Difference is Key: Audre Lorde and Afro-Germans

By Amy Valencia

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
—Audre Lorde

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 Winterfeldmarkt j

Audre Lorde

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.

Eggers

Aishah Shahidah Simmons (2015 Course Associate), Dr. Maisha Eggers, and Heidi

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.


ValenciaAmy 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!

The Ghost of the Third Reich: Educating Ourselves about Berlin

By Ivy Wappler

Third Reich

As the inauguration of the 2016 FemGeniuses in Berlin looms closer and closer, we FemGeniuses are finishing up our packing and preliminary assignments before we board our flights this weekend. I was grateful for the assignments, not only to keep me reasonably busy here at home, but also in the name of getting informed about Berlin before traveling there. I find that before traveling anywhere for the first time it is important to familiarize oneself with their history and culture.

There are countless arguments for being an informed traveler. Not only will ample background research help you contextualize and understand what you experience in a new part of the world, but it is also imperative to be aware of the rich history of Berlin, for example, because that history informs the nature of Berlin today. Understanding the momentous legacy of The Third Reich is a necessary precursor for exploring the city of Berlin. Our class is going to discuss various intersectional identities in this city. But how can we ever begin to understand the nuanced lives of migrant Turks or Black Germans without at least knowing about the Nazi influence that once so blatantly orchestrated white power and racialized oppression? For that reason, we FemGeniuses were assigned to watch The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall. This History Channel documentary, combined with an assortment of readings, was the beginning of my process of familiarization with Berlin, a prequel to what I expect to be a very illuminating block abroad.

The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall examines the experiences of everyday Germans in the time of the Third Reich. The focus was on how the Germans gave Hitler his power, and what their lives looked like in wartime. All mentions of Jews in the documentary were starkly less personal in nature. The film, constructed from clips of Nazi rallies, strapping German soldiers, and Germans working and recreating together, regarded the Jews were only in cold statistics, such as death tolls in concentration camps. While the documentary certainly made clear the violent and inhuman ways the Jews were treated, there was no mention of what Marion Kaplan explores in “The School Lives of Jewish Children in the Third Reich,” namely the day to day experiences of Jewish people under Hitler’s regime. Kaplan goes through lengths to describe how Jewish children were treated in contrast to their German peers. She paints a clear picture of Jews and Germans living side by side, one group drastically more oppressed by the regime than the other. I thought it interesting and wonder why The Third Reich, however, did not depict Germans and Jews interacting, or acknowledge that racial discrimination was blatant in public spaces like schools.

AyimThe Third Reich: The Rise and Fall approached race interestingly. The only races and/or ethnicities it mentions as targeted and persecuted by the Nazis were Jewish people, Poles, and Russians. There was no mention of Black people or their experiences in WWII. In “Afro-Germans after 1945: The So-Called Occupation Babies,” May (Opitz) Ayim observes that the rhetoric surrounding the Third Reich does not give space to the non-Jews who also suffered on account of their race. She notes that although Afro-Germans and Asian-Germans existed in Germany before and during the second world war, they were not considered in discussions of compensation. I wonder: Is The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall contributing to the erasure of Afro-Germans and other groups? Or is it just zooming in on particular aspects of the war?

Something I hope to discuss further that was brought up in both the documentary and some of our readings is the concept of rape in war. After WWI, Germany had ceased to be a colonial power, and some of the soldiers who occupied German territory after the war were black. There was national outrage over the fact that white German women were exposed to the black soldiers, or “wild people” (“African and Afro-German Women” 45).  It had been customary, however, in previous German military endeavors to rape foreign women. This “unwritten male right to enslave women” was never challenged until black soldiers exercised it on white German women (“African and Afro-German Women” 45). Rape in war is important to examine because it is an area where racism and sexism intersect. The Third Reich describes how the Russian Red Army raped countless German women when they invaded Berlin, probably in direct retaliation of how the Germans treated their people earlier in WWII. How did Germans justify their right to rape and pillage foreign peoples? How did Germans view their own women? What does it mean that Germans celebrated their raping of foreign women, and cried out about black men raping their own? I look forward to unpacking layered considerations of race and gender in discussions of the rape, war, and nationalism when we convene as a class in Berlin.

