Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Correct me if I am (politically) wrong: “Real” Art, Elitism and White Delusions of Grandeur

Deutsche Übersetzung erschien in Bildpunkt und auf Linksnet  (März 2013)

As much as it is ridiculed in the wider public, political correctness is clearly still a concept that Germany cannot ignore. The debate currently raging in the German media (national and international, TV, radio, print and social media) about the removal of the N-word from children’s books is testament to this fact.  White [1] cultural producers react emotionally to any perceived threat to their “artistic freedom” and, in their fury, give little consideration to the opinions, knowledge and expertise of those of us who have experienced living in Germany as young Black people; those of us who are raising and educating Black children in this country; those of us who are anti-racism activists; or those of us who have made a profession in the field of anti-discrimination. Indeed, while observing their curious behaviour, the words of May Ayim come to mind:

…alle worte in den mund nehmen
egal wo sie herkommen
und sie überall fallen lassen
ganz gleich wen es
trifft… [2]

White cultural producers are fighting to retain their privileges: to date they still occupy dominant positions in the German art industry and therefore presumably experience the mere existence of political correctness as a threat. White cultural producers typically consider their own artistic productions to be of universal relevance and importance (and in consequence, the art of marginalized groups is considered to be less relevant for the white German population). These cultural producers are usually completely unaware of their own whiteness and of the constraints this will have on their perspectives, their creative work, as well as on their (potential) audience. For example,white German theatre practitioners who wish to explore themes of integration, immigration and discrimination through their artistic productions do not call on the wisdom of Black feminists, but instead choose to continue employing tired, outdated and often offensive stereotypes in a weak attempt to provoke and challenge the society within which they themselves have such a comfortable position. And most ironically of all, when these same theatre practitioners are challenged concerning their poor practice, they rarely seize the moment as a learning opportunity to reflect upon their own discriminatory practices but instead deny the credibility of their critics with a vehemence that belies the neutrality they claim to possess (see Otoo 2012). Political correctness is for them, at best, a pesky inconvenience - and at worst? As of this moment, most white Germans who comment on the removal of the N-word from children’s literature speak in melodramatic terms of the prevalence of censorship, the threat of 1984 scenarios and the death of artistic freedom. One pundit even resorted to using blackface to make his point [3]. It is as if these white Germans only grudgingly accept the existence of Black people in Germany, apparently believing the development of Germany into a (visibly) migratory society to be only a recent phenomenon (forgetting or repressing any knowledge of Germany’s violent colonial history), and therefore - so the assumption goes - these new Black populations fundamentally misunderstand what German culture is.