Where Now? From Pride Scandal to Transnational Movement

26 Jun

A response from SUSPECT

What in Germany has become ‘The Butler Scandal’ – Butler’s refusal of the Zivilcourage Award from Pride Berlin (egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/i-must-distance-myself/, youtube.com/watch?v=BV9dd6r361k&feature=player_embedded), which spread like wildfire through daily newspapers, facebook, queer blogs and e-lists, and even German TV (youtube.com/watch?v=QHztUv95osU&feature=player_embedded) – has shaken up and reconstituted the local and transnational terrain of anti-racist queer politics and critique in exciting but also challenging ways. The topic of gay racism, maybe for the first time, has found a sizeable public. In the past, the terms “racism” and “anti-Muslim racism” have made only rare entries into a mediascape which normally prefers to talk of prejudice against Ausländer – ‘foreigners.’ For a week, people of colour in Berlin – both queer and straight – have had the rare privilege of being ecstatic.

Nevertheless, the public and counter-public production of this event entails certain problems and dangers which need to be critically addressed and carefully managed. We have already discussed the whitewashing of Butler’s refusal by the mainstream media, which has largely erased not only gay racism, but also the basic fact of queer/trans of colour existence (nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/judith-butler-refuses-berlin-pride.html). On a smaller yet more immediate scale, this was repeated by some of our alternative white friends who, having missed the whole problem with Pride, let alone with the nomination of a public intellectual who has opposed the incorporation of gay rights into racism, border control and militarism, began to wonder out loud whether the prize money should now rightfully be theirs. (The ‘awarded’ groups, meanwhile, were almost bemused when Pride belatedly announced they should come to pick up Butler’s leftovers.) The event has certainly ushered in a feel-good moment which may have de-politicizing effects. On the upside, some queer left spaces have begun to address racist complicities (transgenialercsd.wordpress.com/presse/), raising hopes that the homonationalist (dukeupress.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct.php?productid=14425) establishment will be isolated in its obsession with ‘homophobic Muslims’, and its queering of racist and neoliberal agendas of safety, security, crime (including hate crime), gentrification, disentitlement, and border control.

As the event enfolds, and is produced as both newsworthy and worthy of scholarly attention, discussions have tended to focus on Butler as a person rather than the issues at hand, or at stake. This again threatens to sideline queer and trans people of colour in Germany, whose struggle may seem a little too far away for some to attend to in its own right. Besides the fight over the celebrity pie, there is now also the very real danger of backlash, as the offended ‘majority,’ to return to the Pride stage moderators’ remarkable assertion (nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/judith-butler-refuses-berlin-pride.html), is rushing to find the culprits: For why on earth would a famous white person do such a thing – thus alienating hosts, fans and readers? To whom did Butler talk in advance of her refusal? If the dialogue over Butler’s response was just as transnational as the homonationalism and homocolonialism she responded to, the conspiracy theorists are already working hard to scapegoat and isolate individual queers of colour and queer migrant organizations. As Angela Davis put it in her commentary on the situation (youtube.com/watch?v=T0BzKCRgnj8), the terrain of struggle has changed, yet the division of labour, risk, and gains is lagging far behind.

How, then, may we channel the possibilities created by this moment into more helpful directions? How can we sustain the current interest, commitment and visibility without reproducing dominant frames of politics and knowledge production that prolong or even intensify the status quo?

Labour, Risks and Gains

As queer and trans people of colour and allies, we are painfully aware of dominant hierarchies of political and intellectual labour, pervasive both in the academic, media and non-profit industrial complexes (lipmagazine.org/articles/featdelmoral_nonprofit.htm, muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/journal_of_feminist_studies_in_religion/v023/23.2smith.html) and in less institutionalized and professionalized spaces. These are parasitic upon the bodies, experiences, and labour of those who are kept in the place of the deviant, developmental or exotic object of study, and who all too often are structurally excluded from formal education and employment. The claiming of a queer or trans of colour position is a complicated one, both demonized and desired, and often immediately dismissed for lack or excess of intelligence or authenticity. While these injustices need to be named and redressed, especially by those who currently benefit from them, we believe that the politicization and democratization of knowledge production must go far beyond this. How can we begin to understand knowledge and skills as something that must end in radical struggle and transformation, rather than on a CV? How do we redistribute not only the credit, but also the risks of labour? Take the question at hand: how has Butler’s refusal already been turned into an event from which some will gain while others may lose? Can it serve as a catalyst for white people and those with privileges (e.g. around racism or job precarity) to start confronting racist Pride oligarchies or addressing the violence in the spaces – from Pride stage to activist group to university to nation – which are more likely to invite them, and less likely to kick them out? On one of our blog pages (nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/activist-writings-for-organic.html), we put it this way:

