Some Final Thoughts on the 2017 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

 

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Zlevor)

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

By Annie Zlevor

Throughout this trip, I encountered many difficult questions that I have been struggling to answer. After three weeks of exploring Berlin, meeting with local activists, visiting museums, and attending walking tours, I find myself only a little closer to understanding their answers. More often than not, my experiences have left me with new questions, wishing I could spend more time in Berlin. On my final day in the city, I would like to consider these questions and reflect on how my recent experiences have allowed me to more critically examine them. I hope to apply what I have learned in the course and continue furthering my understanding of identities, forms of oppression, and memorials.

First, I want to consider our navigation of identities and subjectivities. How do we see ourselves and acknowledge how others see us? This question has helped me reflect more deeply on my own positionality and how society chooses to perceive it. In the spaces I have been welcomed into during this trip, it was important for me to understand how my own experiences exist in relation to the experiences of others. Having a greater awareness of this has better enabled me to listen critically and appreciate the narratives people share. Therefore, I discovered that my primary role ought to be that of a curious listener. This blog serves as an extension of this curiosity and as an ongoing attempt to understand the marginalized communities of Berlin and my role in it.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

After speaking with local activists, I began to question how and when people decide to confront forms of oppression and when they choose to affirm or challenge stereotypes. These questions reminded me of our “Rethinking Masculinities” panel and our discussion with Post-War Generation Black German Women. Spending time with Black and Turkish activists in Berlin has allowed me to better understand how individuals chose to deal with racism and sexism. While each experience is unique to the individual, it was clear that in their navigation of public space, they are never divorced from activism. As Musa Okwonga plainly stated, “You’re Black all the time in Berlin.” And although it is the Afro-German’s right not be discriminated against and exhibit self-determination, they must to spend their life in opposition to racism. They are not getting paid to spend their time confronting oppression, yet the burden so greatly lies on them.

How people choose to confront different forms of oppression also reminded me of our discussion with Salma Arzouni about their work with Gladt and SAWA. I felt that Salma consciously and efficiently navigated what needed to be achieved in their own fight against racism and sexism. Although it is exhausting work, it seems as if they effectively prioritize their goals when trying to combat oppression in a community. As someone who works day and night to support queer communities in Berlin, Salma has to carefully decided how to spend their time. They described the sacrifices they had to make in order to achieve their short-term initiatives. For example, instead of spending their time arguing with the local government at the risk of receiving cuts to Gladt’s government funding, Salma decided to temporarily halt a particular kind of political activism. For the sake of Gladt, Salma now chooses to spend that time helping queer people secure a permanent place to live. While this achievement might not seem monumental to some, it is life-changing for those people who now have a place to sleep at night.

Memorial in Schöneberg (Mills)

Memorial in Schöneberg [Photo Credit: Nikki Mills]

Additionally, after visiting many museums and memorials, I hope to gain a greater understanding of how certain histories have been told. I personally need to take more time to consider who writes these stories. More specifically, I want to understand the implications for those who speak for themselves and those who are being spoken for. Also, it was important for me to learn more about what groups of people were involved in the creation of Jewish memorials. I was curious if Jewish-Germans often gave input on their construction and who decided what to include in it. As Sabine Offe writes in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “We do not know whether individuals, confronted with the obligation to remember, do indeed remember what they are supposed to” (79). However, while some forms of remembrance can be more accurate than others, figuring out a way to accurately commemorate an event such as the Holocaust is beyond complicated and nearly impossible to accomplish. As a result, I am reminded of the importance of looking at historical sites more critically. This causes me to further question how we decide to honor a community that is not monolithic. For instance, I hope to better understand how a memorial can erase the individual experiences of a population. As R. Ruth Linden describes in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” a generalized representation of a group of people “fails to be accountable to lives that are actually lived: situated in bodies with limited means of making sense of…world-historic events in which they participate as…cultural subjects” (27). As a result, this adds another layer to the complexities of memorials and how people choose to represent communities. I hope that we more often attempt to honor the experiences of individuals since it can be easy to erase these differences when trying to honor an entire group.

