Cultural appropriation is subjective

From class enemy to "cancel culture" : "Wokeness" also existed in the GDR - it was just called differently

The Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf recently hit the headlines as an example. The black actor Ron Iyamu had made it public that the director shouted "slave!" Several times during rehearsals. The play was Büchner's "Dantons Tod", the director Armin Petras. The premiere was in autumn 2019, it was the young actor's first role as a member of the ensemble at the Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf.

The stage had a lot of trouble with “Danton's death”. That was when it opened in 1970. At that time, angry students stood outside and announced with verve typical of the time that they wanted to grind this much too expensive, lousy temple of lies, the whole bourgeois theater. Ironically, with “Danton's death”, this timelessly valid parable on revolution and virtue terror: Robespierre sends his comrade Danton to where they all end up who once in the chorus “Freedom! Equality! Brotherhood! ”Shouted - on the guillotine.

But "slave"? There are no slaves at all at Büchner. The historical conscience of the director Petras invented the role. He put its almost forgotten Latin American sister, the Haitian Revolution, on the side of the French Revolution.

The director should have shouted in full: “Freed slave Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian revolution, your commitment!” But what do directors do on rehearsals? They even yell at the Queen of Scotland: "Come on, Stuart, get off your ass!" It was the role name, the call to action, what else?

In Iyamu's case, the medial waves were high. When Ron Iyamu explained to the director that he didn't want to be made aware of his commitment like this, Petras understood immediately and never did it again. Because of course you can and must take special sensitivities and special backgrounds into account. But racism? If anyone is the opposite of a racist, it's Petras, say colleagues.

Racism as an attribution of inescapable characteristics

In a speech to Unesco in 1971, Claude Lévi-Strauss defined racism as follows: It was “a doctrine that claims that the spiritual and moral properties attributed to a group of individuals, however defined, are the inevitable effects of a shared genetic effect To recognize heritage. ”From today's perspective one would have to ask: How does an old white man of all people come to say what racism is? Because he was an ethnologist? Because he wrote the "Sad Tropics"?

Now the whole problem could be solved so easily, especially in the theater: Why on earth does a black man have to play a (released) slave? Give the role to someone else. The essence of the theater is representation. The one who is on stage is basically not who he is portraying. And after all, Robespierre was also a woman in “Danton's Death”. Did the director think, woman and virtue terror, that fits perfectly? Then there would be the accusation of racism also that of sexism.

Cultural appropriation as the highest offense

No matter how, one of the wonderful things about theater, even more so than with film, is this possibility of changing roles. But not in that case. Blackfacing is an aporia in public space. You can also call it a taboo. No white person paints his face black! It would be hard to understand without the truly racist tradition of American minstrel shows.

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In the meantime there is also the yellowfacing taboo and the redfacing taboo, while modernity is a social constitution that accepts almost everything, only one thing absolutely not: the taboo. It also contradicts the nature of the theater, and it is not alone. In addition to the taboo of blackfacing, there is also that of cultural appropriation. No white person ever plays a non-white person!

Cultural appropriation is the greatest possible offense in the worldview of identity politics. This is also the origin of the apparently young cultural technique of cancel culture. The demand was already being voiced that roles like Shakespeare's Othello should only be cast with People of Color, if this illegitimate fantasy of a white man about the state of mind of a black man could still be played at all.

Ostler know these patterns

Descendants of the Native Americans have long been calling for the Karl May Games to be discontinued. May is the peak of fatal cultural appropriation. May was the anti-colonialist among colonialists. Puccini's “Madame Butterfly” has to go too. The image of the Asian woman conveyed here is utterly untenable.

The audience could now ask that they continue to expect one of the most beautiful arias in opera history. All the worse, identity politics would have to answer. Beauty? Beauty is always suspect. Only people with the wrong class standpoint - with the wrong identity today - speak of beauty.

Germans with a non-migrant migration background, i.e. Easterners - they came to a new country without having left their own first - recognize all too familiar patterns. In addition to the nationalism of the 19th century, the working class probably shaped the original form of identity politics. The victim status is crucial in any identity politics.

That of the working class was flawless: it had paid for the industrial revolution with its blood, its leadership later predicted with ghostly accuracy what would happen if the Germans voted for Hitler. The privileged access to the truth was well established. From here every critical position could be explained as the standpoint of the class enemy without a legitimate possibility of objection. That's what wokeness does.

We were eager for cultural appropriation

What is called wokeness today was called revolutionary vigilance yesterday. You are surrounded by a world of enemies. Know them! People who absolutely do not consider themselves to be racists should still be some. In the GDR the distinction between subjective and objective counterrevolutionary was made. In the GDR one was basically only allowed to acquire one's own culture, that is, that of the exploited and oppressed. The rest fell under cancel culture.

Cheeky people came up with the idea of ​​recognizing forerunner positions of the working class in latently hostile, for example bourgeois currents. In this way the cultural canon of the GDR became wider and wider. Yes, we were eager for cultural appropriation. We would never have come up with the idea that one would declare it a taboo of one's own free will, without coercion.

For many Easterners, the free public in the West was the greatest gain after 1990, the suddenly equal claims to truth, the unlimited, not morally censored discourse. No, we don't want the GDR back. Not their suspicious culture, not their guardian caste, including the verdicts about false cultural appropriation. Theater is always cultural appropriation, because it means familiarizing oneself with other things.

Christianity is cultural appropriation par excellence

Cultural appropriation is the essence of our species. This not only affects pieces that can or cannot be seen, it affects everything, even our gods. Let's just take that of the theater. The Greeks invented the theater, its patron god was Dionysus. A dissolute god, completely non-Greek, with his impossible cult that first immigrated from the east. A divine migrant. The muse also has a migration background. In the beginning she was only one, even the guarantor of the moral constitution of an entire non-Greek state. Wandering of the gods everywhere.

Or let's take Christianity! What a cultural appropriation. A small oriental belief in salvation became the educator of a foreign continent, which lost its native gods for it. Well, not him alone. A great educator came to his side: the Enlightenment. According to Kant, it is "the exit of humanity from self-inflicted immaturity."

What Immanuel Kant called “racism” is primarily his assumption that different groups of people have a different susceptibility to such withdrawals depending on their social development. The news of the great slave revolt in Haiti in 1791 - he was just writing “For Eternal Peace” - drew the attention of the old man in Königsberg. The slaves make the ideas of the French Revolution theirs in the middle of the Caribbean?

Not new was the news that slaves were starting riots. Something else was new: up until now, the freed slaves of Saint Domingue, as Haiti was called at the time, immediately kept slaves themselves. The insight was new, revolutionary: there should be no more slaves! A clear case of great cultural appropriation.

Moral purity as the highest value

In Georg Büchner's “Dantons Tod” Petras broadened the Eurocentric view and, as it were, placed her Caribbean sister at the side of the French Revolution. After all, the result was the first independent state in Latin America.

The verdict about “cultural appropriation” is worthy of respect as a declaration of the autonomy and untouchability of suppressed traditions, but ultimately, like all verdicts, sterile, to say the least. It cannot think history. It would have to declare the ethno-theater to be the only possible theater.

Racism proceeded from a common, unchangeable essence of those of different colors. Ironically enough, the concept of “cultural appropriation” comes back right there. And perhaps Robespierre's brothers and sisters should see “Danton's death” again in the spirit of today, because they share the same ideal with the supreme revolutionary guard: that of moral purity as the highest value.

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