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Normalcy, Part 2.

26 Aug

Twenty years ago, to the applause of up to 3,000 onlookers, right-wing extremists attacked the homes of political asylum seekers, residents of other countries of origin, and germans they deemed non-german in the community of Rostock-Lichtenhagen. During the following months, pogroms followed in a number of german cities, including Hoyerswerda, Mölln, Solingen and Mannheim. Whereas due to sheer luck no one was murdered in Lichtenhagen, despite the fact that Neo-Nazis threw petrol bombs into the buildings, stormed the houses and smashed everything in sight, seven people died in other fire bomb attacks, and countless people were attacked by mobs of hundreds of self-proclaimed germans during 1992 and 1993.

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Lichtenhagen. Whereas anti-fascist activists held rallies to commemorate the pogrom, germany’s Federal President, Joachim Gauck, thought it was a good idea to plant a “german oak,” the much beloved metaphor of germany as an “organically grown nation” and a symbol of german nationalism, as a monument against german racism. But whoever thought that was the highlight of germany’s repentant abilities was shortly thereafter reminded of the depth of personal and institutionalized racism in the midst of this country’s society, and the never ceasing need for victim-blaming, exemplified by an article in one of the country’s biggest daily newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

The FAZ has a distinctly conservative reputation, but, as I previously thought, was somewhat able to keep up a certain distance to newspapers and magazines that are not only borderline, but explicitly right-wing, such as “Junge Freiheit,” a weekly newspaper of the so-called “New Right” that aspires bourgeois respectability, and yet, fails miserably with every single issue. However, one of the “New Right”‘s characteristics has been its “hinge function” between “ordinary” conservatism (or even reactionary thinking) and radical right-wing policies, as political research has emphasized (see here, for example). I personally think that’s true, and it is never clearer than when Stauffenberg-conservatives like the majority of FAZ journalists join argumentative hands with explicit right-wingers, especially when it comes to commenting on “immigration” policy or internal affairs. The borders that were once established, however, have always been friendly ones, and are usually too fluid to be taken seriously.

Illustrating these discursive intersections, the FAZ has now decided on publishing a piece that terminates every pretense by an essential political glorification of the effects of Lichtenhagen, written by Jasper von Altenbockum [in german]. Altenbockum contends that, despite the “excesses” of Lichtenhagen’s pogrom, it had positive effects in two regards: teaching “social romantics” that “multiculturalism” is “utopian,” and “unrestricted immigration” necessarily leads to a society’s decline, and the second, related point that the pogroms inspired the newly restrictive immigration and asylum law of 1993 in germany, and a discussion whether germany was an “immigration country” or not (history isn’t his greatest strength, apparently). Altenbockum is not even a stranger to anti-democratic lines of arguments, and has revelled in dubbing anti-ACTA activists a “mob;” a term he seems to apply freely.

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Your Childhood Memories Don’t Trump Mine.

14 Jun

[TW: racist language used as illustration]

“Ew, it stinks of Negro in here.” / “Iih, hier stinkt’s nach Neger.”

This is what I heard in the school yard, while you played with your allegedly beloved Black doll, which was called a Negro doll or simply “Blacky” back in the 1970s and 1980s, and you still think is fine to call exactly that in 2012.

I have tried to ignore the majority of german white people’s reactions to Sarah Kuttner and to not even get into the whole thing, but the sheer amount of either posts or comments on posts, be it on “Chinese/Negro dolls” (…the best/worst examples in a long time…) or “Childhood literature” or the reactions to pieces trying to explain again why it is racism to insist on the use of racist terms, kind of makes this impossible to not write a short statement.

Language changes for a reason. And while people love to stifle this discussion by stating that this is merely a post-modern or post-structuralist or Foucauldian concept that ignores material circumstances, I say that language is an expression of material circumstances (what else would it be?), and even if you don’t believe that language can (re)produce the latter, the mere fact that you express racism with certain chosen words should probably give you pause.

The change of certain language and descriptions and concomitant ideas about certain people was and is the hard-fought result of actual struggles of said people, which you ridicule and negate by deciding you don’t care about it. The discrimination of people of color by constant verbal othering, by the employment of historically loaded and systematically degrading words, and by the complete ignorance displayed towards the multitude of descriptive alternatives that have been self-chosen as empowering self-descriptions by people of color is the verbal expression of ingrained belief systems that devalue the importance of both the voice and presence of people of color.

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At Least They’re Not Pretending Anymore…?