Unlike most of the Jewish memorials, there were two important instances during our trip where I noticed groups of people deliberately telling their own story: the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (FHXB) Museum and the Roma and Sinti Historical Walking Tour. The FHXB Museum exhibit was a collaborative piece that the local community came together to create. They directly told the history of the district where generations of their own families grew up. I felt this participatory exhibit was representative of strong community relationships and also much more effective in the telling the histories they chose to portray. Additionally, the Roma and Sinti walking tour did much of the same work. The Roma high school students who led the tour self-organized and researched all the material presented. Further, when I asked the students what their parents thought about the tours they were giving, they responded, smiling: “Our families are very proud.” The energy and passion the students exhibited on the tour I feel could have been easily lost if non-Roma and Sinti people led it.

Roma and Sinti Memorial (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

Lastly, after three weeks of listening to and engaging with marginalized people in Berlin, I am left wondering how I can take what I have learned out into the world. Firstly, I hope to do this by recognizing the importance of going beyond academic work. While reading and discussing articles and books are beneficial in developing a basic understand of the material, the practical application of Feminist and Gender Studies outside the classroom is a hard-fought war. By spending time both inside and outside the classroom, I feel as if I can most effectively support marginalized communities and become more consciously aware of their situation. As Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti describe in “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” if people understand the complexities of human relationships, this subsequently “drives them toward solidarity with outcasts and emboldens them to a collective struggle against the oppressors” (89). I feel my future goal must be to join this collective struggle. By knowing my place and understanding my own identity in relation to others, I feel as if I can do this and support marginalized groups in their fight against forms of oppression.

Cheers

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

2017 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Click here to view a slideshow, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see even more pictures and videos!

#FemGeniusesInBerlin 2017: Our First Two Days” by Hailey Corkery
Taking Down The Wall of Religious Intolerance: Jewish History in Berlin” by Olivia Calvi
Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni: Representation in Political Social Work” by Nora Holmes
The Anne Frank Museum and It’s Place in Contemporary Germany” by Liza Bering
The Told and Untold Stories of Berlin: A Walk-Through History” by Talia Silverstein
Navigating White Spaces: An Intersectional Analysis of Activist Work by Men of Color” by Ryan Garcia
Africa in Wedding: Germany’s Colonial Past” by Jannet Gutierrez
A Young Jew’s First Week in Berlin” by Nikki Mills
A Permanent Home for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s History: The FHXB Museum” by Annie Zlevor
The Porajmos: The Hidden Narratives of the Roma and Sinti” by Hailey Corkery
Writing Ourselves into the Discourse: The Legacies of Audre Lorde and May Ayim” by Nikki Mills
A Day in Amsterdam: Seeking the Voices at the Margins” by Olivia Calvi
‘Nobody Flees Without a Reason’: A Walk Through Berlin’s Queer History” by Ryan Garcia
Memorialization: The Past in the Present and Why it is Important Today” by Liza Bering
ADNB des TBB: Intersectionality and Empowerment in Anti-Discrimination Support Work” by Nora Holmes
Mauerpark: Graffiti as Art” by Jannet Gutierrez

To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here


Annie Zlevor Blog PhotoAnnie Zlevor is a rising junior from the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. She is an Organismal Biology & Ecology major and a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. Annie is also a pre-medicine student, and hopes to attend medical school. In her free time, Annie enjoys eating Lebanese food, going fishing with her family, and taking lots of naps. Currently, you can find her spending some time outside the lab learning about Berlin’s hidden histories. She is excited to be exploring Germany for the first time and hopes you enjoy reading about her experiences.

ADNB des TBB: Intersectionality and Empowerment in Anti-Discrimination Support Work

Photo Credit: Nora Holmes

By Nora Holmes

Though we still have one more day of activities left in Berlin, today was our last day of official sessions. I think I can speak for most of the FemGeniuses in Berlin in saying that it’s hard to believe it’s almost been the full three weeks. The feeling of our time here coming full circle is accute for me—during first week, I wrote my blog on the SAWA project with Salma Arzouni, whome we met at the ADNB des TBB office, and today, two weeks later, I’ll be writing about ADNB des TBB itself.

