AVIVA-Interview with Judith Butler
Zimmer, Heidingsfelder, Adler
"I must distance myself from this complicity with racism" - with these words, the famous philosopher and gender-theorist refused the "Civil Courage Prize" at the CSD in Berlin, June 2010.
The full interview can be found here.
CSD and Gender
AVIVA-Berlin: You refused the prize for civil courage at CSD in Berlin. Would you have accepted a prize for moral courage at the alternative CSD, that is taking place in Kreuzberg on June 26th?
Judith Butler: Yes, I suppose I would have! I am only sorry that I did not understand the political situation in Berlin earlier. I intended to take the prize when I arrived, and I was quite surprised by the number of groups and individuals throughout Europe who encouraged me not too.
AVIVA-Berlin: You criticised the hosts of Berlin CSD 2010 for losing sight of double discrimination, not distancing themselves from ´racist statements´ and making the whole event superficial. You have made these issues visible. Can you please tell us more about what exactly you are refering to?
Judith Butler: I never used the word "superficial." I believe that this was attributed to me by someone who helped organize the CSD. The problem was not that the event was superficial, but that the CSD is linked with several groups and individuals who engage in a very strong anti-immigrant discourse, referring to people from north Africa, Turkey, and various Arab countries as less modern or more primitive. Although we can find homophobia in many places, including those of religious and racial minorities, we would be making a very serious error if we tried to fight homophobia by propagating stereotypical and debasing constructions of other minorities. My view is that the struggle against homophobia must be linked with the struggle against racism, and that subjugated minorities have to find ways of working in coalition. It was brought to my attention that the various groups that struggle against racism and homophobia are not part of the CSD list of affiliates.
AVIVA-Berlin: In their defense the hosts argued that you were on a tight schedule and might not have noticed all the activities against disrimination that took place during and before the parade. Where do you think the hosts might have officially shown more moral courage?
Judith Butler: I do not doubt that some people and some events at the CSD were designed to show an opposition to discrimination of various kinds. But many of the people in leadership roles, including Jan Feddersen and Rudolph Hampel, have been very strong in demonizing new immigrant communities, allying gay politics with anti-immigration politics, and refusing the racial and religious diversity of contemporary Europe. Some of these tactics are very problematic, including that of the group, Maneo. The CSD needs very much to refuse affiliation with groups that promote racism. It makes no sense to struggle to overcome the subjugation of one minority by increasing the subjugation of another. This is especially true when one realizes the importance of queer, trans, gay, lesbian, and bi people within minority migrant communities.
AVIVA-Berlin: Before you arrived in Berlin did you know that you would reject the prize?
Judith Butler: No, I was excited about coming, and very eager for the event. It came as a surprise to me that so many people in Berlin, in other cities in Germany, but also in Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, France, and the US, contacted me to ask me not to accept the prize. I realized that there were political divisions in the Berlin community that need to be addressed more directly and productively by the CSD and other major gay and lesbian organizations.
AVIVA-Berlin: How could the CSD become more politcal? And what do you think about the fact that the CSD in Berlin is split up into two different events: the parade and the alternative CSD in Kreuzberg.
Judith Butler: I suppose I had assumed that some of the same people go to CSD Berlin and to CSD Kreuzberg. But what I had not considered was how many people refuse to go to CSD Berlin precisely because it has not taken a strong stand against racism and the targetting of new migrant communities. Perhaps the problem is not that CSD should become "more political" but rather which politics the CSD should pursue. If the mainstream gay movement continues to ally itself with European cultural norms of purity or if it does not openly affirm the equal rights of minorities, then it will remain in conflict with various activists who either emerge from minority communities or who are committed to anti-racism as part of their politics.
AVIVA-Berlin: What does Christopher Street Day mean to you personally?
Judith Butler: You know, Christopher Street is the place in New York where the famous Stonewall resistance happened a few decades ago. It is, for me, the name of a place where resistance to police violence and harassment takes place. I think it is important to enter the streets, to lay claim to public space, to overcome fear, to assert pride, and to exercise the right to take pleasure in ways that harm no one. All of these are key ideals. I like the pageantry and the joy. But if we ask about how to oppose violence during these times, we have to consider the way that new immigrant communities are subject to right-wing street violence, how they are subject to racial profiling and harassment by police, and we have to object to harassment and violence against all minorities. Indeed, the opposition to illegitimate state violence and various forms of cultural pathologization are crucial to the queer movement more generally. So if we fight for the rights of gay people to walk the street freely, we have to realize first that some significant number of those people are also in jeopardy because of anti-immigrant violence - this is what we call "double jeopardy" in English. Secondly, we have to consider that if we object to the illegitimate and subjugating use of violence against one community, we cannot condone it in relation to another! In this way, the queer movement has to be committed to social equality, and to pursuing freedom under conditions of social equality. This is very different from the new libertarianism that cares only for personal liberty, is dedicated to defending individualism, and often allies with police and state power, including new forms of nationalism, European purity, and militarism.
AVIVA-Berlin: Your philosophy is often classified as part of pop-culture. Actually, especially in Germany many people refer to your book "Gender Trouble" and link your name to the idea of freely "choosing" and "creating" gender although your theory is not euphoric and includes melancholy and political engagement against any form of discrimination. How do you feel being considered as a pop-icon?
Judith Butler: I am not sure I am a pop-icon. I don´t read those kinds of commentaries. But if the arguments of Gender Trouble have made their way into popular culture, then I am pleased. It seems to me that academic work only becomes part of a larger social movement by assuming a popular form. The misreadings are interesting to me, and perhaps say more about the social needs of one´s readers than the text itself. In any case, my effort has been to show that even though we are in some ways formed by social norms, we are not determined by them. We can struggle with them, through them, and against them. I presume that some people are drawn to the work because it tries to understand agency in the midst of social power.