Taz debate on trash column: who speaks? Who is silent?

The taz consists of many very different voices. But not all of them speak under the same conditions.

So many windows, so many perspectives. taz building in Berlin-Kreuzberg Photo: Paul Langrock

This text is part of an internal editorial debate about the column "All cops are professionally unfit" by our author:in Hengameh Yaghoobifarah. There will be further, contradictory texts in the coming days.

In the department taz zwei, which I head, we published a column by Hengameh Yaghoobifarah last Monday, with which many colleagues disagree. I read the column as a polemical and satirical-grotesque critique of a power structure, a monopoly on violence, and a series of unexplained and unchecked murders in Germany. I read it in the context of the current political situation because: how else?

I stand by the author, as does the department, and many other colleagues have already expressed their solidarity directly, internally or publicly. This debate reveals a deeper conflict within the taz, said Editor-in-Chief Barbara Junge, and she is absolutely right. It is a tradition that major internal conflicts – and, if you look closely, minor ones as well – are played out in the paper. But not everyone thinks this form of debate is a good thing under the circumstances.

What the furor over the taz-zwei column is currently revealing above all is that we are not all the same within the editorial team. On the one hand, because solidarity is something that is not granted to everyone to the same extent and without hesitation.

On the other hand, because the word "identity politics" is repeatedly used by some, mostly white, colleagues to deny competence, reason, objectivity, or relevance to authors, editors, and department heads who see themselves as BPoC (Black People and People of Color). As if, in the end, it were a matter of being affected versus not being affected. But in a society there can be no non-affectedness of the affectedness of others.

He who is without identity, throws away his identity.

It is astonishing that these colleagues assume that they themselves are objective and without identity. As if they were not born into a family with a history, with experiences, with money or without, perhaps in the East or in the West. As if they do not see the world from a white perspective – as a woman, as a man, as a person.

As if they could not be fanned out just as individually into the respective speaker position, which is decisive for everything they say. It is precisely the private that is political, and basically everything is identity politics.

Nevertheless, it seems quite helpful to some people to repeatedly attest BPoC a victim attitude, while they themselves mime the "neutral" observers on their little pedestal, which they have carefully fattened over the years.

The disappointment of being dismissed as BPoC with the killer argument "identity politics", as the authors/colleagues did in the last issue of the taz at the weekend, is especially great in a house like this.

"All Lives Matter" take with frills on it.

Because the taz is an environment in which other emancipation efforts are understood and supported, such as those of women or homosexuals. In each case not always flawless and in some cases still with room for improvement, but the basic consensus seems to be there.

Monday: The column "Habibitus" by taz author:in Hengameh Yaghoobifarah appears in the print edition of taz and on our website.

Tuesday: The German Police Union (DPolG) files criminal charges "for incitement of the people and all other possible offenses" against the taz. DPolG chairman Rainer Wendt says: "How hateful, degenerate and full of violence do you actually have to be to write down such disgusting thoughts?" The police union (GdP) is also filing criminal charges. News agencies report.

Wednesday: In the taz, the discussion about the text continues. The staff is divided between critics and supporters. Enraged comrades cancel their subscriptions. Author and actor Schlecky Silberstein defends the column on Deutschlandradio Kultur: "Because this text is a very clear satire. Anyone who doesn’t understand it first has an individual problem."

Thursday: The CSU publishes a profile on Twitter with a photo of the author:in and writes: "The ugly grimace of the hateful left in Germany shows itself. (…) SHE wants to dispose of police officers as garbage on the dump!" For this she reaps a shitstorm, the columnist:in experiences solidarity. Later, the tweet is deleted. Markus Blume, Secretary General of the CSU, apologizes on Twitter: "Our criticism of @tazgezwitscher is correct, the form was not."

Friday: Satirist Jan Bohmermann defends the taz against the police in his podcast "Fest & Flauschig". (sis)

Saturday: In taz am wochenende, editor-in-chief Barbara Junge announces an internal but open debate about Hengameh Yaghoobifarah’s column. To kick things off, Stefan Reinecke criticizes the text under the headline "We need to talk."