This afternoon, we met with Celine Barry, who works there at the Antidiskriminierungsnetzwerk Berlin Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg, which is an anti-discrimination network for people of color (PoC) and migrant individuals. ADNB provides free counseling and support for victims of all types of discrimination—racial, gender, sexuality-based, etc.—with an intersectional focus and an emphasis on empowerment and education. ADNB was originally founded by a guest worker group and focused on Turkish communities, but has since expanded to secure rights for migrants and PoCs of all social and cultural situations. The project offers various ways of supporting these individuals, from providing accompaniment to courtrooms to psychological and emotional support after incidences of discrimination.

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

Crucial to the mission of ADNB is their intersectional analysis and their empowerment approach, both of which are intricately linked to the support they provide for their clients. While discussing ADNB’s empowerment approach, Celine referenced Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed: the oppressed individuals must be the subjects rather than the objects of the social change that affects their oppression, from “participation to transformation to liberation.” These are the primary ideas of ADNB’s empowerment approach, which is centered on the autonomy of the oppressed groups and individual clients themselves. Therefore, much of the emphasis of ADNB’s work is sharing knowledge and resources with people. As Nikki blogged last week, ADEFRA is an excellent example of an organization created by a marginalized group for their own self-determination: built by and for Black German women. Along these lines, co-founder Jasmin Eding asserts in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” “Above all, our main purpose is empowerment for Black women. Self-determination, self-development, and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives” (131). Eding’s description of ADEFRA’s mission parallels ADNB: both are built by and for the marginalized groups they work with.

Throughout our conversation, Celine underlined how ADNB prioritizes an intersectional approach. An example I found to be particularly powerful was the necessity of intersectional analysis when considering anti-Muslim racism: ADNB must work around specific gendered constructs of Muslim identities. Of their 350 clients last year, 40% were Muslim, making this particular marginalized group a major recipient of ADNB’s support. And anti-Muslim discrimination is often targeted at individuals who wear headscarves, primarily women. The obvious visibility of a headscarf is an easy target for discrimination: according to Celine, these women are institutionally excluded from professions, such as police officers, judges, and schoolteachers. Incredulously, we listened as Celine explained that the government’s official reasoning for this decision was that the headscarf does not appear “neutral” enough for these professions. Despite multiple efforts, she said, attempts in court to turn back this rule based on its unconstitutional bias have not been successful up to this point.

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

On the other hand, anti-Muslim discrimination is tied in a different way to masculinity. For example, Muslim and refugee men were blamed for a 2016 incident in Cologne where dozens of women were harassed in a public square on New Year’s Eve. Prominent media shaped the event into one of the typically problematic “protect our women!” stories, with a nationalist emphasis on the tale of the “dangerous foreigners,” linking (male) Muslim and refugee identities to criminals and sexists. This rhetoric removes women’s agency by nominating them as helpless, and it reinforces damaging stereotypes about migrants that make them out to be an “alien” danger, removed from society. In response to the incident, public solidarity for the so-called refugee crisis decreased, while there were increases in violence against Muslims and migrants, racial profiling, and tightened qualifications for asylum-seekers. This is a powerful example of the interplay between cultural discourse, institutions of power, and society—one event’s portrayal in the media, based on previous prejudices, further inform conceptions of marginalized groups and influence official institutional actions.

So what exactly defines the violence and discrimination we’ve been talking about? Early on in the conversation, Celine asked us, “Where does violence start?” Who does the defining of “violence,” and for whom does this definition exist? Different people will have different answers to these questions; for ADNB’s work, the important thing is to center the answers to these questions around people of color and migrants who need anti-discriminatory support. The definition of discrimination is also complex, and ADNB navigates these grey areas with a compassionate lens, by centering the experiences of PoC. This centering solidifies itself in ADNB’s empowerment initiatives and their dedication to intersectional solutions and approaches.

