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Not My Representatives.

19 Apr

Kristina Schröder, germany’s federal minister for families, seniors, women and youth (…ridiculously hard to translate: BMFSFJ), is a bad person. She has been constantly mocked as incompetent, stupid, overchallenged; yet, I do not think she is any of these things. I think Kristina Schröder is a conservative ideologist and activist, an anti-feminist and a german nationalist with racist tendencies – hence, in my view, a bad person.

Schröder refuses to amend gender-discriminatory fiscal policies (such as the german “Ehegattensplitting”) and is one of the few European politicians in charge of gender equality politics to outright decline any gender quotas/affirmative action, even though her “flexible” and “voluntary” models have led to no essential changes in the make-up of germany’s companies’ executive boards and male dominance.

She rather writes a book (…co-authored by one of her employees…), named “Thanks – but we’re emancipated!” (“Danke – emanzipiert sind wir selber!” – and I’m not even gonna get into the fact that, if only linguistically, that title makes my head hurt…). I won’t spend a penny on this drivel, so I haven’t read it, but what I gather from her interviews, guest articles, excerpts from her book, and other people’s book reviews, her writing seems to be in line with her rambling: an oversimplifying, anti-feminist treatise about the magic awesomeness of individual freedoms; negating structural discrimination and evoking the very tiresome neoliberal construct of unlimited personal liberty and agency, and that if you face resistance or are discriminated against, it’s simply your fault and there’s no non-individual remedy, and that it’s certainly not a political issue.

Yet, she is the one who will implement “Betreuungsgeld”, a monetary reward for every family that decides (and can afford) to not put their kids in daycare and either take care of the toddlers themselves (or rather: herself…) or hire someone privately, while selectively eliminating the additional financial support parents get within the first year of a child’s life (“Elterngeld”) for parents who are on welfare (“Hartz 4”). And while it is certainly no one’s business why or why not families put kids in daycare, the mere fact that some of them have no other choice but this costly option and “Betreuungsgeld” merely deflects the very important criticism that, despite the minister’s promises, there aren’t nearly enough daycare spaces for kids in this country anyway, shows that Kristina Schröder is certainly not shy when it comes to executing certain policies that do affect people’s personal liberties – as long as it affects the ones she doesn’t really care about.

Moreover, Kristina Schröder is not only a (ultra?)conservative when it comes to women’s rights, she’s also an Enthusiastic German, who tells fairy tales of the alarming rates of reverse racism [sic] and animosity towards german people in this country (germany…), of course: committed by “immigrants”. She was the one to not only cut funding for anti-racist and anti-fascist grassroots organizations, but to enforce the new ordeal that all of them now have to officially declare their love of the constitution. She chose to shift the focus of “anti-extremist” work to the extremely outrageous german left-wing terrorism of sabotaging army vehicles and smashing paint bombs against buildings, while right-wing terrorists could travel the country and execute people they deemed “non-german” (…but that’s the same!). Moreover, taking up the right-wing slogan of “germany for germans”, Schröder was so generous to fund a project titled “Dortmund den Dortmundern” where neo-Nazis and “normal” teenagers were brought together in a nice circle to discuss the city’s “democratic” future.

And yes, there is so much more…

Kristina Schröder is a bad person, and her politics can’t help but show that. Her book seems to have been the final straw for some of germany’s feminist activists, and, in the wake of Schröder’s publicity tour, germany’s Green Party and independent activists have initiated an Open Letter, called: “Not my Minister” that has been signed by 3,000 7,000 people at this point, asking Schröder to resign.