Audre Winterfeldmarkt j

After reading from Showing our Colors: Afro-German Women Speaking Out and watching The Third Reich,  it is clear that white guilt is a force to be reckoned with, especially in contemporary feminist circles.  The fall of The Third Reich ends with Germans being forced to go inside neighboring concentration camps and stand face to face with the inhumanity they imposed upon the Jews. At least a million Germans were then left in concentration camps to die. This was only the beginning of the reparations that Germans would be forced to make for the disaster that was WWII. White guilt has by no means been eradicated from the German consciousness, however. Audre Lorde laments German white guilt in the foreword to Showing Our Colors. Lorde has “met an immobilizing national guilt in white German women which serves to keep them from acting upon what they profess to believe” (viii). Lorde laments how white German feminists seem paralyzed, unable to accept fully who they are, their history, and their privilege. She views this as a waste of power and potential for “battles against racism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, [and] xenophobia” (viii). Contemporary white guilt is born largely from the deep footprint that both world wars have pressed into German history and culture. In the preface to Showing Our Colors, Dagmar Schultz notes that “only gradually are white women beginning to realize that accepting responsibility is a viable and necessary alternative to being paralyzed by guilt feelings” (xix). En route to Berlin, I am curious to investigate how the legacy of the Third Reich manifests itself in the modern city, and how palpable white guilt may be. In conversation with activists and academics in Berlin, I hope to examine the reconciliation of white guilt, and how German feminists are addressing it as a problematic, stagnating force that has the potential to be a source of power.

Looking more closely at our readings and watching The Third Reich has made me even more excited to take off for Germany. I feel lucky to be writing this first blog post, because I had even more reason to dwell on these assignments. The film and readings have got me thinking about the power of narratives, rape in war, and white guilt, among many other things. I look forward to gathering as a class and discussing these topics in more detail, with Berlin and its people as our classroom. Our assignments so far have given me an idea of how the ghost of the Third Reich continues to haunt the country, but I am sure there is so much more to see and learn. Given its rich history, I predict Berlin will be an especially interesting place to study the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and more.

I guess it is time to finally start packing. I certainly left that to the last minute. The art of packing light is a lesson I have yet to learn… going to challenge myself this time! Monday morning we will gather as a class for the first time and embark on our academic adventure. Safe travels to all my classmates, and see you soon!


WapplerIvy Wappler hails from Long Island Sound and is grateful to spend her summers in New England, and her winters in sunny Colorado. She is a Feminist and Gender Studies major, and an Environmental Issues minor. After school, she hopes to explore environmentally and socially responsible tourism. She may also end up reforming sex education. An avid foodie, Ivy is ready to experience Berlin through its food and drink when she’s not in class. You may find her taking walks through sunny streets, seeking out farmer’s markets and green, open spaces.

Breaking Down Barriers: A Discussion with Noah Sow

By Mackenzie Murphy

Anabolika_01Thursday morning started with us grabbing our morning coffees and settling into our classroom (sadly, for the last time). As we begin to close in on the end of week three, it is hard to believe that Berlin felt so foreign only two and a half weeks ago and now the barista at the coffee shop across the street from our classroom has become a familiar face. Our guest for the day was Noah Sow, an accomplished artist, musician, producer, author, and activist. During our discussion with her, she talked to us mostly about her involvement in the pop culture and music industry—more specifically how the structural racism in Germany played a role in her life as an artist. We got a first hand account of what Michael Schmidtke discusses in “Cultural Revolution or Cultural Shock? Student Radicalism and 1968 in Germany” regarding how racism in “culture, and in language itself [prevents society] from realizing that there might be alternative ways of living” (81).