Celine described two prominent examples of ADNB’s projects for us: the No Excuses Campaign, or the “Without Exception” Campaign, and their initiative to Ban! Racial Profiling. The former involves feminists working in solidarity against racism and sexual violence and navigating the intersections within these issues. The latter is a push at the institutional level to change unconstitutional laws allowing police to control unannounced (until very recently) “danger zones” of Berlin: these arbitrarily decided places in the city are determined by problematic racial profiling, and need little reasoning behind the decision of the location. Though they cover different areas, both of these projects require ADNB’s intersectional approach in order to get at the roots of the central issues they stem from. As outlined by May Ayim in “The Germans in the Colonies,” “Racism and sexism, in their multifaceted interaction, produce a situation whose complexity is not often recognized” (37). ADNB’s recognition of this complexity is crucial to these two projects.

Photo Credit: Nora Holmes

To further inform our understanding of the kind of multi-located discrimination ADNB fights against, Celine showed us a few short comedic videos made in the 90s by Kanak Attak. These videos satirize the dominance of whiteness in German society, while drawing attention to the exclusive nature of whiteness as the only authentic way to be German. In “Coming in from the Cold: The Black German Experience, Past and Present,” Marion Kraft puts it succinctly: “Until the fact that being German no longer equals being white has reached the core of mainstream German consciousness, all assertions that Germany is an anti-racist, multi-cultural society [are false]” (11). The theme of Germanness as whiteness has been a recurring one throughout the block: though organizations like ADEFRA and ADNB work incredibly hard, it’s clear that German society still has quite a lot of work to do before it recognizes and corrects racism.

We finished our conversation with Celine by talking about the current conversation around leitkultur, or hegemonic normative ideas, in German societal discourse about migrant “integration.” The interaction between cultural discourse and institutions of power in society has been a major theme in today’s discussion, as it is an important way in which socially accepted ideas are constructed and normalized. ADNB, and organizations like it, do important work to deconstruct these problematic norms for individuals who may not be able to do it alone. ADNB’s empowerment and intersectional focus, along with the official projects that they do, lay down inclusive groundwork that revolves around the oppressed communities. As we’ve learned throughout our time here in Berlin, any work that wants to have impactful change for marginalized communities must deeply involve and center around those communities. ADNB and SAWA, both of which I was privileged enough to blog about, are exemplars of this kind of work.


Nora Holmes is a rising senior at Colorado College, and is on track for a major in Organismal Biology and Ecology and a double minor in Feminist and Gender Studies and Human Kinesiology. She enjoys getting moderately lost in Berlin and using a paper map to navigate her way home. Don’t remind her mom, but though Nora grew up in Connecticut, she feels very much at home in the mountains of Colorado. She spends most of her time playing rugby, in the climbing gym, or debating the merits of different brands of peanut butter with her housemates.

Empowerment, or Support as Needed

By Nitika Reddy

IMG_0639Today was what I like to lovingly refer to as our “marathon” day. For the majority of us, it consisted of three sessions, an expedited lunch in a train station, and getting home at 6:30 pm. Now that might sound overwhelming (and yes, it was), but since this was our last day of academic sessions, I thought it was pretty fitting. CC style is always go big or go home and make it look easy. So, my classmates and I awoke this morning ready for our last day and our first session at the Antidiskriminierungsnetzwerk Berlin Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg (ADNB des TBB).

When we walked into the ADNB des TBB building, it was not hard to immediately notice the open space and welcoming atmosphere. Once inside the presentation room, we met with the equally welcoming Celine Barry, one of the five full-time staff members. She told us that this organization was founded as project of the Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB) against discrimination. While TBB focuses primarily on Turkish communities, both organizations are committed to the struggle against discrimination in general. ADNB des TBB addresses these issues through counseling and other forms of intervention regarding sexism, racism, Islamaphobia, and discrimination based on sexuality.

