‘I must distance myself from this racist complicity” Judith Butler turns down Berlin Pride award

Press statement by SUSPECT on Judith Butler’s refusal to accept the Civil Courage Award from Berlin Pride last night.

As Berlin Queer and Trans Activists of Colour and Allies we welcome Judith Butler’s decision to turn down the Zivilcourage Prize awarded by Berlin Pride. We are delighted that a renowned theorist has used her celebrity status to honour queer of colour critiques against racism, war, borders, police violence and apartheid. We especially value her bravery in openly critiquing and scandalising the organisers’ closeness to homonationalist organisations. Her courageous speech is a testimony to her openness for new ideas, and her readiness to engage with our long activist and academic work, which all too often happens under conditions of isolation, precariousness, appropriation and instrumentalisation.

Sadly this is happening once again, for the people of colour organisations who according to Butler should have deserved the award more than her are not mentioned once in the press reports to date. Butler offered the prize to GLADT (www.gladt.de), LesMigraS (www.lesmigras.de), SUSPECT and ReachOut (www.reachoutberlin.de), yet the one political space mentioned in the reports is the Transgenial Christopher Street Day, a white-dominated alternative Pride event. Instead of racism, the press focuses on a simple critique of commercialisation. This even though Butler herself was quite clear: ‘I must distance myself from complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism.’ She notes that not just homosexuals, but also ‘bi, trans and queer people can be used by those who want to wage war.’

The CSD, via Renate Künast of the Green Party (who appeared to have difficulties pronouncing the award winner’s name and grasping basic aspects of her writings) introduced Butler as a determined critic. Five minutes later, the same critical determination caused the faces of presenters to drop. Rather than engage with the speech in any way, Jan Salloch und Ole Lehmann could think of nothing better than blanketly refuse any charge of racism and attack the ca. 50 queers of colour and allies who had come out in Butler’s support: ‘You can scream all you like. You are not the majority. That’s enough.’ The finale was an imperialist fantasy matched by the backdrop of the Brandenburger Tor: ‘Pride will just continue in its programme…

No matter what… Worldwide and here in Berlin… This is how it’s always been and will always be.’
In the past years, racism has indeed been the red thread of international Pride events, from Toronto to Berlin, as well as of the wider gay landscape (see queer of colour theorists’ Jasbir Puar’s and Amit Rai’s early critique of this in their 2002 article ‘Monster Terrorist Fag’). In 2008, the Berlin Pride motto was ‘Hass du was dagegen?’, which might translate as ‘You go’ a problem or wha’?’. Homophobia and Transphobia are redefined as the problems of youth of colour who apparently don’t speak proper German, whose Germanness is always questioned, and who simply don’t belong. 2008 is also the year that the hate crimes discourse enters more significantly into German sexual politics. Its rapid assimilation was aided by the fact that the hatefully criminal homophobe was already known: migrants, who are already criminalised, and are incarcerated and even deported with ever growing ease.

This moral panic is made respectable by dubious media practices and so-called scientific studies: Where every case of violence that can be connected to a gay, bi or trans person (no matter if the apparent perpetrator is white or of Colour, and no matter if the basis is homophobia, transphobia or a traffic altercation) is circulated as the latest proof of what we all know already — that queers, especially white men it seems, are worst off of all, and that ‘the homophobic migrants’ are the main cause for this. This increasingly accepted truth is by no small measure the fruit of the work of homonationalist organizations like the Lesbian and Gay Federation Germany and the gay helpline Maneo, whose close collaboration with Pride ultimately caused Butler to reject the award. This work largely consists in media campaigns that repeatedly represent migrants as ‘archaic’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘homophobic’, violent, and unassimilable. Nevertheless, one of these organizations now ironically receives public funding in order to ‘protect’ people of colour from racism. The ‘Rainbow Protection Circle against Racism and Homophobia’ in the gaybourhood Schöneberg was spontaneously greeted by the district mayor with an increase in police patrols. As anti-racists, we sadly know what more police (LGBT or not) mean in an area where many people of colour also live — especially at times of ‘war on terror’ and ‘security, order and cleanliness.’
It is this tendency of white gay politics, to replace a politics of solidarity, coalitions and radical transformation with one of criminalization, militarization and border enforcement, which Butler scandalizes, also in response to the critiques and writings of queers of colour. Unlike most white queers, she has stuck out her own neck for this. For us, this was a very courageous decision indeed.

Yeliz Çelik, Sanchita Basu, Lucy Chebout, Lisa Thaler, Jin Haritaworn, Jen Petzen, and Cengiz Barskanmaz of SUSPECT, 20 June, 2010.

SUSPECT is a new group of queer and trans migrants, Black people, people of colour and allies. Our aim is to monitor the effects of hate crimes debates and to build communities which are free from violence in all its interpersonal and institutional forms.

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9 thoughts on “‘I must distance myself from this racist complicity” Judith Butler turns down Berlin Pride award”

  1. I'm not sure if you speak German, but in case not, I just wanted to point out that the motto “Hass du was dagegen” is also a play on words: “Hass” being the German word for “hate.” I'm not saying that the slogan might not also have anti-people-who-don't-speak-German-that-well implications, but that the German speaker of any level would probably notice the play on words before anything else.

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