Noah grew up in “white Catholic Bavaria,” and was introduced to music at a very young age. She learned to play several instruments, and discovered a genuine passion for expression through art. Unfortunately, she was one of the only Black members of her community. She would often be invited to perform; however, she began to get the sense that those who attended and promoted her performances were more interested in exploiting her “exotic” Blackness to the predominantly white community than appreciating her talent as a musician. Because of this, she learned to dissociate her performances from her audience in order to push past these feelings and began to perform for herself. This coincides with Jasmin Eding’s idea that “self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives in a predominately white, Christian, patriarchal society” (131) from “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To.” Noah went on to speak to us about her continued experiences in Germany, with the majority of people conceptualizing “Germans as homogeneous and white.” This construction of German identity has othered the Black community, resulting in structural racism and white supremacy, which often manifests in the media, an area in which Noah also has a great deal of professional experience.

jeannedarkfinal_smallFor instance, she sang in a studio in the 1980s for the first time, and was involved in the Euro Dance scene in the 1990s. She also spent some of the 2000s in New York in the punk rock scene, including performing with her group Anarchists of Color. Noah faced various challenges in the music scene, especially with producers. Many producers in Germany were more interested in appealing to the white German public than allowing Noah to share her own identity and art. The attitudes and restrictions imposed by these producers caused Noah to experience many of the same feelings of exploitation that she had when she was younger. In response, Noah decided she would no longer submit to this type of suppression. She then created her own record label, Jeanne Dark Records, in 2005. As Simon Arms discusses in “The Heritage of Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Scene,” art “derives its power from being on the margins of society; only from the outside can (artists) address problems within” (17). Noah’s move to produce her own music allowed her to create a space of her own, where she could voice her own experiences and art, not as an other in Germany but as an Afro-Deutsche woman.

It was obvious listening to Noah that, from a very young age, she was able to recognize the barriers she would face as a Black woman in Germany. Noah paralleled the German popular culture industry with the exploitation of Afro-Deutsche people in human zoos, which is yet another disturbing reality of German history. The point being that Germany—especially due to white supremacy and patriarchy—still exploit the Black community by dehumanizing and objectifying them for public entertainment. This may not be visible in popular culture the same way as human zoos, but the implications are equally unacceptable. Noah is an example of a person who transcends the ideals imposed upon her by creating her own space, where she “narrates her own history.”


MackenzieMackenzie Murphy grew up in New Jersey, and although she loves living in Colorado, the east coast still has a strong hold on her heart. She has been fortunate enough to have traveled within the United States, as well as to some parts of Europe and most recently to Costa Rica. This is her first time in Germany, and she’s most excited about the opportunity to travel and learn about this wonderful place with her peers. She will be a senior this coming fall, and she studies Film & New Media Studies. She also holds strong interests in Philosophy and Feminist & Gender Studies. She is currently watching the TV series The Sopranos, and her favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche.

Consumption of Culture: A Trip to the KENAKO Afrika Festival

By Jazlyn Andrews

Kenako Stage

Main Stage

We ended our jam-packed day on postcolonial theory and resistance through storytelling at the KENAKO Afrika Festival at Alexanderplatz. Upon arrival, I had a feeling of sensory overload trying to take in all the sights, savory smells, and sounds. “Shosholoza,” a song popularized in South Africa that I remember from my high school choir’s attempts at educating us on “the Other,” rang clearly in the background. In front of me were rows of booths filled with colorful tapestries and clothing alongside wooden bowls, artwork, and jewelry. The linen clothing hung on White mannequins as White consumers stared, attempting to imagine how they would look wearing a dashiki.

The first thing that struck me was the demographic of those attending the festival: apparently White Germans. I was confused and conflicted, since I hoped (naïvely) that this would be a space for the Afro-German population to celebrate in an area of their own without a fetishizing White gaze. Noticing the White vendors selling ethnic adornments or their own arts and crafts quickly brought me back down from the clouds, as I realized who the true beneficiaries of this festival were. While there were educational opportunities there—we briefly saw a panel on the integration of Africans into Germany—it was clear that they weren’t as popular. From what I could tell by peeking into the tent, it seemed the audience for the panel was more diverse than that of the consumers outside. Even though I saw posters with quotes from African scholars and activists hanging on some of the tents, no one was gathered around reading them or even taking a second glance. This made me question, what is it that makes certain aspects of African culture so desirable to predominantly White audiences?

