Judith Butler / Angela Davis: some strategies to fight oppression

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Judith Butler, Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California Berkeley, and one of the most well-known and excellent post-structural feminist scholars of our times, recently refused a major prize in Berlin for civil work.  In a strategic use of her position as a public figure and intellectual, she makes an impassioned speech in front of the primarily lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, transgender, and questioning crowd in Berlin at the annual Christopher Street Day festival.

Those of us who have been involved in social change, understand one of the tactics of dominant groups is to count on people not being well-read, well-versed, and thoughtful enough to understand how power and influence work, especially by keeping communities divided.  As Butler states in her speech, issues of race and racism are sometimes backgrounded in working with queer/gay issues and vice-versa.  The assumptions that minorities all understand each other is another common, popular opinion that I have heard: ‘oh we’re gay, of course we understand racism’ kinds of statements.  Certain groups with tremendous social power in cultures around the world, and who spread and give funds, are often found to be oppressive in certain ways and not others.  If groups are concerned only for their ‘own kind’ and not others, this may be used to foment oppressions, to cause further damage in society.

In the videos below, Judith Butler makes her speech, although you can hardly see her.  The subtitles are in English.

The video following is Angela Davis‘s comments on that event.  Angela Davis, as you may know, is an activist well-known for her strong and vocal views during the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war period, and is a retired professor of the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California Santa Cruz and head of the Feminist Studies Department there.  She continues to write and speak and organize, and is the founder of the anti-prison industrial complex organization called Critical Resistance.

They each provide examples of how the strong messages can bring public awareness and can bring about a re-thinking perhaps, and new strategies.  Certainly organizations who are made to be accountable for their oppressive tactics (whether purposeful or not), must make new strategies and re-do things, because after all it is about losing funds and losing credibility.  The forcing of organizations, corporations and other forms of power, to have to shift, can be a powerful tactic when done well.  However, we cannot underestimate the creative continuities of oppression after this initial phase. When people are not well-informed, and concerned for getting prizes, they often do not investigate what the organization has been doing and saying, investigate the strategies and operating methods which will create maintenance in perhaps very different forms in various ways.  In this case, a queer/gay/lesbian person is honored by a well-known group but she understands that this group/organization has been organizing and speaking in ways that prove anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and racist.  The multiple oppressions are used against each other, the communities becoming  pawns of their own divisions that are made to fracture communities.  It is also worth noting, that there is a fictional ‘unity’ as well, which this points to.  In fighting the multiple points of oppression, we must learn to ally on issues and sustainable actions as opposed to fictions of unity based on ambiguous and constructed identity.

This is not an answer to ending oppression.  It is one way.  We must use all tactics available to us.  It is not just about some people and groups here and there having bad attitudes.  Cultural genocides are done through imprisonments, immigration laws, police, militarization, etc, etc.  These actions are propped up by general ignorance and apathy and self-concern prevalent in communities everywhere.  Lives are at stake.  Certainly people with intellectual social clout, such as Judith Butler and Angela Davis, can use their positions to make change.  How about you?

Judith Butler Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler

Angela Davis Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Davis