Personally, I think it has been high-time for public figures to counter Schröder’s ideology. I also think the letter is well-written and addresses many important issues in regard to Schröder’s blatant anti-feminism and her classism. However, it seems that the letter’s authors seem to be partially stuck in feminism’s Second Wave – which is ironic because that’s Schröder’s biggest pet peeve…

The letter adequately addresses Schröder’s ideological fallacies, the persistence of structural discrimination and the ridiculousness of having a person like her represent this country’s women. I also understand that Open Letters are compromises, that Open Letters cannot address every single issue, and that Open Letters have to be as broadly written as possible to appeal to as many people as possible. But here’s where you lose me, dear initiators: You have written a letter from white german women for white german women, a letter about white german women’s problems and how to fix these for this group. Not with one word does the letter even mention Schröder’s nationalism and racist tendencies, not with one word do you take the specific discrimination of women of color in this country, that Schröder not only perpetuates but exacerbates with her anti-feminism and “reverse racism” talk and action, into account.

I understand that activist nitpicking can be annoying and that, sometimes, some form of protest is better than none. But to me, this is not a minor detail – this is unacceptable, and it showcases a lack of awareness and an abundance of white privilege in certain “professional”, german feminist circles. It also makes this letter really “safe” and ensures that some of the more prominent undersigned won’t face any repercussions and/or disadvantages in case they’re looking for a “gender mainstreaming”-labelled job offered by a political party or related organization at some point and want to use this in their portfolio…

Kristina Schröder is not merely anti-feminist, she is a conservative ideologist. Her anti-feminism, classism and german nationalism go hand in hand, and it is this cluster of discriminatory thinking and subsequent action that affects people. The Open Letter was a chance to not only speak for certain women, but to address the discriminatory structures that Kristina Schröder creates, perpetuates and simultaneously denies, and that especially affect people who face intersectional discrimination. In my view, you cannot address one without the other, because Schröder’s ideology is as interwoven as reality.

All Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating.

28 Jan

I have only recently (re)discovered the “Brothers Keepers #1” record, “Lightkultur”, buried somewhere in a box of old CDs. Apparently, Brothers Keepers is still an official association, mostly by german people of colour, most of them musicians. Their most prominent track, “Adriano”, composed after the murder of Alberto Adriano by german neo-nazis in 2000 (which led to a massive and then massively quick forgotten outrage by the media and some politicians), even made it to the top 5 of germany’s music charts that year.

Listening to it again, I felt a mixture of melancholy, indignation and exasperation, because, basically, it seems that nothing substantial has changed within the past decade. The discovery of years of right-wing terrorism by the so-called “national socialist underground”, aided and abetted by a network of right-wingers all over this country, has not led to any consequences. The fact that this group’s murderous “success” was supported by money of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) for alleged informants (who did not pass along much information regarding their own community…) that has then been (and continuously is) handed over to neo-nazi groups and, thus, helped and helps to finance diverse projects, be it the production of a new album of racist “music” or paying for the explosives to execute bomb attacks, seem to be just part and parcel of such an institution and had no consequences for their self-conception or work “ethic” whatsoever. What the Brothers Keepers have extensively rapped and sung about in 2001, the pervasiveness of racism in “everyday” interactions and social conceptions and structures that underlies violent excesses like the murder of people of colour, is still german normalcy.

Listening to it again, I also realized why I always favoured their song over the project of Sisters Keepers, somewhat of a female* counterpart. There is a fine line between intra-group criticism and mere unsolidarity, so I would like to clarify that I presume that both projects had specific intentions and audiences, and that I think that both projects were unique in their conception and well done in their execution for the empowerment of Afrogerman people.  Nonetheless, I’d pick “Adriano” as my favourite any day.

For one, “Adriano” is an aggressive, blunt and empowering track, whereas the “We are the world” rhetoric of Sisters Keepers’ “Liebe und Verstand” (“Love and Reason”) was and continues to be slightly off-putting to me in a situation where – officially – 150 people have been killed since german reunification because they were not identified as german. I am actually quite happy about the line in “Adriano” that explicitly states that this track is not a hand reaching out, quite to the contrary; “Liebe und Verstand” is, in my view, advocating premature reconciliation with… whom, actually? I guess it was aimed at a mainstream german audience, and if that was indeed the intention, it is well done in delivering a basic message of anti-racism.