Hair Braiding Station

Hair Braiding Station

I continued making my way through the festival, stopping to explore and talk with booth owners, when I noticed a man singing onstage. He stood center stage dancing and singing in dark dreadlocks and a red dashiki, while four men with blonde dreadlocks played their guitars and drummed behind him. Seeing this Black man performing as the four smiling White men surrounded him epitomized the festival for me: Black artwork and culture placed on display for predominantly White audiences’ entertainment. As Sandrine Micossé-Aikins and Sharon Dodua Otoo write in the “Introduction” to The Little Book of Big Visions, “Dominant White cultural producers typically consider their own art to be universal (and the art of marginalized groups to be less relevant for the mainstream population)—they are usually completely unaware of their own Whiteness and of the constraints this will have on their perspectives, their creative work, as well as on their potential audience” (10). This inflated sense of ability reared its head at the festival, as race seemed to be a non-issue for White vendors and performers selling trips to Africa, “exotic” clothing, and beaded bracelets. The meaning of the traditions and items on display flew out the window, as African culture became something they could put on for a day while they sat to get cornrows put in their hair. They could even buy a drink named “African Feeling,” if they really wanted to get in the spirit. Seeing the White shop owners profit off of African cultures reinforced the ways in which Black art is flattened to something meaningless, something that can easily be replicated by “universal” Whiteness.

After spending a considerable amount of time today discussing the horrors of Germany’s colonial past, I was reminded to pay close attention to the colonial legacies lurking in the festival. As Sharon Dodua Otoo writes in “Reclaiming Innocence. Unmasking Representations of Whiteness in German Theatre,” “The justification of the atrocities that racism, White supremacy, the Maafa and colonialism are required the extensive dehumanization of people of African descent. It required people who considered themselves to be White to regard people constructed to be Black as less than them, as unable to feel pain, as mere beings to be exploited, or perhaps patronized, but in no way to be empathized with or regarded as equals” (63). While on the festival website, the patrons of the festival claim it is “an excellent platform of cultural dialogue between Africans and Germans,” from where I was standing, there didn’t seem to be much dialogue at all. Only when I got to the other side of the festival did I see tents dedicated to workshops and organizations such as the Afrika Center, which offers German language courses and various workshops, including one on how to interview for jobs. These spaces looked barren in comparison to the rows of food and other goods and services. African culture, history, and people, then, became a commodity for exploitative consumers.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” —Desmond Tutu

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
—Desmond Tutu

Even though I wished the festival would be different, I can’t say I am really surprised that I saw an “Asia Food” restaurant selling chicken nuggets next to cocktail bar selling “exotic” drinks. Ultimately, the festival reminded me of the importance of having spaces of self-definition. As Jasmin Eding, co-founder of ADEFRA writes in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” “Self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives in a predominantly White, Christian, patriarchal society” (131). It is critical that such spaces of exploration, self-definition, and resistance exist outside the White heteropatriarchal supremacist gaze; otherwise, our voices will continue to be silenced and repackaged for White consumers.


JazlynJazlyn Andrews hails from Grinnell, IA, so she is a pro at navigating corn mazes, driving tractors, and tipping cows. When she isn’t out in the fields, she enjoys majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and minoring in Race & Ethnic Studies at Colorado College. On the weekends, she likes to binge watch House of Cards, obsess over her corgi, Biscuit, and be goofy with friends. When she’s less lazy, she likes to go for runs, have solo dance parties to “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae, and listen to music outside in the sun. Her future plans include finishing up her final two years at school, then hopefully either moving back out to Seattle, WA to pursue a writing career or attending graduate school to extend her studies.

Stories of Blackness with Asoka Esuruoso and Noah Hofmann

By Breana Taylor

IMG_8973Often when we think of storytelling, images of bedtime stories or campfire stories come to mind. However, for Asoka Esuruoso, storytelling is how we relay the accounts of our lives and connect with people around us. For this reason, Esuruoso prefers not to refer to herself as an artist, though she performs spoken word, makes film, and is a writer. Instead, she calls herself a storyteller. Through her work—ranging from books she’s written and co-edited, her spoken word and films—Esuruoso shares the stories of those that are often silenced. Born in Boston, Esuruoso grew up in the U.S., and attended Columbia University for her undergraduate years. While living in the U.S., she noticed that racism was different from the racism she experienced in Berlin. Since she wanted to be an activist and use her degrees to help with her activism, she decided to move back to Berlin. In Berlin, she earned a Master’s of English from Freie Universität with an emphasis on Post-Colonial Literature and Post-Colonial Political Theatre. Her studies were not the only things keeping her busy; in addition to attending class, Esuruoso found Berlin’s social setting to be a second home. Activism, specifically, was something she knew would be a part of her life, having participated in activist works while in the U.S. In response to questions about how racism and activism are different in the U.S. and Berlin, Esuruoso spoke the more expensive cost-of-living in the U.S., and how as an African American Woman whose mother is African American and whose father is Nigerian, the activism she partook in too often privileged the experience of African Americans and was lacking in a Pan-Africanist approach.