Radical movements and individual acts of bravery or brilliance in speaking out against injustice do not come from nowhere but are the result of collective labour and local and transnational histories of organizing. SUSPECT was initially formed in order to monitor the arrival of the racist hate crimes debates in Germany. Recognizing the importance of emancipatory peer education outside the academic industrial complex, we started off as a reading group in the rooms of a local queer of colour NGO in Berlin. In this bibliography, we would like to share some of the resources which we managed to get hold of here. We felt we needed to learn from our siblings and allies in places where the punitive turn of LGBT organizing had already happened. The work of Incite!, the women/trans of colour anti-violence organization in the US, was a particular inspiration to us. We focused on German-speaking texts and texts dealing with the consequences of relying on a criminal ‘justice’ system which disproportionately incarcerates poor people, people of colour, people with mental health problems, and gender non-conforming people – but we know there is lots more out there. Please help us annotate this bibliography and list of resources, and send us further links and references including short descriptions!

Different Futures: Where Now?

If Butler’s refusal was neither the work of an isolated individual, nor an event that can be either credited or blamed on individual queers of colour, neither was Pride Berlin 2010 an isolated event. The success in Berlin had forerunners in the struggle of queer and trans people of colour and their allies in Toronto against the displacement of Blockorama, the Black stage (nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/letter-of-support-from-blockorama.html), and the banning of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, which culminated in the collective return of Pride awards by all twenty-three nominees (youtube.com/watch?v=bIDeTsMZFYg) and QuAIA’s re-admission, at least for now, into the march (queersagainstapartheid.org/). The globalizing significance of Pride parades in not only corporatizing LGBT politics worldwide, but also drawing the line between those countries that are modern and those that need to either catch up or be punished, invaded, targeted through visa and other anti-immigration campaigns, or deprived of aid, echoed in our ears when the Pride stage moderator lectured at us that Pride will ‘just continue in its programme… No matter what… Worldwide and here in Berlin.’ Outside Pride, and overlapping with it, we have witnessed a worrying racialization of gender and sexuality, and a willingness to accept membership privileges in national communities which now like to represent themselves as friendly towards women, gays, and less frequently, trans people. If Butler’s refusal has become a scandal, much work remains to be done to expose how these new sexual contracts are brokered on the backs of those who are forced to carry the residues of homophobia, and are not incidentally marked as disposable through their race, class and inability to pass as a productive citizens and consumers. Neither are punitive approaches to sexual/criminal justice unique to Berlin. On the contrary, hate crimes legislation is rapidly exported as part of a ‘holy trinity’ (bilerico.com/2009/10/why_i_wont_come_out_on_national_coming_out_day) of hate crimes legislation, marriage, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, through an increasingly globalized LGBT politics whose travels across the Atlantic, Europe, the Middle East and Africa often follow in the older footsteps of global feminisms. How do we turn this moment of celebrity scandal, and celebration, which has hit at the heart of the gay establishment, into one that outs and scandalizes homonormativity, homonationalism and gendered and sexual neo-colonialisms everywhere? How do we do this, again, in a way that spreads the risks, redistributes the gains, and tears the doors wide open?

For queer and trans people of colour in Berlin, the massive support we have received (including messages of solidarity from qtpoc activists, intellectuals, groups and allies in Canada, Turkey, France, UK, Russia, the US and South Africa, and countless unsolicited and often anonymous acts of labour, such as translations of our statement into Russian, French, Turkish, Spanish and Italian) promises immense opportunities for local and transnational community building. Alliances between queer and straight migrants, too, have been strengthened: one example is the opportunity of doing a special issue on racist and homophobic violence with a big migrant newsletter, whose editors reached out to us to in order to offer practical allied support. We ask for your help in sustaining the radical possibilities of the moment, and channelling it into practical solidarity and movement building. Visit our blog, endorse, leave messages of support (nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/judith-butler-refuses-berlin-pride.html), include us in your networks, let us know about your struggles. Put us in touch with other anti-racist feminist, queer, trans, prison abolitionist groups that do related work, or have experience fighting criminalization and violence without taking recourse to state racism and neo-colonialism. Add our blog to your website, and spread the news. We love to hear from our allies everywhere, and we know that it gives others hope, too, to see us connect with and grow into a transnational movement for justice, of a kind that deserves this name.

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14 Responses to “Where Now? From Pride Scandal to Transnational Movement”

  1. Adi Kuntsman June 27, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    This is a fantastic response – great analysis of how ‘the scandal’ circulated and shifted, producing gains and silences, sadly shifting the attention to the act of refusal instead of the problem that lead to the refusal. and most importantly, thank you for once again pointing out that this is about histories of organising, collective labour and solidarity, and that we should focus on where now, rather than on who to celebrate.

