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Mistaken Identity?

27 Jul

Few things are as hotly contested as so-called “identity politics”, i.e., political activism for and (in the best case scenario) by a group of people who have chosen a group identity in response to being marginalized for a particular sexual preference, gender, appearance…, as a means of self-empowerment and as a means of enabling targeted criticism of said marginalization. Identity politics (cf. Kimberlé Crenshaw et al. 2013) are hotly contested because of some people’s tendency to essentialize said identity instead of clarifying that identity politics are a means to an end, namely to uncover, name, illustrate, criticize and eventually abolish a discriminatory power structure underlying any given marginalized identity – not only in certain, but in all social situations. The fact that some leftist activists have a massive problem with identity politics is revealing in so far as that issue is mostly brought up when PoC assert their right to be heard and to criticize racism in leftist structures and radiating from leftist people who had heretofore declared themselves guilt-free. Negating any form of identity (other than “human”, as it is so often the case) not only ignores continuing and society-permeating forms of systematic oppression, but make the mere naming, the calling-out of oppression impossible. There you have it: Identities are a reaction to exclusionary claims of universalism, not an invention for the sake of essentialism. This is old news.

14071972057_830584e082_zAnyone can claim any identity s_he wants. I mean that. You can identify yourself as Black (see Dolezal), even if your phenotype suggests otherwise. That’s your prerogative as an individual. Race is a social and cultural construct. What you do not get to do, however, is to claim the lived experiences of people who are subject to the power structures creating identities (countercultures), and because you claim you are Black (like Dolezal did), it does not necessarily mean you experience racism (which is, in contrast to race, not a social or cultural construct). Because you claim you are queer, you are not necessarily experiencing heterosexism. Let me explicate that:

People are pulling Dolezals all over the place, and that is identity politics gone wrong. That is identity politics not for the sake of exposing discrimination but identity politics for one’s own self-absolution, for obfuscating any kind of responsibility for social inequality. You can claim you are Black even if you have no experience of (anti-Black) racism. That, however, is an expression of privilege: You choose an identity, it is not imposed on you from birth or early childhood on as with PoC, and it only works your way around (I, for example, cannot simply choose to be white. It does not work this way, and no amount of Penatencreme will change that). Instead of doing the work as an ally – which can be exhausting, nerve-wracking, saddening -, you choose the easy way out: You stylize yourself as part of the oppressed group. End of story. You have the best of two worlds, then: Being part of a community that is often supportive and tightly-knit because of its negative experiences with hegemonic social structures, and also having the benefit of being invisible within these hegemonic social structures, even profiting from them. Remember: Before Rachel Dolezal became “Black”, she sued Howard University for discriminating against her because she was white.

No one should have the right to negate your chosen identity. People of the same identity, however, have the right to question whether you can actually relate to their lived experiences (that vary, of course, but the common denominator – e.g., racism, does not) or whether you are playing dress-up literally “coloring” yourself [Added: This is referring to Rachel Dolezal, who put on Blackface and a weave] and weave in and out of an identity according to the privileges it affords you at the time. Cis-women claiming they are “queer” but have only ever dated cis-men or are married to cis-men, for example, confuse me. Yes, it’s your identity. I get that. But leading a life of heterosexual privileges hardly relates to lives of lesbian or gay people; it hardly relates to experiences of heteronormativity, of heterosexist violence. Your identity does not correspond with the lived experiences of people whose sexuality, whose lives are policed, sanctioned, and legally restricted. So publicly and forcefully placing yourself within the bigger framework of LGBTQ folks, within a marginalized group, is insincere, if your sexuality is only ever practiced on cis-hetero terms.

You claim a marginalized identity without the actual experience as such. You thus obfuscate your own privilege within a heteronormative society that awards your sexuality_relationship relative safety (within the bounds of whiteness, cis-normativity, ableism). You resent the fact that you are not part of a counterculture so much that you stylize yourself as being part of an oppressed group, as the target, instead of doing the work. It is insincere, and it is identity politics gone wrong (and empty). I not only recall Dolezal here, but also a white feminist on Twitter last year, who, in response to reproaches of racism, claimed that she wasn’t “white,” but “green” (as in environmentally conscious), and thus incapable of having white privilege. Thus the hashtag #GreenPeopleBeLike was born.

