By Amy Valencia
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
It was the first day in Berlin, and I didn’t know what to expect. When I walked outside and listened to the sounds, I realized this is one of the few instances I have experienced not understanding what people are saying. In the United States, the two dominant languages are English and Spanish, both in which I am fluent. There are rare occasions where I have absolutely had no idea what someone is trying to communicate. When I looked around, I knew I wasn’t at home anymore, because at home, I am not in the minority. I come from a predominantly Latino community where I don’t feel othered. Here in Berlin, it is quite obvious that white people are the majority, and that people of color are few and far between. Still, I was ready to take it all in.
Audre Lorde began regularly visiting Berlin in 1984. She became an influential actor and mentor in the Afro-German movement. A form of resistance against Black Germans being defined by others, the term Afro-German serves as the community defining themselves (Oguntoye, xxii). Even in the early German women’s movement, racism was a form of oppression that was rarely discussed (Schultz, xxiv). This is why Audre Lorde’s relationship to various communities in Berlin is so important. In Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, producer and director Dagmar Schultz (one of Lorde’s closest friends in Berlin) recounts a portion of this influence. By watching The Berlin Years, we learn that Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to learn from one another, to learn from African-Americans, and to seek out the history they didn’t know. For example, in the film, Lorde is shown giving a speech to a crowd of women, during which she asks the white women to leave and asks the Afro-Germans who remain to connect with one another. She asked them to begin to build a network, a community in which they can unite and give voice to the issues they face.
Lorde also emphasizes the importance of difference. In a lot of her writing, she argues that is vital that Black women acknowledge and learn from one another’s differences and recognize that there are some shared goals. One of the goals is to eliminate the fear that results from oppression. For example, she once said to many of her fellow activists, “I value myself more than I value my terrorist.” Hence, the new sense of collective identity Lorde inspired in Berlin, based in large part on this sentiment, made it possible for Afro-German women to organize and be active to change a society that had relegated them to the margins. Their actions, then, would debunk the “myth that there are no Black people in Germany, and if there are any, they have nothing of importance to say” (Eggers, 3). Subsequently, their collective voice became stronger.
Along these lines, in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging,” Dr. Maisha Eggers emphasizes that the beginning of the Afro-German women’s movement was focused on discussions about Blackness. Throughout these discussions, Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to feel like a part of a community, a community whose narratives needed to be told. In this way, it is important to write your own narrative and not let someone else write it for you. In “Troubling Categories, I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden discusses how the history we learn and/or write about is reflective of our own time, locations, and identities. For the Afro-German women whose history is still being written, it is important that their narrative isn’t lost due to others’ socialization to denigrate their experiences.
Throughout the rest of my stay in Berlin, I want to be conscious of the spaces and people we interact with and how their narratives have been and continue to be told. I want to always remember that we are in a privileged position to be outsiders within these communities and to be able to interact with marginalized communities in Berlin. Sitting by my window, I look out and think about narratives that are silenced and what has yet to be told.
Amy Valencia is a senior at Colorado College from Waukegan, Illinois. She is majoring in Political Science with a minor in Feminist and Gender Studies. She focuses her studies on immigration policy and the effects of these policies on Latin American communities. Amy is excited to be studying abroad for the first time and ready to explore Berlin!