IMG_0641When we first got there, a lot of us expressed interest in the relationship ADNB des TBB has with the German government, since they are funded by the state. This is not unlike many of the other organizations we have visited with these past few weeks. This, of course, seems like a source of conflict, because we have seen, time and time again, countries say they care about marginalized communities without every fully listening to what needs to be done. For instance, one main goal of Germany has been the idea of “integration.” For example, in the introduction of Winter ShortsClementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo problematize this idea when claiming integration “is the carrot dangled in front of those with a so-called migration background. It will never be attained but we are told it is what we should be aiming for. We are told to keep chasing that damn carrot!” (12). But Barry was careful to explain that this was not the case with ADNB des TBB, and although the government funds ADNB des TBB, it is not a government organization. It’s an independent counseling center dealing with discrimination issues and legal support aimed at giving confidence and a voice to people.

At one point, Barry asked us why we thought counseling might be important for people in these situations. Dealing with everyday racism (even microaggressions) is exhausting, and people need to address those emotions in some way. Barry explained that it goes deeper than the classic counseling most might understand. Their counseling method revolves more around empowerment. To ADNB des TBB, it’s important to allow people to resolve their own problems while still receiving support. To help us understand this more clearly, Barry split us into small groups to discuss real cases. My group’s case was about a Muslim university student named Nura. Nura was studying Orientalism, and applied for a job at a museum specializing in that subject. She ended up having an interview, but when Nura arrived, the manager was surprised that she was wearing a head scarf. After the interview, the manager said that he would give Nura the job because she was very qualified, but only on the condition that Nura remove her head scarf. The reasoning was that it would confuse the museum customers. We struggled mainly about how to advise Nura on an individual level. More specifically, Nura needed to determine whether she would just not take the job or pursue the long, drawn out bureaucratic process of going to court. Neither option seemed satisfying.

IMG_0649As Celine pointed out, it’s also important to realize the more deep seeded importance of liberation and empowerment practices. So much of this work deals with strong power structures and oppression. When the oppressed gets empowered, the power structures in place are challenged and deconstructed in a way that immediately affects and threatens the oppressor. Barry explained that the oppressed are the only ones that can free themselves, and that eventually the liberation of the oppressed will also lead to the liberation of the oppressor.

Being in a class about intersectionality, helped us to be aware of the different intersectional issues regarding Nura’s case. An intersectional approach was beneficial when we discussed the importance of an inclusive safe space. Along these lines, Otoo writes, “Well for me Black spaces still have to work against logics of oppression. Black men need to reflect and work against make privilege every much as straight people need to think about ways the gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer people experience marginalization and violence…in Black communities” (14). Barry explained that although ADNB des TBB is a safe space, she and her colleagues are aware of the crossovers of different forms of discrimination, such as that based on language. Because of their awareness, they are able to operationalize these ideals in the empowerment strategies they implement when addressing their cases.

IMG_0645As the session ended, I couldn’t help but think about something we addressed in the very beginning of the course. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes, “We are the hyphenated people of the Diaspora whose self-defined identities are no longer a shameful secret in the countries of our origin, but rather declarations of strength and solidarity. We are an increasingly united front from which the world has not yet heard” (viii). Germany, the U.S., and other western countries do not acknowledge their problems with discrimination, which then causes them to fail to acknowledge the people being discriminated against. These acts of silencing can only really be reconciled with the oppressed finding their voices to speak out. The fact that ADNB des TBB gives that opportunity to people on the people’s terms is inspiring to see.


ReddyNitika Reddy is a rising senior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is an Economics & Business major, as well as a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. She is an avid dancer and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity. She has been traveling for the past 5 months (studying aboard in Copenhagen and visiting parts of Asia), and is finishing her 6th month of traveling with FemGeniuses in Berlin! Nitika loves reading memoirs, really any kind of film, and singly loudly in the shower. Fun fact: She is currently in a long distance relationship with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which she misses dearly!