Individually chosen identities do not automatically make you victim to societal discrimination. The experiences people have of discrimination due to external ascriptions are reformed and renamed into positive identities for the purposes self-empowerment and social activism. With identity politics, it’s not about essentialism. It’s about social relations. It’s about acknowledging the rich, varied, saddening, empowering, hurtful, infuriating, eye-opening life experiences of people other than male, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, and cis. Intersectional analyses take a multitude of identities into account to expose the unique spaces of societal marginalization occupied by various people. It’s not about an essentialized race, it’s about racism, not about an essentialized sex, it’s about (cis)sexism, not about an essentialized sexuality, it’s about heteronormativity, and so on. The terms Black or woman, e.g., are indicators of a social structure; they are abbreviations of a relation, not absolute terms. No one should impose an identity on anyone else. In our present day and age, identity politics are inevitable, and they are a useful tool. Everyone should have the right to chose his_her own identity. That identity, however, is not enough. It’s not static, it’s experience-based. And it’s always, always, about cracking the structures that necessitate it, in the end.

Addition: This text is about identity politics and people belonging to hegemonic societal structures appropriating and taking up space in the countercultures of marginalized people by strategically claiming it. Apparently, that wasn’t clear.


A Few Thoughts On Adultism.

28 Aug

Concerning structures of adultism, I am seriously lacking awareness. It’s particularly surprising, shocking even, since my teenage-years aren’t even that far off, and when I think back, I distinctly remember being angered and frustrated by what I can now define as adultism, namely “all those behaviors and attitudes which flow from the assumption that adults are better than young people and entitled to act upon young people in a myriad of ways without their agreement.” [this is a definition by John Bell of YouthBuild, USA]. When Esme on High on Clichés recently published an article on adultism, she specifically asked to not derail the discussion with excuses for this kind of behavior, but the comment I initially made on her post was exactly that – so my first reaction to a discussion of adultism wasn’t helpful or insightful in the slightest. This is an attempt to enter a discussion with those interested and get a better awareness for adultism, but also a post that will express some of my scepticism towards the concept as I understand it.

I suppose that most people remember that being a child and a teenager entails all sorts of restrictions and expected subordination to adults’ views and rules, executed as, for example: being told to be quiet, to not do that, to stay in your room, to be grounded, to lose pocket money for what is considered by some parents as “bad behavior,” to not be taken seriously or being directly ridiculed when you have a suggestion for or try to enter an allegedly “adult” conversation or process, to not be able to learn and educate yourself in your actual areas of interest but in what adults have deemed areas worthy of education, to have a curfew, to not be able to vote and and to be constantly overlooked on every level of political decision making.

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Religion And Bodily Integrity.

26 Jun

This seems to be the month of offending as many religious people as possible…

As I have stated in the post on Feminism and (Catholic) Religion, my lack of (thorough) knowledge of other religions usually (and rightly) prevents me from commenting on them in terms of feminist philosophy. However, Cologne’s district court has just handed down the verdict that the circumcision of boys due to religious reasons is punishable, and should be evaluated as actual assault.

Religious groups, both Jewish and Muslim, registered their protest against this verdict, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Der Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland) noted that this decision was “an unprecedented and dramatic encroachment on the right of self-determination of religious communities.”

I find this issue very difficult, especially in a german context. People both of Jewish and Muslim faith have historically been and are continuously faced with social pushback and outright violence when it comes to practicing their religion in this country. Furthermore, I would always have to take german history and the Holocaust into account when thinking about curbing the rights of Jewish religious groups, and the history of how Jewish people have been defined as “non-german” or foreign or undesirable, and certain practices other than christian ones have been condemned and illegalized.

There is a very thin line to walk here, and one could most certainly question why the district court is taking up this case that fundamentally concerns specific religious groups (and affects others, who are not necessarily believing in the religious value of circumcision, culturally), when one could also talk about the now existing legality of having children in public schools taught religious studies by priests (in a country that is supposed to be secular), or about the legality of having parents choose the religion of their children before said children can make that choice themselves at all.

I have no definite answers to these questions, but I think they are worthwhile the consideration. I also think this court’s decision is worthwhile a feminist consideration.

In the post about Catholicism and Feminism, one of the essential points I tried to make was that Catholicism and Feminism don’t go together because of the denial of bodily autonomy and bodily integrity of women*, especially in regard to reproductive rights. The right to bodily integrity is supposed to be a fundamental right of everybody – and children are people.

I have a massive problem with the equation of Female Genital Mutilation and male circumcision – usually brought forward by so-called men’s rights activists – for obvious reasons, but if the circumcision of a boy* or man* is not medically indicated and he is of an age where consent is impossible, I believe this procedure to be a violation of his bodily integrity. Parents naturally make all sorts of decisions concerning a child’s life and have a right to do that in order to keep a child from harm – but this particular decision undermines a child’s status and rights as an actual person whose body belongs to him_her.

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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.

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