By Melissa L. Barnes
Sunday night, Heidi, Kaimara, Celine, and I decided to attend an homage to Stuart Hall at Balhaus Naunynstraße. The event was not on the syllabus, so the FemGeniuses were not required to attend. We did not even learn about the event until a few days ago, after we met with Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück. I asked Cassandra about the presence or absence of discourse regarding mental health within Afro-German communities. According to Cassandra, unfortunately, there really is not a lot of literature or academic discourse regarding Black people’s mental health. As I was looking through a program for the 2011 Black Women’s European Conference Cassandra was telling us about, I found a biography of a woman named Grada Kilomba. Grada Kilomba is a professor, writer, and clinical psychologist who studies and writes about trauma, post-colonialism, and racism. She lives in Berlin and, luckily for us, she was a panelist at the homage to Stuart Hall.
At the event, we watched two documentaries followed by a quick discussion with the directors of the documentaries and Grada Kilomba. The first documentary, Riots Reframed, directed by Fahim Alam, examined the 2011 London riots. Instead of depicting the riots as an event of mindless criminality, Alam portrays an alternative narrative claiming that those who riot do so with common ideas about the oppressions they are fighting. Rioters are not mindless; all humans have a brain and, when asked, rioters have clear reasons as to why they are uprising. Regarding the London riots, participants stated that the riot was anti-police criminality with the shooting and killing of Mark Duggan being one of the triggers. Not only were people extremely angry about the murder of Mark Duggan but this brutality also brought to the forefront the negative experiences they often had with the police.
The second documentary, Absent from the Academy, was directed by Nathan E. Richards. This documentary was about a lack of Black professors in British universities, possible solutions to this issue, and comparisons to the United States’ higher education system. Professors and scholars interviewed in the movie theorized that the higher education system in the United States is more willing to hire Black professors than in Britain. Even those interviewed from the United States have said this. I find this extremely disturbing, because Black professors and even Black staff are tremendously underrepresented in the United States, unless you are at a historically Black college (HBCU). Throughout this class, I have constantly been surprised at the perception that the United States’ culture is more flexible and welcoming to Black people than Germany and Britain. For example, at Colorado College there is a lack of Black professors; yet, the presence of even a small number of Black people is an achievement within certain European countries.
While I enjoyed both documentaries, I have had time to think more critically about the two since the event. I am a bit disappointed regarding the lack of intersectional analysis within each documentary. More specifically, I was a bit disappointed by the absence of Black women’s perspectives during both films, especially in Absent from the Academy. However, even in Riots Reframed, Alam clearly focused predominantly on men’s perspectives. Audre Lorde, as well as many other Black feminists, explicitly fought for Black women’s rights to voice their unique experiences due to their race, gender, sexuality, age, class, and other important aspects of their identity. I think a more nuanced analysis of riots and academia will be even more salient if women are accepted as different, but not other, in these spaces.
This fall, Melissa will be starting her final year as a student at Colorado College, double-majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and Psychology. This fall, she is planning to apply to Ph.D. programs in Clinical Psychology.