24 Apr

A couple of weeks ago, the Koblenz’ administrative court has handed down an interesting decision:

“Officers of germany’s federal police are allowed to inspect travellers without suspicion, at least on rail routes that serve foreigners for unauthorized entry or serve violations of the Residence Act. In sampling, they are not prohibited from also selecting people due to their outward appearance.” [“Beamte der Bundespolizei dürfen Reisende jedenfalls auf Bahnstrecken, die Ausländern zur unerlaubten Einreise oder zu Verstößen gegen das Aufenthaltsgesetz dienen, verdachtsunabhängig kontrollieren. Es ist ihnen bei Stichprobenkontrollen nicht verwehrt, die Auswahl der anzusprechenden Personen auch nach dem äußeren Erscheinungsbild vorzunehmen.”]

What happened? An Afro-german student travelled by train in Hesse, from Kassel to Frankfurt am Main (…and let me just add: having grown up in Hesse as an Afro-German person, why does that not come as a surprise…). Federal police officers entered his compartment and, unerringly, chose him as the one to ask to prove his identity. He, however, refused to, and repeatedly asked the federal officers why they singled him out. I presume this was done in german. Since that is no proof of someone’s “real identity”, of course, at least not when they look brown, eventually, the officers seized his backpack and searched it for identification papers. Having found none, they took him to the police station where, thanks to a personal search, they did find his (german) drivers license.

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When Violence Is “Somewhat Mild”.

20 Apr

“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. […] I thought he was a little bit younger than I was, and I did not know if he was armed or not.”

Yeah, that happened. That was George Zimmerman’s non-pology to Trayvon Martin’s parents, as if they had lost their son in a car accident, as if it would have been fine to shoot a person “a little bit younger” than Zimmerman was, and as if you can just assume that every Black person walking back home from a store with candy and ice tea in their hands could be armed and just looking for an opportunity to attack you. Oh, wait – Zimmerman was the one pursuing Martin in his SUV, despite being explicitly told by the police to not to… “Disingenuous and insulting” were really kind words to choose for Trayvon Martin’s parents’ lawyer when describing Zimmerman’s words.

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Blackface, Round 4.

17 Apr

You’d think that after the recent and very preposterous debate about Blackfacing in german theaters, some people might stop to think twice? Of course not. Michael Laages, a german theater critic, dramaturg and journalist, has vomited all over people’s ears, giving an interview on his adventurous understanding of the necessity of Blackface in germany, and – of course – no person of color was deemed worthy to be actually asked about it. “Bühnenwatch”, a group of activists that has (successfully) intervened at theaters in Berlin, has written a detailled statement about Michael Laages’ epic-double-face-palm-worthy ramblings, which I think is very good and, yet again, counters this massively disgusting BS that some of the self-proclaimed well-educated cultural experts in germany propagate time and again (…sorry, all in german):

Auf die Frage, ob mit der Kritik an Blackfacing ein Missstand aufgezeigt, oder übertrieben political correct „Rassismus geschrien“ wird, verweist Herr Laages gleich zu Beginn des Interviews auf einen Missstand, den es angeblich nur in anderen Ländern, aber nicht in Deutschland gibt. In diesen […] sei Blackfacing ein Missstand, da es dort eine nennenswerte Minderheit oder gar Mehrheit von Schwarzen Schauspieler_innen gibt, und somit kein Grund bestünde, zu blackfacen. Seines Wissens nach sei das in Deutschland nicht der Fall, sondern es bestünde eher eine Unterbesetzung an Schwarzen, (er korrigiert sich) Farbigen (sic!) Schauspieler_innen. Der eigentliche Missstand in Deutschland sei, dass hier auf jede noch so „abgedrehte“ Debatte aufgesprungen würde, die aus den USA zu uns herüber schwappt, und wir uns damit massiv lächerlich machen.

Read Bühnenwatch’s reply here (…btw: “Blackfacepalm” is one of the best titles ever and, therefore, Bühnenwatch has just won the internet) and, perhaps, let “Deutschlandradio” (yes, another one going down the drain) know what you think about their idea of informing their listerners that Black people are just so silly: hoererservice@dradio.de.

Update: Since we’re on the topic: words cannot describe my disgust upon seeing this: a truly mind-boggling idea of having a good, Blackfaced time in Sweden while allegedly trying to make people aware of female genital mutilation (Trigger Warning!). I have no comment, seriously… – just whole new levels of repulsion.

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