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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.


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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4 Dec

[Update: This text has also been published in german on Mädchenmannschaft: “Entweder… Oder?”]

It’s Alice Schwarzer’s 70th birthday. Alice Schwarzer is the official icon of the german women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, and she has been the editor-in-chief of the oldest german feminist magazine, EMMA, for decades. Alice Schwarzer has, in my view, indisputable achievements in terms of feminist activism, e.g., fighting publicly and effectively against §218 of german penal law that illegalizes abortions, and putting feminist perspectives on political and media agendas. Alice Schwarzer has also been criticized heavily, has been called every disgusting insult in the book, has been threatened and yelled at for over 40 years. That she’s still a feminist activist is a sign of courage and perseverance, I believe, and I don’t think that criticism of her political views and actions should negate that.

Alice Schwarzer, however, is also an activist who has made the patronization of other women* an integral part of her brand of feminism, and who has now become a bit of a caricature of an unrepenting Second Wave [sic] feminist who adamantly insists that all women* share the same basic life experience because of their sex, and that Feminism ™ can and should be a completely unified movement encompassing and speaking for every woman* on the planet (…whether they like it or not). In her newest blog article (which, apparently, will also be the editorial note of the newest EMMA issue in January 2013), “Back to Zero?” (in german), Schwarzer laments the “sectarian” tendencies of some modern feminist currents, and believes that anti-racist activists are trying to silence the feminist ones.

Schwarzer believes that there are feminists (the good ones), and that there are groups of women (the bad ones) who are trying to silence the feminists. Schwarzer believes that these groups of women*, particularly the bloggers of Mädchenmannschaft (yes, again, always, blah… – Nadia at Shehadistan has published a great comment on another EMMA article that also jumped on the bandwagon) and other feminist bloggers and activists in Berlin (…although most of them actually aren’t Berlin based, but that would cramp the narrative that other newspapers and magazines have already established, so…), are trying to silence feminist activism by randomly accusing said activists of alleged racism (a reproach Schwarzer denies), and that self-professed PoC assert that they’re automatically right and white people are automatically wrong (…I am not exaggerating, she actually wrote it like that). Moreover, and this is when Schwarzer comes back to the Berlin sl*twalk, these pseudo-anti-racist, anti-feminist groups of women* do not only think feminism is less important than anti-racism (a claim she tries to underline by equating it with her experiences with german working-class activists who thought class was more important than gender), they use their anti-racism as a hidden strategy to further Islamic fundamentalism which she describes as fascism. To sum up: the anti-racist critique displayed by some allegedly feminist women* towards other (the real) feminist women* is just a front for justifying the tenets of radical Islamism/neo-fascism, and it is just a matter of time until these groups of women* who call themselves “left-wing feminists” switch sides to right-wing extremism, and the totalitarian tyranny of said fauxminists has placed an iron curtain of fear and regret on femininist activism in Berlin (and soon across Europe, I assume – alright, here I actually am paraphrasing a bit).

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Decolorize The Color Line?

11 Oct

Most things are more complicated than they seem at first glance – most people know that. Analyse und Kritik has published an article last month by Jule Karakayali, Vassilis S. Tsianos, Serhat Karakayali and Aida Ibrahim, named “Decolorise it!” This text has somehow become an internet sensation to many, and is posted and re-posted as if it had reinvented the wheel. I have mostly heard people refer to said article who found themselves confronted with some kind of racism reproach, in a multitude of instances. Even worse, most people who posted this article were white activists who have an anti-racist self-conception (and would object to being called white), occasionally with the – ironic – implicit or explicit note/justification that this text wasn’t even written by “white” german people, but by german people with a “I don’t want to say either migration background or PoC but somehow, well, not white, no, I can’t say that either – waaaah…” (thus rendering the article’s ‘”germanness” = priority’-argument moot).

This article is a nice example as to how little tweaks to allegedly neutrally presented theories can make people throw out “the baby with the bath water” through oversimplifying and generalizing statements and conclusions; in this case about Critical Race Theory and Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) (although the AK article forgets to add the “Critical” to the Whiteness Studies – certainly a mere coincidence, I am sure…). Unfortunately, this text rejuvenates many justifications for (being able to ignore) individual privileges through white supremacy that CWS tried to mark. Although I personally think there are valid points made regarding concrete anti-racist practice and co-operations, the mere fact that so many people who have to stand up to being called “racists” by PoC (yes, I am sticking to that term) now cover their faces with this article seems to clarify that the immediate dissolution of  the (non-essential, even though some people love to forget that) “categories” this article is aiming at would result in (maybe mostly unintended?) disadvantages for anti-racist activism under present conditions.  The article’s conclusion and numerous examples and references are – on their own or through their curious interpretation – symptomatic for the issues CWS (and Critical Race Theory) criticize: the degradation of socio-cultural elements and systematic experiences of racism to a mere secondary contradiction, and cherry picking (Black) authors’ half sentences for the article’s own benefit.

The AK text is very elaborate and touches on many points, so I’ll point out a few examples to illustrate my evaluation but will not cover the whole text.

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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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