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Dec 21 2013

Judith Butler turned down the Civil Courage Award from Berlin Pride

And then there’s “homonationalism.”

There’s what?

Let Robyn Brush at Representation and the Body explain it for you, in a post from February 2012 titled Judith Butler Speaks Out Against Homonationalism.

In June of 2010, Judith Butler turned down the Civil Courage Award from Berlin Pride, critiquing the organizers’ association with homonationalism.  She said that if she could, she herself would award the prize to the number of activist groups which work to fight both racism and homophobia.

But what exactly is homonationalism?

In her speech, which was received with much applause from the audience and contempt on the part of the organizers, Butler described the problem as such: “Lesbian, gay, trans, and queer people can be used [by] warmongers involved in cultural wars against immigrants through labored Islamophobia and military wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.  In this time, through these instruments, we become recruited for nationalism and militarism.”

Homonationalism is using a nation’s liberalism towards homosexuality as a means to encourage racist attitudes towards other nations, on grounds that they are less enlightened.

Racist?

Really?

Is it really racist to oppose, say, Uganda’s harsh anti-gay law? Is it really racist to attempt to give LGBT Ugandans and their friends and allies support in the face of attacks and imprisonment? Is it really racist to point out the part played by evangelicals from the US in stoking homophobia in Uganda?

I get that all this can be very entangled. People can both support gay rights and have xenophobic and/or racist attitudes; people can combine the two in a disquieting amalgam of human rights and hostility; but this version is simplistic at best.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Owlmirror

    s/udith/Judith/ (Although I can’t imagine the typo will go unnoticed)

  2. 2
    Owlmirror

    Is “homosexual/lesbian undocumented immigrant X will be imprisoned/killed if they are returned to their nation, Y, which has severe anti-gay laws” an example of homonationalism?

  3. 3
    rnilsson

    Is this perhaps an example of over-problematization? Finding a problem where none was apparent before? Granted, it can well be that problems need to be pointed out in order to contemplate a solution – but is that actually the case here? I guess I just don’t get it this time.

    Does it take extra courage to turn down a prize for courage? Never been my issue. Is there a hidden grant?

    Ich bin kein Berliner. (Aber ich hass’euch auch nicht. Mutatis mutandis.)

  4. 4
    M can help you with that.

    Is it really racist to attempt to give LGBT Ugandans and their friends and allies support in the face of attacks and imprisonment?

    I think intercontinental LGBT solidarity would fall under “fight[ing] both racism and homophobia.” My first (charitable) guess would be that Butler is referring to attempts by conservative xenophobic and racist groups to encourage white LGBT people in Europe and the US to label all PoC and immigrants as homophobic and not worth defending WRT anything.

  5. 5
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    What M can help you with that said at #4. Pinkwashed homophobia is not at all uncommon. Israel has a nasty history of using its comparatively tolerant to LGBT policies to provoke, like when it organized a Pride parade through a heavily Palestinian area. Yay, using LGBT people as pawns! So progressive!

    Also, things lke this: http://www.policymic.com/articles/39043/human-rights-campaign-largest-lgbt-donors-are-drone-manufacturers

    There is a serious issue with racism and xenophobia in the LGBT community. Between the treatment of POC within itself, and for example, the blaming of Black people for Prop 8 that so many uncritically accepted, work needs to be done.

  6. 6
    Shatterface

    This is a variation on ‘pink washing’ – dismissing comments about Israel’s relatively enlightened attitude towards homosexuals as a neocon/Zionist warmongering against Israel’s neighbours.

  7. 7
    Shatterface

    As an example, see above.

  8. 8
    Shatterface

    I think only it’s fair to balance reports about cultures where homosexuals are hung from cranes with anti-racist stories about gay cultures where ethnic minorities are hung just for being ethnic.

  9. 9
    Marcus Ranum

    Homonationalism is using a nation’s liberalism towards homosexuality as a means to encourage racist attitudes towards other nations, on grounds that they are less enlightened.

    I would say that might be true, if it were on grounds that they are less enlightened. But saying that someone’s practices are immoral and repugnant is not saying that there’s something innately wrong with them, whether its racial or cultural.

  10. 10
    Katherine Woo

    The fact Israel is far more progressive than its Muslim neighbors on LGBT issues is an intolerable situation for anti-Israeli activists. Smears like “homonationalism” and “pink washing” are trying to turn even acknowledging reality into an insidious plot.

    What people like Butler, HappiestSadist, and Shatterface are doing ultimately is holding LGBT rights prisoner to a far left political purity test.

    To use HappiestSadist’s own example, with a black President sending in the drones that some LGBT donors make, does that call into question racial equality and black political solidarity?

    The message is that it is ‘racist and xenophobic’ to scrutinize minority groups for disproportionate misogyny or homophobia. But because LGBT people are predominantly white in a predominantly white societies, it is completely acceptable to accuse them of “a serious issue with racism and xenophobia”.

    Double-standards do not get much more glaring than that. Racial equality is never held to any sort of political test or balancing act, nor should it be. But neither should misogyny or homophobia.

