Your fellow citizen, the oppressor
Hey everyone! Last time I translated an article, it generated all sorts of interesting discussion. so I thought I'd do it again and I think I found an interesting one that gives plenty of good...
Hey everyone! Last time I translated an article, it generated all sorts of interesting discussion. so I thought I'd do it again and I think I found an interesting one that gives plenty of good ground for discussion.
Your fellow citizen, the oppressor
A new ideology is spreading in Germany. It divides society artificially in hostile camps. This madness must be stopped.
An essay by Jochen Bittner
Published 2021-03-10, 16:54, edited 2021-03-11, 10:27, DIE ZEIT № 11/2021, 2021-03-11.
They are two seemingly completely divorced events, but they are part of one and the same questionable ideological trend, which is currently spreading at universities, editorials and party headquarters.
In the summer of 2018, a black student at the college of Massachusetts accuses a janitor of racist intimidation. The janitor had asked her, what she was doing there. “Everything I did, was being black.” Said the student. That was enough to question not just her existence at the college, but her entire existence. Outrage broke out at the elite women’s university (yearly fee 78,000 USD). The university president apologized profusely, accused the janitor of racism and suspended him. Only now, a few days ago, the New York Times continued the story: After an investigation by a law firm ended, their report concluded that the space the student was occupying had been reserved and closed off for an event. That is what the janitor was referring to. Signs of racist behaviour were not found.
The second event was a shitstorm centred around the pop radio station Bayern 3 [Bavaria 3] in the last week of February. A moderator known for his polemics had talked himself into a rage including insults about a South Korean boy group; in the end he equated said boy group with a virus, for which we would hopefully soon find a vaccine. In a couple of hours, a global quake of protests arose under the hashtag #BR3Racist, and it did not take long for Bayern 3 to publicly apologize with the words “If a statement is deemed inflammatory and racist by many people, then that statement is.”
300 years of enlightenment, and only the feelings of many angry people are enough to count as truth? So, we burned the witches in medieval times rightly?
Fact is, that what comes out in such events is the result of a powerful academic movement that has found entry in all humanities, social sciences including law. It is a kind of thinking, where categories like skin colour, gender and other bodily characteristics do not play a vanishing, but a very important role, with more weight placed into it every day. Not what someone says, but if they are an “old white man” or a “privileged cis-woman” – cis means shortened: not transsexual1 – says, is significant. And less the intent of the speaker is relevant than the impression of said words. That leads to a form of “Social Justice” where not individual circumstances are important, but alone the perspective of the real or fictive victim. If that sounds dangerous, then because it is.
The origin of this cultural step back is the combination of two models of explaining the world: the “Critical Theory” and “Intersectionality”. Both cannot be avoided in todays university seminars. Who wants to understand the swelling culture fight climate, which is also spreading in Germany, must learn to understand.
Looked at each in isolation, both models of Intersectionality and Critical Theory are useful. The term Intersectionality comes from the American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. She found an important flaw in anti-discriminatory law in 1989. The car manufacturer General Motors had, in the 1970s, let go a wave of black women because they were part of the employees, who had only been hired recently. The women sued, without success. According to the court, the women were not discriminated as women, because there were still women in the offices of the company, who had not been let go. They had also not been discriminated as black people, because the company employed them in its factories. What the judges were not keeping in mind: black women only recently began to be hired in offices by GM – which was the reason why they were let go first.
The plaintiffs had been exposed to a special form of injustice, their characteristic as women and as black people. Crenshaw compared this to an intersection on which the women were standing and had subsequently been caught in two streams of discriminations at once.
Are injustices nothing else but products of structures?
The answer of classical liberalism to this question would be: Here there were two instances, where the universal right to equality of the individual were violated. It was racist that GM did not hire black women for so long. And it was sexist, that the women were only employed in offices. Every reasonable person must recognize this and want to remove these circumstances.
A different answer comes from Critical Theory, or better, the 21st century reprint of it. According to it, society is full of power structures, which are permanently connected to group characteristics like skin colour, gender and sexual orientation. Depending on which characteristics people fulfil, they belong into a “privileged” group or a “oppressed” group. Men oppress women. White people oppress black people. Heterosexuals oppress homosexuals. Cis people oppress trans people. Fully abled people oppress disabled people. If there are injustices between two such groups, they are nothing but the product of these structures. Herbert Marcuse, a member of the Frankfurt school, claimed in the 1960s that because of these power inequalities people that supported these structures (according to Marcuse; the political right) should not be able to talk with the same tolerance as oppressed groups.
In the times of the student revolts postmodernism of the French philosopher Michel Foucault became more popular. Many of his followers understood it that way that there was no objective reality, but that the perception of truth depended on the particular position of power in society. Colonialism and relationship of the genders were examples how power influenced knowledge. Systems are still oppressive, even if the individuals are not aware of oppressive behaviour.
Again liberalism, optimistic to clarify would answer: Correct, as colonialism was based on the thought of superiority of white people against “inferior races”, and the discrimination of women results from the patriarchal misfire that different bodies should result in different social values. But haven’t the western, free societies on the last seven decades not detected theses chauvinisms and have made leaps forward? Racism remains a dangerous problem, but it is socially and juristically despised, women are by law made equal and are partially even supported by quotas. Gay people become heads of state and public officials, and the right to asylum grants oppressed people from the global south protection. Of course, there is more to be done, the liberal society is never finished, but the direction is right.
