Tag Archives: anti-racism

Celebrating Refusal: The Complexities of Saying No

23 Jun

By Jasbir Puar

Bravo to Judith Butler for turning down the Berlin Pride “Zivilcourage Award”. As Tavia writes, Judith Butler 1, Homonationalism 0. But is this really a victory for the anti-racist queer groups of color who Butler named as the truly courageous? Who are the other winners and losers in the collision of European anti-racist political activism with US academic notoriety? What are the conditions of possibility for this event to have happened at all? Let’s think for a minute about the lead up and repercussions of Butler’s refusal.

On Thursday, June 17th, e-mails started circulating among transnational queer and trans activists and academics regarding Butler’s acceptance of the award. This spontaneous surge of energy, driven in part by the Berlin Academic Boycott, resulted in many letters to Butler which elaborated the problems with the Christopher Street Day (CSD) Pride, noting that the CSD has espoused explicit anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments, practices of exclusion, and homonationalist complicity. After meeting with local groups and being apprised of the history of tensions and grievances, Butler responded by offering the prize instead to GLADT (Gays and Lesbians From Turkey; www.gladt.de), LesMigraS (anti-violence and anti-discrimination support group for migrant women and black lesbians; www.lesmigras.de), SUSPECT (a queer anti-violence movement-building group), and ReachOut (a counseling center for victims of right-wing violence; www.reachoutberlin.de, with mention of the coalition work these groups do with Transgenial CSD, an alternative Pride-event (See English translation of her speech: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/i-must-distance-myself/).

In essence, local queer groups of color did a tremendous amount of last-minute, frenetic labor, meeting with Butler just days before the award ceremony in order to alert her to the intricacies of the Berlin scene, drawing upon Butler’s own commitment to queer anti-racist coalitions to do so.

Let’s recognize, as Tavia notes, that Butler put her celebrity-theorist status to good use. But let’s also celebrate what she directs our attention to: the hard groundwork of queer of color, anti-racist organizations that put their lives on the line everyday, for whom violent retribution is a reality. Pointing to a primary facet of homonationalism — the manufacturing of a global progressive image through the negation of national difference — Butler states in an English interview after the award ceremony, “They didn’t need to look all the way to the United States to find someone with civil courage.”  (For the audio of this interview, go to http://www.blu.fm/subsites/detail.php?kat=Gesellschaft&id=4035).

Indeed, Butler’s naming of anti-racist queer groups -– and her refusal of the award — were also made possible by several decades of work by activists and theorists of color, and a representation of and for them that Butler, out of necessity, relies upon to make her stance. This structural power grid is a prime example of the dynamics between “Darstellen” (representation as portrait, as a “re-presentation”) and “Vetreten” (representation as proxy, as someone who is a representative) elaborated upon by Gayatri Spivak. According to Spivak, both forms of representation are inseparable from each other, intractable and also immanent to any process of political address. Cultural capital accrues to those who represent the “Others,” rather than to those who are represented, producing a version of what Michel Foucault calls the “speaker’s benefit.” In representing these organizations (Butler as proxy for queers of color), Butler is also perforce re-presenting herself (Butler as portrait).

Unfortunately, media portrayal in this instance only extends the structural inequities of representation by omitting mention of the groups that Butler hails and citing solely the Transgenial CSD, an alternative but nevertheless white-dominated Pride event. (See press release by SUSPECT for more details: http://nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/judith-butler-refuses-berlin-pride.html).

Despite the best efforts of individuals and groups, there is a danger that the structural positionings of privilege may rearticulate themselves. The real potential of Butler’s refusal will be revealed in its impact upon activist and institutional organizational relationships in Berlin as well as transnationally. The initial press statement released by SUSPECT has been translated into several languages and has generated statements of support from queer of color as well as straight and queer migrant and anti-racist movements internationally — from groups as diverse as X: Talk Migrant Sex Worker Rights Project in London, Asian Arts Freedom School, the Safra Project, Blockorama Toronto, and the list is growing (To contribute a letter of support, go to http://nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/).

Finally, and most crucially, this event has succeed in opening up critique of the citational practices that continue to fuel academic/activist hierarchies that often ignore (or trump) foundational and risky work by queers of color. To clarify genealogies of terms and conversations circulating among different media and social and national locations, SUSPECT has generated a website listing activist and academic work by queers of color. (For the growing bibliography see http://nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/activist-writings-for-organic.html).

In reference to the celebration of Gay Pride, Butler states, “I’m all in favor of getting happy. But I am also in favor of the struggle for social justice.” (http://www.blu.fm/subsites/detail.php?kat=Gesellschaft&id=4035). SUSPECT and other queer of color activists and academics remind us of the complex assemblages of knowledge production, alliances, and circuits of power that inform this struggle, offering hope and new possibilities for radically transformed political futures that resist militarism, homonationalism, and gay racism and imperialism.

Judith Butler 1 – Homonationalism 0

21 Jun

By Tavia Nyong’o

Ironically, the very reasons I gave Berlin Pride a pass this year — rampant commercialism, body fascism, and apolitical torpor — are the reasons I wish I had now been there to see Judith Butler turn down the organizer’s Prize for Civil Courage. Delivered in German to a surprised but delighted crowd, Butler’s scathingly political remarks rained on the parade of complacency with her pointed barbs against anti-immigrant and anti-muslim racism.

While the press focused on her critique of commercialism (which, truth be told, can hardly hold a candle to the corporate crassness of your average Pride event in the US nowadays), they had a much harder time bringing into focus her critique of homonationalism, which she also delivered in a longer talk at the Volksbuhne on Friday evening. They also neglected to mention the organizations she cited as deserving the recognition she declined (Gays and Lesbians from Turkey, lesbische Migrantinnen und Schwarze Lesben, Reach Out and SUSPECT) in what might be the new definition of a politically efficacious speech-act from an intellectual: ceding the platform granted you by the celebrity system and professorial authority in an act of humility and solidarity with those whose work is ignored and scapegoated rather than rewarded and encouraged. In a sense, declining an award for civil courage was the only way of possibly displaying such courage under these circumstances.

The drone of vuvulezas and eery recrudescence of German flag-waving occasioned by the World Cup may quickly drown out this strategic strike against Pride-as-usual. But, due to the exigencies of Pride’s coincidence with that other spectacle of homoerotic nationalism (watch men watching the games and you will see what I mean), there is an opportunity to build momentum through the breach Butler opened has up.

Mainstream Pride was moved a week earlier because of the all-powerful World Cup schedule, but the alternative Transgeniale march — anti-commercial, filled with trans- and feminist politics and at least aspirationally anti-racist and inclusive of queers of color — stayed on the traditional “last weekend in June.” Next weekend also sees a big conference on queer studies and anti-capitalism at the ICI, a sort of anti-Ladies Auxiliary to the Big Boys doing Real Theory at the Volksbuhne the same weekend.

So it seems like the spirit of queer discontent is not going down without a fight. Pride avoiders of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your rainbow chains!

UPDATE June 23rd: Click here to read an English translation of Judith Butler’s speech.

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