    Just see Shatterface’s comment, number 8. In what other context are people expected to “balance” reporting on violent state persecution of a minority? I guess “gay cultures” are held to a special standard.

  11. 11
    stewart

    I have yet to see something emanating from Butler that contradicts the estimation of her by the likes of Frederick Crews and the late Denis Dutton. The last time she was involved in a controversy about a prize in Germany was because of her pro-Hamas remarks and if you’ve actually read the Hamas charter, you know what that means.

  12. 12
    M can help you with that.

    It’s interesting that Butler is being called out not for what she said, but for not taking the eliminationist and national-essentialist line being pushed by people who will jump in bed with the far right rather than consider the concerns of LGBT people in places with homophobic power structures.

  13. 13
    Katherine Woo

    I forgot to address this question: “Is it really racist to point out the part played by evangelicals from the US in stoking homophobia in Uganda?”

    Well, acknowledging the reality is certainly not racist in the least, but it can morph into racial paternalism if a handful of Americans are allowed to overshadow the Ugandan’s own moral agency. Americans can talk all they want, but it takes an Ugandan willing to listen to turn it into overt action.

    I have seen numerous comments at Huffington Post, who only want to talk about the “white” — and yes, they explicitly note their race — fundamentalists. Not only does that infantilize Ugandans, but I am not even sure all the Americans were white on top of it.

  14. 14
    Katherine Woo

    …being pushed by people who will jump in bed with the far right rather than consider the concerns of LGBT people in places with homophobic power structures

    Sort of like leftists who sympathize with Hamas and other fundamentalist Muslim groups?

  15. 15
    Shatterface

    What people like Butler, HappiestSadist, and Shatterface are doing ultimately is holding LGBT rights prisoner to a far left political purity test.

    Maybe you should read what I wrote and not what you think I wrote.

    My first comment was about the notion of ‘pink washing’ being used to dismiss Israel’s more enlightened approach, my second pointed out that the comment immediately preceding mine was an example and the third was an ironic comment highlighting that homophobia has lethal consequences while any supposed ‘racism’ on behalf of LGBT supporters, even if it exists, has zero consequences because there aren’t racist homosexual societies.

    The way I see it LGBT rights might provide a cover for some racists but accusations of ‘pink washing’ raised against Israel enable people who are demonstrably both homophobic and anti-Semitic.

  16. 16
    Shatterface

    “Is it really racist to point out the part played by evangelicals from the US in stoking homophobia in Uganda?”

    Is it racist to point out that evangelicals have failed on their own turf?

    Despite having larger numbers of white evangelicals the US isn’t proposing to imprison people for merely knowing about a homosexual and not informing on them.

    In the US that kind of thinking is on the extreme fringes, not mainstream.

  17. 17
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    Thanks, M.

    Also, Katherine, I am both queer and nonbinary. Please do not tell me that I am holding my own fucking rights prisoner.

  18. 18
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    @ Katherine Woo #10

    The fact Israel is far more progressive than its Muslim neighbors on LGBT issues is an intolerable situation for anti-Israeli activists.

    1) No, the “intolerable situation” is the attempt by some Israeli propagandists to use LGBT people to justify, minimize, or redirect attention from the atrocities committed against Palestinians (and non-Jewish Israeli citizens). I cannot tell you how offensive this is to me as a lesbian.

    2) “Not actively killing gay people” is not some fucking badge of honor you get to wear. That is just a basic requirement for not being evil.

    3) The anti-gay actions, or other human rights violations, of some people in a particular group does not justify the discrimination, persecution, displacement, murder and/or ethnic cleansing of everyone who happens to share a religion or skin tone with them.

    4) I’d love to hear a queer Palastinian talk about the amazing gay haven that Isreal supposably is.

    5) And you do realize that gay Israeli’s still face discrimination, right? Again, they might not be imprisoned or murdered by their government (well…as long as they aren’t Muslim and don’t protest the government’s actions, that is) but that doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and roses.

    6) Being against the actions of the Israli government, protesting the displacement, occupation, and murder of Palestinians and non-Jewish Isrealis does not make me anti-Israel–unless you want to tell me that Israel is synonomous with discrimination and ethnic cleansing, in which case, I would humbly submit that you are the one who is “anti-Israel”.

    7) Because this absolutely must be repeated: Decent treatment of (some) LGBT people in your country does not excuse mistreatment towards another group.

    Smears like “homonationalism” and “pink washing” are trying to turn even acknowledging reality into an insidious plot.

    Bullshit. It is a way for queer activists to insist that LGBT people not be used as an excuse for human rights abuses against other marginalized peoples. I am not a prop or a shield for governments to use to continue racist/nationalistic/ethnocentrism attacks against both domestic immigrants/people of color and/or (the often much more violent, deadly) attacks against people in other countries.

    I don’t know enough about the specific award or situation Judith Butler is discussing to speak intelligently on the topic. Her reaction might be unjustified in this instance, her criticism may not stand up to deeper scrutiny. Or maybe it will. I can’t speak to that without doing more research (research I don’t have the time or the inclination to do right now, quite frankly). I will say that I respect her as both a philosopher and a queer activist, and I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. But, hey, I’ve been wrong before (and I’ve disagreed at times with Butler in the past) so for this specific instance I can’t say.