    in solidarity
    Adi Kuntsman

  2. Judith Butler June 28, 2010 at 4:59 am #

    I thought I might add a few words here. I took a needed break after the Berlin event, but I’ve now given some interviews by email to Die TAZ, a major German newspaper, Le Monde Diplomatique, and a few other on-line journals in an effort to clarify some mis-representations of the refusal and to try and re-direct public attention to the issue of anti-immigrant racism. I hope they come out soon. Perhaps it is worth noting that I only said I would give the prize to these important groups working on the ground, but that I did not have the power to do so. I understand that the CSD organizers decided to give the money they had put aside to pay for my trip to all the groups I mentioned. I was asked by the organizers to supply evidence for my charge of racism, so I showed them several sites where their members and sponsors referred to the archaic and pre-modern character of “arab cultures” as a way of explaining putatively high rates of attacks on gay people on the part of arab youth. Groups like Maneo have actively sought to institute racial profiling as a police practice. They see this as part of “self-defense” rather than as explicit racism. Their framework assumes that there are queers and there are migrants, which means that they efface migrant queers in their very way of thinking. I suggested in one interview that maybe they should do some studies on the rise of right-wing racism in Germany, its links with homophobia, or indeed concentrate on homophobia in the Catholic Church. I believe I only used the word “commercial” as an adjective once, so it was with dismay that I say my remarks reduced to this. So I’ve agreed to a few more forays into public discourse to try and re-direct the discussion. It is amazing to me how many “queer” groups ask me why queerness has anything to do with anti-racism. The idea that one cannot struggle against homophobia without struggling against racism seems to be “new” to some of these groups, which is a sure sign that they have no sense of the political urgency of this issue or how many people are fighting against both within the various political groups in Berlin. It is most important that these groups now seize the media and discourse attention, so I will try to vector that through me for a week or so, before retiring from my unsought post as “vertreter.” Thanks to Jasbir for her comments. In many ways, the analysis that is happening there among queers of color is deeply indebted to her critique of homonationalism.

  3. Sirma Bilge June 29, 2010 at 7:37 am #

    Thanks to SUSPECT for this fine analysis and for asking crucial questions! With solidarity
    sirma

  4. Debanuj DasGupta June 30, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    I am tempted to write a piece titled, “Judith Butler Does Not Know ME!”, however the response from SUSPECT reflects what I have been feeling and thinking. As a Queer Immigrant rights organizer and researcher based on the edges of US Academia, and Non-Profit complex, I love the call to take upon this moment to continue building on our transnational “no-homonationalism/neoliberalism” movement. In the US, Queer Immigrants have been historically and now on the forefornt of migrants right organizing (often silent, and at best acknowledged symbolically), while our material lives have taken downwards mobility. Queer Immigrant formations have created some of the most “colorful” protests against Arizona’s “Show me your papers” legislation. Images of Latina/o immigrants draped in rainbow flags, while holding signs that say “Undocumented and Unafraid!” are in my archives. I am excited, and look forward to larger, meaningful processes that acknowledge and for lack of a better word factor the material risks taken by LGBTSTQPOC communities.

  5. Dino Rivera June 30, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    “I am excited, and look forward to larger, meaningful processes that acknowledge and for lack of a better word factor the material risks taken by LGBTSTQPOC communities.”
    As a trans of color academic, also precarious (let’s face it, this is unlikely to change), I get upset when again and again I find my arguments -uncited- in the texts of white academics, older or even younger than me, with whom I have shared work for which I myself am not likely to get any credit (on the contrary). Thank you SUSPECT for shifting my lens and reminding me that knowledge is there to be put into revolutionary struggle and not on a CV!

  6. Kellie Strøm July 12, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    It would be good to see URLs to the sites mentioned where CSD members and sponsors made these references. I’d also be interested in finding a source re. Maneo advocating racial profiling.

    • Jin Haritaworn July 19, 2010 at 3:10 am #

      Check CSD website for list of organisers and sponsors and July entries on nohomonationalism.blogspot.com for German media reports and links to CSD press releases. If you are interested in academic analyses, you could write to Jennifer Petzen and me asking for references to our joint and individual work. Since this kind of work is not without risks, it would be good if you could include a few sentences to let us know where you’re coming from.

      • Kellie Strøm August 12, 2010 at 6:46 am #

        The charges that Judith Butler makes are very serious. It would be good to have even one specific instance to judge them by. Pointing to a whole website, csd-berlin.de, is not very helpful, even more so as the charges are being made in English, and the site is in German.

  7. zad carlos July 18, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    I like this post, as well as this whole website. it is very well put together and the information that you have shown here is also top notch and a powerful read for me. Please keep creating such super material. Thanks alot.

  8. The Engineer August 3, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    I admire Judith Butlers principled stand. There idea that one minority can advance by throwing another under the bus will always be there, but those who resist will be there as well. When two minorities are pitted against each other the only winners are the defenders of the status quo, or those who wish to turn the clock backwards. The only way to win that game is not playing it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  3. Women’s rights, gay rights and anti-Muslim racism in Europe « Queer Migration Research Network - March 10, 2012

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  4. Homonationalism in Action and ‘The Butler Scandal’ | Issues in Postcoloniality - March 12, 2014

    […] Butler herself reflects on this in a comment on a blog post: […]

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