Sadly no, says Critical Theory in its newest reprint. Liberalism is not the solution, but part of the problem. It does not recognize the problems in the system, because it itself is an intellectual product of white men, therefore, a power structure. In her in the USA very successful book Critical Race Theory (2012) the lawyer couple Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic write, that liberalism does not offer the correct frame to solve problems of racism: “Different from traditional civil rights conversation, that (…) focus on step-by-step advancements, Critical Race Theory questions the fundaments of the liberal order itself, including the equality theory, the judicial arguments, the enlightened rationalism and the neutral principal of constitutional law.” You have to read that sentence aloud to yourself sometimes.
An in America also recognized author is Robin DiAngelo, who landed a New York Times bestseller with White Fragility – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism in 2018. The book states that “Individualism” is an “Ideology” and white people had to, to reflect on omnipresent racism, always look at themselves as part of their race. DiAngelo also offers “Antiracism” trainings. In one of them for the employees of Coca-Cola, she demands to appear “less white” which also meant: “Be less oppressive, arrogant and ignorant.” Sounds racist? It is of course, except if one thinks such generalizations are legitimate to remove “White supremacy”.
Exactly here the political poison lies dormant, a concoction of Critical Theory and Intersectionality. It lets society appear as layers of opposing hostile groups – and every injustice is a consequence of those structures. That is the hot core of so-called identity politics. That is why it suddenly is a problem, if a white Dutch woman translates the book of the black US poet Amanda Gorman, even though when Gorman herself thinks that the translator is a good choice. That is why the peak officials of the SPD2 are “extremely ashamed”, when Wolfgang Thierse (a not that young white man) warns, that identity debates could lead to new trench warfare which destroys the public spirit.
Skin colour, age, gender, are the basis of the presumption of guilt – from too little sensibility to racism. The clou, with which this kind of thinking is made waterproof is the mentioned idea of white fragility. It says: If white people fight the accusation of being racist, they are simply denying the reality of racism – and thus keeping it alive.
These already dividing teachings are often directly applied from the USA to Germany, despite the historic, economic and institutional differences. They are taught in seminars, spread in books and shared in editorials. The Critical Race Theory, writes lawyer Cengiz Barskanmaz on the online platform Verfassungsblog [Constitutional blog], can be used to “propagate a racially aware perspective for the German law”. “The interest of law students in Critical Race Theory is definitely high, with rising tendencies.”
Black people can be missing the right racial awareness, mind you. The German-British sociologist Natasha A. Kelly said in a recent discussion round about a black man from Kiel, who called his restaurant “To the Mohr’s head”3 simply hadn’t been through his “political awareness process” yet. The name of the restaurant remains racist, independent of the viewpoint of the man who named it, because: “It is not an individual thing, that you or me can influence, it’s something in the structures.”
The structures. They are everywhere, and they are more powerful than the individual and their arguments. It is a to political theory heightened deeply pessimistic, even in parts paranoid, world view. Of course, racism exists, and it makes murderers out of people. After the NSU terrorism, the murders of Hanau and the success of the AfD4 at the voting booth it is only understandable that the fear of the (luckily growing louder) migrant community in Germany is increasing. But who thinks that crime and extremism arise from the “structures” of this country, even from and especially from their immediate surroundings, accuses and alienates their main ally in the fight against racism. Such a rough interpretation of the truth is wrong in the same ways as the right-wing populist projection, Islamist terror comes from the middle of the Muslim community.
Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist at the side of Martin Luther King, once wrote: “When my brothers draw a circle around me to exclude me, I’ll draw a larger one, to include them. When they talk about the privileges of a weakening group, I’ll talk about the rights of all people.” From this inclusive philosophy this new, dangerous teaching of hostility does not only step back – it draws ever-shrinking circles with thicker and thicker brushes and divides society into more and more groups, which are supposed to oppose each other with more and more hostility. It is time to realize this madness – and stop it.
1 The term transsexual was used here verbatim. I think the term is outdated, but as I am not a professional translator, I was unsure if I should "update" it, as I think a translation should always be as close to the source as possible.
2 The SPD is the major center-left party in Germany. They have formed the government together with the center right party, the CDU/CSU for decades now, but are fairly unpopular right now.
3 The word Mohr is a German discriminatory term to refer to black people. I would not put it on the same "pedestal" as the n-word as it is missing the historical weight, but nevertheless it should not be used any more. It still remains in use under the population in some historic remnants like a classic dessert called Mohr im Hemd (Mohr in a shirt) which is a chocolate sponge cake in chocolate sauce served with vanilla ice cream.
4 The populist rightwing party of Germany. Have gotten enough votes due to the refugee crisis to enter some local state governments and the German federal, but no other party cooperates with them as they are very obviously racist, islamophobic and have in some cases, ties to actual neo nazis.
Original article: https://www.zeit.de/2021/11/identitaetspolitik-rassismus-soziale-gerechtigkeit-intersektionalitaet/komplettansicht (paywalled, and in German, if we have German people here who'd like to verify my translation, I can give you a copy).
That marks the end! I hope you liked it and I hope we can have a good discussion about it. I've spend some time translating this so I'll take a break, go shopping and come back to this a bit later to form my own opinion in a separate comment. Be kind to each other!