself is a children’s books author, using a pseudonym.

The one thing Fischer did not anticipate, however, is that Mr. Mesghena published Fischer’s e-mail (…whoops! Suddenly, racism in public isn’t all that fun, I suppose?), and Fischer is now actually threatening to sue Mekonnen Mesghena.

The other thing that Fischer also might not have expected is that I and, as I hope, many more people will write to his publishing house and alert them to the kind of person they are paying to write tacky crime novels and what said person does in his spare time – not merely as a “private person,” but explicitly as an author fantasizing about discriminatory literature to punish uppity minorities, I suppose. I would like to ask Bastei Lübbe Random House whether this is the kind of example it wants to set, and let them know that I wouldn’t want to throw money down the drain either as a (non-white) reader or a (non-white) parent and thus won’t indirectly subsidize a racist author by buying any of Bastei Lübbe’s Random House’s books.

So please, join me in sharing the benefit of our knowledge with them (cf. a letter proposal by Sula in the comment section):http://www.luebbe.de/Kontakt

Edit: According to the e-mail I received from Bastei Lübbe, Fischer is no longer affiliated with them, but solely with:

Random House’s “Karl Blessing Verlag” that published his latest books: tweet @randomhouseDE or write to kundenservice@randomhouse.de

And if you’d like to let Mr. Fischer know (politely, of course) why his attitude is a bit problematic, here’s where you can reach him: mail@ccfischer.de

Finally: many thanks to the most courageous Mekonnen Mesghena to whom you can write a note of support.

[Update, January 25th:] Claus Cornelius Fischer has now written a letter of apology after, as he notes, he has received many objections to his previous two letters to Mr. Mesghena. Mekonnen Mesghena has accepted his apology (while noting that he disagrees with Fischer’s line of reasoning in this third letter yet again). Not being even half as gracious as Mr. Mesghena, I believe that the mere fact that Fischer essentially (and passive-aggressively, I might add) apologizes solely for the “severity” of his “tone,” defines “German” as white (by saying that his previous racist letters could have been sent to a “well tanned German,” too… m( ), cites the opposition he has encountered as the primary reason to apologize, and finally, given the fact that one has to issue a [Content Note: racism, victim blaming] for this link to his apology (in German) shows that Fischer and many other people still do not understand what racism is and, despite being horribly offended when being associated with that term, can’t help but argue in the most blatantly racist ways themselves. And here’s a random thought: perhaps Mr. Fischer’s attorneys, who he swore he would contact because Mr. Mesghena published his hateful letters, might have told Mr. Fischer that Mr. Mesghena has a better case in pressing charges against him than the other way around? That would certainly explain this nonpology of a person who essentially told Mr. Mesghena to go “home” just a few days earlier but firmly believes he is “not a racist.”

Blackface, Round Five.

19 Oct

“As it turns out, blackface has been and continues to be a widespread practice on the German stage. German actors of African descent are routinely passed over for roles explicitly designated for them in some of the largest theatres in the country. This is weakly defended as either a director’s prerogative or a matter of “artistic choice” – and yet, when questioned, no one could offer me an equivalent example of a white German actor having lost a role to a black actor in whiteface.

Clybourne Park.

Now, normally I don’t meddle in the cultural politics of other countries, but when my work and the work of my colleagues – other playwrights – is misrepresented, I do. When we write plays, among other things, we are creating employment for working actors, and often we intend to employ a specific diverse body. Whatever rationale the German theatre establishment might offer for their brazenly discriminatory practice is of no interest to me. For, as little power as we playwrights have, we always retain one small power and that is the power to say no. To say, no thank you, I’d rather not have my work performed in Germany, today, under those conditions.

Lara-Sophie Milagro and her colleague Gyavira Lasana have created an online petition (included below) condemning the ongoing practice of blackface in German theatres and have asked me to ask you, fellow playwrights, to add your name to their petition. I urge you to do so.

But I would go one step further – I would advise you to boycott productions of your own work by German theatres that continue this asinine tradition (The Deutsches Theatre and the Schlosspark are only two examples). A zero-tolerance position is the only position to take, in my opinion, and if we are united then perhaps a few German theatres may take notice and, hopefully, in time, a better course of action.”

Bruce Norris, the Pulitzer prize winning author of “Clybourne Park.” Read the whole article (in german) here (however, cf. Franca’s corrections to the article in the comment section below), and sign the petition against Blackfacing here.

There have been multiple discussions regarding Blackface on this blog if you’d like to have a look, particularly on Berlin’s Schlosspark Theater’s staging of “I’m Not Rappaport:”

  1. “You Know It’s A Bad Idea When It’s Blackface”
  2. “Reasonable Racism”
  3. “Fighting Windmills”
  4. “Blackface, Round 4″
  5. “For Never Was A Story Of More Woe…”

Sign. [Sign, Sign, Sign!]

6 Jun

Yeah, that idea to take a break from the internet did not work out too well today, so I’m immediately thrust back into “WTF?” mode…

In the wake of Koblenz’ administrative court officially countenancing racial profiling by police officers, an alliance of Black german political organizations has initiated a petition in April: Stop Racial Profiling (yes, you can sign it, too!).

Alas, whereas petitions that aim at Kristina Schröder, germany’s explicitly anti-feminist federal minister, or against certain gender discriminatory policies can count on thousands of people signing within weeks, Stop Racial Profiling’s success is rather minimal: 0.01 per cent of germany’s citizens have signed the petition, namely 4,650 people in almost 2 months.

My indignation at this was only exacerbated when this morning I discovered that a petition against “Betreuungsgeld” [i.e. the monetary reward the federal government plans for parents who (can afford to) not send their children to daycare facilities or to hire help privately while this money is actually needed for the vast amount of people (and kids...) who do wish to use yet non-existent daycare facilities], as justified as it is, is not only (yet again) sponsored by an alliance of several influential political parties and organisations, but has received 6,500 over 8,100 signatures in 2 weeks (half of them today).

Yes, this political alliance has more money, more people resources and more direct influence when it comes to publicity and impact than any Black german organisation in this country. That is a problem in itself.  But the people who initiated Stop Racial Profiling have run a publicity campaign, friends of mine and myself continuously point to the petition and ask others to sign, certain feminist blogs write about it and link to the petition, the petition is mentioned at several events – and still, on its best day, Stop Racial Profiling counted less than 180 signatures from germany.

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