What I don’t understand, furthermore, is why these had to be gender separated and highly gender stereotype conforming projects: german women* of colour were – surprise! – in charge of appealing to people’s sense of humanity, whereas german men* of colour had to fulfill the role of living up to a masculinist rhetoric and a rhetoric of outrage and potential revenge. Obviously, there are long-standing traditions of white supremacy undermining every notion of the full humanity of people of colour, particularly either belittling Black men* and Black masculinities or defaming Black men* as bestial rapists (as opposed to stereotypes of Black women* as either docile “mammies”, mannish “Sapphires” or exotic, highly sexualized “Jezebel”), so not only the US Civil Rights Movement laid an emphasis on the phrase: “I am a man”, not a boy. I do understand the aggressiveness in masculinist terms, then, that “Adriano” conveys, and I believe that aggressiveness is entirely appropriate and encouraging (and would have wished for more on the part of the women’s* project – more on that in a sec -), although I find Denyo’s part, for example, unnecessarily and exhaustively chauvinistic and think that basically using the Shoah as a rhetorical tool, despite his aims,  is unacceptable.

What bugs me, besides this gender separation of people of colour when reacting to racism, is what I understand as an effort to avoid any allusion to the “Angry Black Woman” with the softer Sisters Keepers project. We are talking about the murder of a person, killed because of his skin colour, and about some white german people’s reactions that basically boiled down to “Why was he out at night anyways? He should have known better…” There is nothing not to be angry and outraged about. Angry Black women* are angry for a reason, and I believe that there is not a single thing wrong about this; moreover, to call someone an Angry Black Woman juts points to the fact how little people (want to) understand about racism and the effects it has on people.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that both Brothers Keepers and Sisters Keepers were and are immensely valuable, and I could not have been more encouraged back in 2001 than with those singles coming out, creating a sense of community for me in a small, white, german town. Despite specific problems I have with some sexist lyrics in “Adriano”, it is a track that is incredibly powerful, right on the money and that people should be listening to again and again to hopefully have something of its message seep through.

This song was written over a decade ago. And that it’s so freaking up to date is both sad and fascinating, because it shows how well put it (mostly) is and how much energy and truthfulness it carries.


12 Nov

“Thuringian Homeland Security” – doesn’t that sound like an organisation people join for fun and games, Bratwurst and beating up people of colour? And if that’s not enough, there’s obviously always the possibility to get your hands on some explosives, prepare the bombing of a synagogue, like your colleagues in Munich, or drive around the country to shoot people to death who you do not identify as german!

So-called comradeships in germany, closely intertwined with the ‘National Democratic [sic] Party’ and more often tolerated than fought against, sure are some fine institutions for neo-Nazis and all sorts of racist hordes. The latest and most drastic example would be what happened at Zwickau: two radical right-wing, apparent murderers rather committed suicide than get caught, a third, apparent accomplice bombed their communal apartment to hide evidence before turning herself in, and ten people have been murdered by this group which was able to hide for more than a decade from the police, aided and abetted by a network of radical right-wing organisations and sympathisers. Even better, they had already been surveilled by police for building fake bombs with a personalised swastika signature in 1997, but charges against them were dropped… somehow. A year later, police found 1.4 kilogram of TNT in one of the apparent murderer’s garage; the group fled and went underground.

Despite their greatest effort, in the ruins of their apartment, several propaganda videos titled “national socialist underground”, evidence for the group’s responsibility (or: involvement) in several murders and, apparently, pictures of at least three of their victims were found. Apparently, this group was responsible for a killing spree that is known as the “kebab murders” (more on that in a second…): nine people who were either german citizens with a migration background or Turkish or Greek citizens were executed with shots in the head between the years of 2000 and 2006 by unidentified murderers. Even worse, there are indications that this group (and/or the people surrounding them) are also reponsible for two attacks in 2000 in Düsseldorf and 2004 in Cologne respectively, where nail bombs, aimed at Turkish residents and Jewish students who were on their way to their language course, injured 22 people in Cologne and 10 of the students in Düsseldorf.