Additionally, while in Berlin, Esuroso claims racism was much more blatant and obvious—people approach her for drug and hyper-sexualize her body with their gazes and questions, like what is your price? Having read some of Esuruoso’s work, especially Arriving in the Future: Stories of Home and Exile (a collection she co-edited with Philipp Khabo Köpsell), prior to meeting her, I was particularly struck by the moment in her short story, “Chasing Stars,” in which she writes about her grandmother, “I had asked her about blackness and happiness…Was it possible to have both? I wanted, no, needed to know. Was it possible to be both?” (2). This passage resonates with me, because through Esuruoso’s work, she exposes and gives a voice to silenced communities, promoting the culture of Afro-Germans. As a result, she proves that the relationship between happiness and Blackness do exist.

IMG_8974Germany is a country like many others in that many of its citizens refuse to accept the structural racism that is perpetuated on an institutional level against marginalized people. Along these lines, Esuruoso spoke about how racism is embedded into the structure of the country on a legal level. For example, a landlord can legally refuse to rent property to a Black person and other people of color on the grounds of not being comfortable or wanting to keep peace amongst their tenants. Another way Berlin specifically refuses to come to face with their racist society can be seen in some of their museum exhibits. Along these lines, Noah Hofmann, who also joined our session, spoke about Black people in Germany and how their narratives have been absent from mainstream Germany history. Hofmann identifies as a Black German, and is a writer and activist. His work addresses Blackness in Berlin and exposes the history and issues of the Black community in this country. Fortunately, we had Hofmann correctly inform us that the history of Black people in Germany actually dates all the way back to 450 AD, despite the common conception that Black Germans did not have a presence until much later. Moreover, Black German history can also be traced to the Holocaust, during which they also spent time in concentration camps. Black people also migrated to Germany post WWII, during which Black soldiers (from France, the U.S., and other countries) were assigned to come to Germany. Subsequently, many of them had relationships with White German women from which children came about as a consequence. Hence, we know now that Black people have been in Berlin and were never not present.

Present in both Esuruoso and Hofmann’s discussion was the use of the word “Afro-German” and how important it is to the Black German community, because it created “a conscious endeavor to discard derogatory (German) terms connoting Blackness” (Eggers 3). As a result of the coining of the term, various movement began in order to contest “dominant myths such as the claim that there are no Black people in Germany, and if there are any, they have nothing of importance to say” (Eggers 3). Both Esuruoso and Hofmann spoke about the power of this term and how it was monumental to the Black German community finding a voice in a country where they were isolated and lacked a sense of community amongst themselves. Still as Hofmann heavily emphasized throughout his discussion, White Germans still feel all too comfortable with eradicating Black history from German history, hoping to also eradicate racism from German history. As Jasmin Eding claims in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want to,” “Self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives” (131). Through all of this very important work, I see that Afro-Germans are alive, as is their history.


Breana Kathleen Taylor

While studying at Colorado College, Breana Taylor realized that feminism is a passion of hers, which is convenient, because she recently decided to declare her major in Feminist & Gender Studies. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Breana is no stranger to traveling or to being around lots people. Having grown up in a large family and with a father in the military, she enjoys being exposed to new environments and the experiences that come with being in new places. During her down time, she enjoys reading, stand-up comedy, and listening to movie soundtracks. Feminism has brought nothing but good things to her life, such as new perspectives on women, race, and gender, and how to think critically about these things and more. Being a member of the FemGeniuses is such an honor, and she cannot wait for the opportunity to grow in her knowledge on feminism across the globe!