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Judith Butler Declines Berlin Pride Award Citing Racism

June 28, 2010

On June 19, Judith Butler declined the Civil Courage prize awarded to her by Berlin Pride, citing her wishes to distance herself from the group's anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim statements. In a speech delivered in German during the award ceremony, the well-known professor of queer studies said, "I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism." Butler instead highlighted four other German-based organizations, GLADT, LesMigras, SUSPECT and ReachOut, lauding their antiracist politics and alliance with a broader social justice movement. In an interview after her speech, Butler further remarked that "they [ organizations under Berlin Pride] did not need to look all the way to the United States to find someone with civil courage." An English translation of the speech is available here. As Tavia N'yongo reports, while the media have generally focused on Butler's critique of the organization's crass commercialism--among other things, Berlin Pride rescheduled its event so as not to clash with the World Cup 2010, they mostly overlooked the recognition Butler gave to other LGBTQ organizations. However, even as the news spread amongst American academic and activist circles, Jasbir Puar wonders whether the celebration of Butler's refusal, whose use of her celebrity status to highlight marginalized communities has generated much well-deserved praise, has itself eclipsed the hard work that these organizations put into getting Butler's attention to their cause. More pertinently, Puar urges the need to pay attention to the politics of representation, to not overlook the difficult, thankless and at times dangerous work that queer activists of color do behind the scenes that enable the more public and glamorous moments of activism to take place. Puar's own scholarly work, Terrrorist Assemblages, analyzes the complicity of the queer movement and racist discourse under the shadow of the so-called war on terror. She also recently published an op-ed in The Guardian UK, discussing the membership of minorities, gays and lesbians in the anti-Islamic extremist, rightwing group, the English Defence League.