In contrast, BPoC’s equality is readily dismissed in convoluted lectures as neoliberal or simply self-serving. It’s basically an "All Lives Matter" take with a few frills on it. Gaslighting, that is, a form of manipulation by which it is implied that the will to stand up for one’s own rights comes solely from a motivation to devalue others, or at the cost of having to tacitly accept other grievances.

The Tagesspiegel has raised another point in the debate: "Sharp critics of Yaghoobifarah’s column in the ‘taz’ editorial office imagine police criticism differently – for example, when researching the extreme right-wing Northern Cross network or reporting on racial profiling". And yes, of course, that is one of the taz’s strengths.

But the departments are autonomous, they decide for themselves what they publish and which topics they devote themselves to – that is also a strength of the taz. To play off one form of journalism against the other, to weigh it up or subordinate it, would limit the taz in its possibilities of expression.

Anger as racist attribution

Serious journalism seems to many to be possible only by looking at others without recognizing oneself. Without becoming emotional. Under no circumstances should you even get angry as a BPoC, that is readily interpreted as hate.

The fact that anger can be a racist attribution is not a problem. But at the same time, please be angry when it suits you, for editorial debates, for journalistic contributions. And then again it is insinuated that it is all about clickbaiting and attention.

Nothing has ever changed because people have asked so nicely. For some things, you have to go out on the street, fight for a place in the predominantly white editorial offices, or write with a sharp pen.

Stefan Reinecke writes: "With a biography as a gay, urban migrant, more capital can be generated on the attention markets than with an existence as a normal person in Eisenhuttenstadt", and there’s really not much more that can be said about that, except: You can have this "capital" and the trauma is free.

Reinecke also writes that the taz has "written a lot of nonsense in 40 years. It had been libertarian and permeable to currents, but then he compares the column that appeared with, of all things, articles that defended the RAF or child abuse – i.e. real violence – which not only establishes a connection where there is none, but also completely disregards power relations.

Fig leaf existence with hate speech guarantee

Working as a BPoC in a German editorial office usually means having to conduct many debates, some of them very hurtful. The last one was usually not 20 years ago, but just two weeks ago. It means resisting being used as a diversity fig leaf. And it also means having to share private experience every now and then when something needs to be illustrated that is beyond the experience of the majority society.

For many, it means working in subject areas where there is little prestige but all the more hate speech. And for some, it means defying the basic discursive rules that others have established. Because societies have never changed because people asked so sweetly.

In a society, there can be no unaffectedness by the affectedness of others

For some changes, one has to take to the streets, fight for places in the majority white editorial offices, write with a pointed pen or, as was done in the taz in 1980 for the women’s quota, resort to completely different means and expose oneself.

The hatred and threats that our author:in has been facing for almost a week now are simply unacceptable. Showing solidarity and acting in the interest of the author’s safety and protection has nothing to do with "esprit de corps," as Bettina Gaus writes. That should be the minimum common ground in this newspaper.

This is also our taz

In the past few days, many readers have criticized the fact that a counter-voice was not already printed in the taz at the weekend alongside the articles on the internal debate that had already been published. The editors-in-chief and the responsible Redakteur:innen looked for someone and asked many BPoC in the house whether they want to write.

Gays get more capital in the attention markets? You can have this "capital" and the trauma for free.

I didn’t want to put my name under a text that was there solely to legitimize the form, tone, or framework of other texts. I didn’t want to write a text that would be a part of a debate that would help fuel further outrage and threat. For me, that would not have been participation on an equal footing, but a free place within a framing.

And I was probably not the only one with this thought. The wording of the texts that appeared was not yet clear to me when I rejected them, and in retrospect I should perhaps have done things differently.

My primary goal was not to stab Hengameh Yaghoobifarah in the back. Now I am writing here anyway, because it is also my taz. And it is also Hengameh Yaghoobifarah’s taz.