The direct actions that took place across the US yesterday on Martin Luther King Day were accompanied by calls to reclaim Dr. King’s legacy, and highlight his commitment to radical action. They also served as a testament to the resilience and vision of the social movement galvanized in the wake of Mike Brown’s murder. From New York City to Oakland, Black Lives Matter has become a rallying cry for Black communities in the face of systematic racial discrimination and police brutality.
In a recent interview with George Yancy for The New York Times, Judith Butler weighed in on the potency of the nascent movement and the power of public gatherings.
Philosopher and professor in rhetoric at the University of California (Berkeley), Judith Butler, born in 1956, made her name in the English-speaking academic world a quarter of a century ago with the publication of her Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. This complex work, which has now become a classic, has nothing in common with the ‘gender theory’ recently invented by the opponents of gay marriage.
Far from having invented gender studies, which have been taught in American universities since the early 1960s and which sought to distinguish anatomical sex from socially or psychically constructed gender identities, Judith Butler was rather more of an iconoclastic heir to them. Basing herself on the French thought of the 1970s – from Simone de Beauvoir to Jacques Lacan – in her 1990 work she gave due focus to life on the ‘border lines’, arguing that sexual difference is always fluid and that transsexuality (the conviction that one belongs to another sex), for example, could be a way of subverting the established order and refusing the biological norm. Butler had herself very early in life found herself in a situation outside the norm, lacking in borders, on account of her identity as a Jewish woman raised as a Jew but critical of the policies of the State of Israel.