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.”

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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Awesome Ishema Kane Is Awesome.

23 Jan

Ishema Kane, a nine-year-old Black german girl from Frankfurt, has written a letter to the editors of the german weekly newspaper ZEIT and its recent “defense” of the continued use of racist language in children’s books (and everywhere else, for that matter). Ishema clarifies that neither she nor any other Black person is an N*, and that it certainly is not up to ZEIT to define what racism is according to their personal preferences. So: hats off to Ishema, well done! An English transcript of the letter is below the fold.

[FYI: The word N* is used as an illustration of ZEIT's racism in Ishema's letter of protest]

Leserbrief-Ishema-Kane

(c) Ishema Kane.

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A Note On Commenting.

20 Jan

Right, so… I’m afraid I have to follow the recent examples of other bloggers and shut down comments alltogether for a while (CENSORSH…!!1!).

Obviously, I moderate anyway but a) that’s no fun and quite exhausting (lately, excitment over many new comments has been replaced with ominous apprehension – sadly, I’m usually not wrong here), and b) my inner educator wants to respond to the same BS over and over again, and that’s just as useless. So, two lessons for me: 1. It doesn’t matter what one writes, people don’t read it or don’t care anyway (also, they really, really want to use racist slurs towards you, it’s a bit of an obsession, apparently) and there’s no special snowflake exception for me here, 2. Don’t link to almost-mainstream blogs – within mere minutes there’ll be a number of terribly well-intentioned dudes mansplaining to you why it obviously makes total sense to use N* in this particular circumstances, blablabla (nope, can’t be bothered to dispute that again and again).

Pingbacks will remain possible, and comments will open again in a little while. In all honesty: many thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from (some of *ahem*) you soon :)!

[CN: (parody relating to) misogynistic, heterosexist, racist comments.]

On Censorship.

18 Jan

Apparently, it’s not what you think it is. “It,” that’s censorship. And people seem to have cultivated a most curious interpretation, so let’s repeat the basics:

Guaranteeing the freedom of speech, the freedom of the written word and freedom of images, and the unhindered access to and dissemination of information are the key elements that define german law on censorship (GG, §5). Guaranteeing the freedom of the arts and scholarship and research are fundamentals as well. That means that germany, as a national entity, as a government, as a constitutional state, as a society, entitles you to say and write and watch and learn whatever is publicly accessible to you and whatever the hell you want to put out there (within constitutional limits).

You know what you’re not entitled to, however? Saying and writing and watching and learning and publishing whatever you want without someone commenting on it or criticizing your choices or without the possibility of potential consequences if you produce discriminatory and/or insulting crap, for example. Criticism is not censorship. Potential consequences resulting from criticism are not censorship (they are consequences resulting from criticism).

Let’s take Christian Ulmen’s already infamous “Who wants to fuck my girlfriend?” clusterfuck of a proposed TV show as an example: both its title and concept have been heavily criticized as sexist and misogynistic, as a poor attempt at satire that might aim at subversion in a society steeped in rape culture (Sasha Baron Cohen’s movies and their reception seem to not have taught some people anything) but actually only works because it relies on rape culture for entertainment purposes, and “exposing” rape culture is neither the central aim nor a possibility within such a framework of late-night “entertainment.” The fact that certain people respond to a “satire” like that is precisely because of their internalization or even conscious normalization of rape culture (otherwise, the premise of pimping out your girlfriend to earn credit or the premise that this is something that women would actually want wouldn’t work and wouldn’t be mainstream-recognizable) is something Ulmen and his producers are just rolling with; they are actually enjoying feminist criticism and ridiculing it for their idea of subversive anti-sexism. How fun!

muteSo – yes, it’s Tele 5, and who watches that channel anyway? Yes, maybe the show will be quite funny for a very specific group of people  (see whom in the paragraph above)? So what? It’s still misogynistic bullshit, and – thanks to GG §5 – I am entitled to say so. Ulmen and other people’s entitlement to create and produce a show like this one is not similar to an absolute right of broadcasting it, come hell or high water – some people might have gotten that wrong. Angela Merkel issuing an executive order to stop the show because she doesn’t like the title or Ulmen – that would be quite understandable but it would also be censorship. Tele5 being served with an injunction against any broadcast activity – that would probably be for the best but it would also be censorship. Christian Ulmen being physically prevented from entering the studio or threatened because some people don’t like his hair – that would be censorship (…and really, his hair? Who cares?).

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