By Beril Mese
This morning, we met Jamile da Silva e Silva of Solidarisch, Unabhängig, Sozial, International Interkulturelles Frauenzentrum (S.U.S.I.) to discuss migrant women in Germany and the work she is doing to help alleviate the struggles they face. S.U.S.I. supports migrant and refugee women, with different language options, and provides psychological counselling as well as events and art exhibitions. Jamile also works as a course instructor/speaker at Frauenkreise, where many of our seminars for this course are being conducted, including this session. She is from Brazil, but she moved to Germany three years ago with her husband and child from Sweden after completing her Master’s degree in Gender Studies. As a Black woman, she had many stories to tell us about racism on institutional and interpersonal levels.
She told us that the most challenging thing about first coming to Germany was learning the language, because one can only be an outsider without language fluency. She also discussed the institutional racism she faced while applying for citizenship here, having been told that she had to learn German. This demand was made under the assumption that she was uneducated, but once she presented paperwork about her degrees, the demand was revoked.
This kind of bureaucracy sounded familiar to me. Her struggles were similar to the dehumanizing experience many people have when applying for visas. The process involves asking for specific documents and facing a dense, unwelcoming atmosphere, such as when Turkish people attempt to immigrate to countries like Germany, England, or the United States. This is a reason why I don’t travel to Europe often. I think the strict racist bureaucracy Schengen countries enforce on “third world” citizens is successful in demotivating people like me.
We also discussed the subtle and overt types of racism Jamile has faced as a migrant Black woman who is married to a white German man. She told us about the automatic assumptions people make about her marriage. Many assume that she got married in order to become a German citizen and that her husband saved her from a miserable life. This also leads to the assumption that she is uneducated and therefore not a source of legitimate opinions and knowledge. Having people assume superiority over her has been frustrating. For example, while she was attending an event to support refugees, she spilled soup on her top and had to wash it in the toilet sink. While she was doing this, wearing only in a bra, a woman walked in and after a short shock, attempted to give her jacket to Jamile, saying that she already has many and would like to give her this one. From Jamile’s perspective, this is very frustrating, because she wasn’t asked what was going on and her skin colour was the only thing that determined this woman’s actions.
It was an interesting talk, because Jamile was full of stories and examples from her own life. We talked about current racism and how it affects white people, which sparked up Heidi, as well. Jamile and Heidi were on the same frequency about how they feel about racism today, so their similar opinions resonated together greatly. What I mean by this is that it was a topic of passionate discussion. As a light-skinned person, I learn a lot from listening to more of the perspectives of Black women on racism and colourism, because the more I hear, the more I reflect on my actions, opinions and prejudices.
Jamile was a very inspiring woman who is doing great work here in Germany, where the progressive activism is still very white and the engrained racism is prevalent.
Beril Mese is starting her senior year at Colorado College this fall as a Music major. Her plan for life is to explore different cultures and its different aspects such as their music, social changes, and philosophies, etc. This means that she will be a very broke person.