Yet,  the murder and attempted murder of people who some do not define as “germans” (and the planting of bombs, the beatings of people of colour and the never-ending effort to institutionalize “national free zones” for white people only) cannot be, according to certain spokes people of the german Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz), compared to any sort of “terrorist movement” like the RAF (Red Army Fraction), since the obviously very subtle radical right-wingers were “hiding” their motives and no “ideological superstructure” can be identified…

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Occupying Boundaries.

28 Oct

when i moved to berlin 8 years ago (wow…), my first semester at uni was a very exciting one for many reasons; one of them, that it was not about studying at all. besides adjusting to a 3.5 million people-city, coming from a town of 15,000 people, and trying to grow up a little more on several levels (not that it’s done… ;)), coming to uni was a special experience, because this was the semester of something that happens periodically at universities:  a student strike against the looming introduction of tuition fees, the infamous chronic underfunding of public education and the traditionally hierarchical and increasingly neoliberal structuring and orientation of university politics.

during my first semester, in 2003/2004, this cycle had reached “point zero” again, and thousands of people got angry, attended plenary assemblies for hours, occupied buildings, planned direct actions, and marched  on a daily basis. one of the projects i was immediately involved in was the attempt to establish an “alternative” university structure, i.e. to provide the opportunity for students, teaching personal, non-academics and people who were just interested to come together in “open seminars”, discussing literature/politics/culture, learning a new language, etc., without the requirements of possessing a certain degree or falling into the increasingly small range of people accepted for uni enrollment due to a numerus clausus. the project was called “the open university of berlin” (offene uni berlins), and after repeated and tense negotiations with the university’s administration, it was actually recognised as a student initiative and even given a facility on campus. as the name suggests, this project’s most prominent asset, “openness”, turned out to be its strength and greatest weakness simultaneously and, ultimately, led to its closure a couple of years ago because it just ran out of control, sense and use.

as with (almost) all emerging social initiatives or even movements, channeling the various angles people are coming from in critiquing certain circumstances, events or even political systems is a bit of a challenge, to say the least. there seem to be some kind of “automatic” filters: e.g., people who were in it out of sheer curiosity or because of some sort of attention deficit problem seem to lose interest quite quickly, after a 8-hour-long plenary assembly at the latest. then there are certain processes, i.e., coming up with an agenda or programme and plan of action that some people disagree with, so the focus seems to clarify a bit further again.

however, “agenda” can mean many things, from working out an alternative budget/programme/structure to simply “we don’t want: …” without wanting to sound condescending, agreeing on the one thing you’re all against, e.g. bank bailouts,  is actually a great first step. it is, nonetheless, just one.

attending  “occupy wall street” (OWS) rallies and demonstrations about two weeks ago in new york city (…whereas this movement has now spread to hundreds of cities in the US and worldwide), the slogans, the people, the signs, the atmosphere were curiously reminiscent of the “open university” project and student strike and other political events i had attended before in berlin. as the open university and the student strike did, OWS seemed to put a particular emphasis on its “openness” to all sorts of people and ideas.

OWS in NYC actually has a general assembly that came up with a declaration; yet, despite the focus on the devastating impact of stock market “fails” and wall street in particular, it remains rather unclear what the movement stands for on a broader scale, i.e. regarding social inequality structures that are not uniquely related to wall street speculation; and that rang all sorts of “open university” bells (…which is not a good sign).

i agree that “openness” sounds awesome. this is how you invite and motivate people to get up and come along, this is how you make people feel welcome. it seems to be the exact opposite from what many people who are discriminated against experience on a daily basis, i.e., being shut out from certain communal identities, entitlements, spaces, rights. yet, the funny things about “openness” as a stand-alone political strategy is its follow-up rigidity and re-enforcement of these exact discrimination structures it supposedly fights, in my experience. “openness”, in this form, brings a hell lot of problems. i will even go so for to say that openness on its own is not a political concept, and is not even a value in itself without certain prerequisites.

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