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Riots Reframed and Absent from the Academy: An Homage to Stuart Hall

By Melissa L. Barnes

Stuart Hall Event

Kaimara and I

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.

Grada Kilomba

Grada Kilomba

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.

Panel

L to R: Fahim Alam (Riots Reframed), discussion moderator, Grada Kilomba, and Nathan E. Richards (Absent from the Academy)

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.

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MelissaThis 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.

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Our First Weekend in Berlin

In planning this course, I decided to include mandatory activities in the mornings and afternoons on weekdays so that the students and I could have our weekends “free” to explore the city. I did tell the FemGeniuses about most of the things I had planned in case they wanted to join me for some things. So, on Saturday, I planned to visit the Berlin Dungeon. The problem is that I didn’t pay attention to the fine print on the tickets, so I didn’t know that we shouldn’t wait in line for the English tour. So, we ended up missing it and had to come back on Sunday. That meant that I spent most of Saturday hanging with Celine.

Celine Pergamon Museum

Celine at the Pergamon Museum

First, we visited the Pergamon Museum. Even though Celine grew up in Berlin, she’s been enjoying some of our official tourist activities, because we both are learning a bit more about the “official” narrative of Berlin. This is importance, since we both are also invested in studying and teaching narratives that are often silenced in these spaces. Along these lines, we thought we may have invented the discipline Critical Tourism Studies, but I see now—after a quick Google search—that this already exists. Haha. The Pergamon Museum was full of lots of fascinating things that were “excavated” by Germans from various places and during various times. At one point, the woman in my headphones said something like, “This room is full of items from various times and various places in order to give you an idea of what a mansion might look like.” I thought that quite odd, but also quite telling about the ways in which Africa—the entire continent, of course—is still often constructed as a place outside of time or specificity. I didn’t take copious notes, but see pictures here!

OTA Kitchen

Stefani, Melissa, and Beril in their New Kitchen

On Sunday, the FemGeniuses moved from their two separate apartments into one. This is the apartment I planned for them live in for the entire course, but I booked them too late and had to separate them for the first week. I think they’re all glad to be together, and of course, the apartments are just as beautiful as they are when Tony and I visited them in November.

OTA Bedroom

Melissa and Kadesha in their New Bedroom

While the Zehdenicker Straße are a bit further from the classroom, they’re also a bit closer to me, and while the Greifswalder Straße students are a bit further from me, they’re also a bit closer to the classroom. So, this is really the ideal location.

Brunch

The FemGeniuses at Café Hilde for Brunch

We also had a group brunch at Café Hilde, which was really nice.

Berlin Dungeon

Heidi, Casey, Kadesha, and Kaimara after the Berlin Dungeon Tour

Later, Casey, Kadesha, Stefani, Blaise, Melissa, Kaimara, and I went back to the Berlin Dungeon, which is “a 60 minute journey into 700 years of Berlin’s horrible history.” Yes, 700 years in one hour. I got the sense from visiting the website that this was a semi-scary, amusement-park type place, but it was scarier than I thought. People jumped out at us in scary costumes. We were “trapped” in a maze of mirrors. A butcher locked us in a dark room where fake knives poked us in our chairs. Yes, it was something else. At one point, we entered a mock courtroom in which Stefani was put on trial for “murdering the fashions” in Berlin. That was pretty funny, but I think Stefani felt a bit strange being put on display. I think my son will enjoy this when he comes, but I think my daughter will be having none of it. Haha. I would share pictures, but we weren’t allowed to take them inside.

RfR

Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz (Sesperado Lyrical Guerilla)

Later that evening, I met Celine’s family and we walked around Kreuzberg for a bit. We also visited the Roses for Refugees at Oranienplatz, which is organized by AfricAvenir International, AFROTAK TV CyberNomads, Berlin Postkolonial, Bühnenwatch, glokal, Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, and Tanzania-Network. Roses for Refugees has been happening every evening at 6 pm from April 13 until June 21 in order to express solidarity with and show support for refugees. On this day, Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz (Sesperado Lyrical Guerilla) read poetry and a short story. At one point, he read, “Sometimes our brain races away from our soul.” Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about what this means for those of us committed to justice. I often find myself asking my students and myself to listen and to be compassionate—to not let our brains run away from our souls—as we think about ways in which we can try to change the world.

RfR III

Police Conducting Surveillance of Roses for Refugees

During his reading, I turned slightly to my left and noticed two police vehicles conducting surveillance of the park. I asked, “What are they doing here?” and Celine responded that they sit there 24/7, in shifts, watching the park, policing the refugees and their comrades. She told me that folks who sleep in the park aren’t allowed to have blankets and that the police will arrest and deport anyone who doesn’t abide by this and/or other unjust laws. This, of course, reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” It seems, then, that police and government in Berlin, similar to what I know about the police and government in the United States, has allowed their brains to run away from their souls.

Rfr II

Roses for Refugees

One of my new comrades in Berlin, Sharon Dodua Otoo, is an instrumental force for Roses for Refugees, and when I posted a short video of Mutlu reading his work in the park, she asked if the FemGeniuses would be interested in reading poetry on Wednesday night. In honor of the late Maya Angelou’s life, we’ll read from her work. In doing so, I hope that we remember more wise words from Mutlu—“Not because they’re evil but because they’re people.” It seems that part of the human condition entails denigrating, subjugating, marginalizing, victimizing, and hurting each other. Not because they’re evil but because they’re people. Not because we’re evil but because we’re people. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only other way to live is to fight, to resist. To know that we will live…fighting, resisting. To know that we will die…fighting, resisting. With a heavy heart, Celine and I—with Celine’s friend Ana—joined Melissa and Kaimara in order to attend an event honoring the life of the late Stuart Hall at the Balhaus Naunynstraße. I actually wasn’t aware of this event—Melissa found out about it after doing some research on Grada Kilomba—so I didn’t require the other FemGeniuses to attend. Also, I decided to let Melissa blog about it, so you can read more about it when I post it tomorrow or Wednesday. So for now, I’ll just end writing that I am truly honored to be here in Berlin learning so much and having an opportunity to also share my own knowledge. It really is helpful to know that we are not alone in the struggle.

More to come!

Heidi