    That doesn’t mean the concepts of “homonationalism” and “pink washing” are without merit. Nor are they “smears”–only in the way you’re using them.

    No one is saying that you can’t acknowledge reality. What people are saying is that when discussing anti-gay or homophobic laws or attitudes in other countries, (especially if you are contrasting a supposedly “unenlightened” area (or group of people) with your more “advanced” group) you need to examine your motivations for doing so. Also, make sure that you aren’t condemning entire groups of people because of the actions of some. (I would also add–though I know a lot of you might disagree with me here!–that you shouldn’t condemn an entire religion based on the actions of some members of that religion.)

    The message is that it is ‘racist and xenophobic’ to scrutinize minority groups for disproportionate misogyny or homophobia.

    No. That is not the message.

    The message is that it’s “‘racist and xenophobic’ to scrutinize minority groups for disproportionate misogyny or homophobia” by judging an entire minority group based on the actions of some people within that group, ignoring those within those groups who are fighting for women and LGBT rights, and ignoring the experiences of women and queer minorities. It is also “racist and xenophobic” to focus on the misogyny and homophobia in a minority group whilst ignoring the major issues within your own society.

    And, quite frankly? You obviously have some serious shit to deal with yourself before you can start criticizing other groups of people. Get your own damn house in order, in other words, before you start giving out decorating tips to the neighbors.

    But because LGBT people are predominantly white in a predominantly white societies…

    ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS SHIT.

    No. No, I can’t. I don’t even.

    Just. WHAT. SERIOUSLY?

    …‘racist and xenophobic’ to scrutinize minority groups for disproportionate misogyny or homophobia.

    Actually, right now? I’m gonna put aside the whole issue of “scrutinizing minority groups”. No, instead, I’m accusing you of racism for the first half of that goddamn sentence.

    Racial equality is never held to any sort of political test or balancing act, nor should it be.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    OMG. Wait. Are you serious?

    **headdesk**

    In conclusion: No. Just no.

    Again, as a lesbian and queer activist, I am begging you to do some work with yourself around issues of race and intersectionality. And until then, please: get off my side. You’re making my side look racist.

  19. 19
    Katherine Woo

    Shatterface you have my apologies. Upon rereading them, I can see that you intended your last comment to be sarcastic. Given the attitudes expressed around you, I genuinely felt it was meant in earnest when I read it the first time.

  20. 20
    Katherine Woo

    Please do not tell me that I am holding my own fucking rights prisoner.

    You can act as affronted as you like, but that does not address any of the objections I raised.

  21. 21
    A. Noyd

    Erin (#18)

    No, instead, I’m accusing you of racism for the first half of that goddamn sentence.

    That whole sentence ended up a mess of a non sequitur, but I think all Katherine was trying to say with the first bit was that when whites make up over 50% of an entire population, queer whites make up over 50% of the queer population. I don’t think it’s racist to assume that the proportion of people who are queer is the same across races or ethnicities. Her attempt to make anything follow from that was racist, for sure.

  22. 22
    Katherine Woo

    Erin, it very hard to respond to you. I acknowledged one positive thing about Israel and you immediately go into a tirade like that?!? Come on, your response is precisely what I had in mind when I used the word “intolerable”.

    You wrote so much, so vehemently, while saying very little. Most qualifies as a strawman rebuttal aimed at some crude conservative who is not here.

    Another major problem is you mistakenly think I am white, when in fact I am Korean. Much of my skepticism about the left comes from my experience as an Asian American.

    As for the later passage that caused a particular meltdown, it was a simple typo. I wrote “societies” when I meant “society” as in our predominantly white American/Western society. Honestly given that I used “a” to indicate that I intended singular, you might have worked this out. Still I misread someone else here myself, so it happens.

  23. 23
    Katherine Woo

    Her attempt to make anything follow from that was racist, for sure.

    But I did not try to make anything “follow” from it. I was mocking HappiestSadist’s broad brush accusation against LGBT people and implying that the only reason he or she felt free to make it is that LGBT people are predominantly white in our society.

  24. 24
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    Katherine, I am neither a he or she , but hey, you’ve got some serious issues regarding racism, why wouldn’t you be binary-obsessed too?

    And no, LGBT people are not predominantly white.

    Cosigning all of what Erin said at #18. I am queer, and trans* and I will not have either used as a weapon against foreign “others”, and especially queer and trans* POC in those countries.

  25. 25
    A. Noyd

    Katherine Woo (#23)

    But I did not try to make anything “follow” from it. … I was…implying that the only reason he or she felt free to make [the accusation] is that LGBT people are predominantly white in our society.

    Which is backward. Since most white people get defensive when accused of having issues with racism and xenophobia, then the predominance of white queers (in predominantly white societies) means such accusations are not “completely acceptable.” In fact, such accusations almost always generate backlash even when they’re true. Nobody feels “free” to make accusations against a majority that employs backlash to protect itself.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    HappiestSadist (#24)

    And no, LGBT people are not predominantly white.

    Do you disagree with how I rephrased (in #21) what I think Katherine was trying to say?

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