‘Hate speech does not exist without history,’ activist Carolin Emcke says in Barcelona

Queer philosopher discusses fight for freedom and rights at Biennial of Thought festival

Carolin Emcke and Miquel Missé speak on stage during their Biennial of Thought conference
Carolin Emcke and Miquel Missé speak on stage during their Biennial of Thought conference / Cillian Shields

Maxime Van Cleven | Barcelona

October 14, 2022 11:56 AM

October 14, 2022 04:45 PM

German author and activist Carolin Emcke spoke about hate speech, the battle for equality, and the preservation of human rights at the Centre of Contemporary Culture in Barcelona on Thursday. “In Spain they call me an activist, I just write as a queer person,” Emcke said. She was joined by trans activist Miquel Missé to share experiences and thoughts with a young audience.

“Hate is not hereditary or a normal human characteristic,” the philosopher explained to an auditorium full of students on the third day of the biennial. “It is a designed mechanism that makes people turn against those with differences and roots from both within the self and history. You can’t talk about hate without mentioning history. Racism does not exist without colonisation or slave trade. If you want to create a true democratic society, you have to speak on what happened in the past,” she added.

Carolin Emcke and Miquel Missé talk about freedom on Biennial of Thought Barcelona / Cillian Shields

Emcke began the talk by explaining her will to understand the history of her country: “As a German I feel partially responsible for crimes of the past.” As a result, she wants to help the world become a more respectful and equal place for everyone, which is not an easy task. “Democracy depends on every single one of its citizens. Pushing back hate takes a lot of energy and thinking. Politics often tries to split the youth and instrumentalize gender to raise hate. All parties try to attract teenagers in a very influential phase, but they have very little interest in solving their problems,” the philosopher said on stage.

The essential message the duo wanted to give the audience was to become the person you want to be and to keep fighting for freedom of expression. Missé started the talk openly by saying he is trans. “Why should I hide it if it is a normal thing to be? I’m much more than just trans, but it is an important part of my identity.” Emcke continued on the topic of normalization: “When I go to a gay bar, I go there to not feel gay for a while.”

A continuing fight

The audience gave a strong reaction to a recent video that went viral in Spain of a group of boys calling girls ‘whores’ in Madrid, using tradition as an excuse. The speakers wanted to hear the reactions of the crowd of mainly students and after someone claimed that it was just meant as a joke, one girl responded: “It is wrong to push women into thinking that being called names is normal. It should not happen and they should not have to bear with it.” After a strong applause, Emcke touched on the topic of tradition: “You can not hide behind tradition and think that makes words okay. Most traditions are old fashioned and need to be updated.”

Missé added a lot of character to the conversation about having to fight for differences. “When I was in school, people did not understand what being trans was like. I got bullied and it felt horrible, but I was brave and made it out. It feels like they tried to kill me, but I survived.” In addition, he asked the young attendants to change their perspective: “We put a lot of focus on those who hate, but we should check in on the victims more. They feel lonely, isolated and disoriented.”

After having experienced difficult stages in life, the activists are happy to inspire a young audience. “I did not know anyone else that was trans when I was young and needed someone to share my thoughts with. Today I am here as a reference point, because there is a good chance of someone else in this room being trans as well,” Missé happily concluded.

Carolin Emcke returns to the Biennial of Thought on Saturday to speak about new forms of facism. Similar activities are happening until this Sunday and are listed in this guide.