Activism: To the Blogosphere and Beyond!

By Lila Schmitz

Grrrls Team ILast night, I was up late. As the drizzle pitter-pattered on our window, Amelia and I joined the chorus around the globe of the vocal chords forming the sounds of tragedy. The feeling of pain and fear in our guts was enough to keep eyes open and minds muddled. As Amelia spoke on their feelings of hurt and powerlessness, I recalled Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s message about the necessity of activist self-care. In musing about my latest musical obsession, Akala, I had to share his words with Amelia: “The only way to ever change anything is to look in the mirror and find no enemy,” adding, “But I think it’s more than that, it’s more than ‘no enemy.’ It’s about being good and healthy first.”

We woke without the springing bounce that seemed to guide us out of bed over the past week. In my grogginess, I made it at least a block from the apartment before realizing my shorts may not have been the most appropriate choice on this chilly, damp morning. On the train, I pieced together, with the aid of good ol’ Google Translate (complete with a downloadable offline feature!), a headline about the massacre that read, “[Donald] Trump Calls for Obama’s Resignation.” I wish the permeation of the former’s overused name into this German headline had been a jolting surprise, but alas, since arriving in Europe three weeks ago, I’ve noticed it more than ever. While in London, I read an opinion piece in The Evening Standard, which claimed, “The Trump phenomenon would be a little less alarming were it confined to America. But it is merely the most dramatic instance of what looks increasingly like a pan-Western pathology.” The extensive transnational effect of the United States makes me worry tenfold about the aftermath of the events of this election season and this Sunday morning could have around the world.

In “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution,” Erik N. Jensen explores transnational collective memory, as it bridges between Germany and the United States. Jensen finds, “Films, plays, historical studies, and commemorative strategies produced in one country have often found a receptive audience in the other” (339). Yet, he also explores the dichotomy that exists as the gay community in the United States finds the Jewish Holocaust “a template for understanding the persecution of homosexuals, [while] the German gay community has avoided this comparison” and looks to the history of the United States (342). By appropriating the story of the Holocaust in association with German gay movements, the United States is able to elevate itself above the level of that sort of inhumane oppression by “othering” the terrors of the foreign. Meanwhile, Jensen notes the German commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in the United States, an act of not only solidarity, but also adopted history, leaving me to wonder what could happen if our histories begin to cross again in the current political climate.

This is where my mind is as we sit, again in Each One Teach One, to hear from Magda Albrecht and acclamie, writers for the largest German feminist blog: “Mädchenmannschaft” (“Grrrls Team” in English). Magda and acclamie sit at the front of the room in cushioned chairs in a laid back, talk-show style, next to Heidi, who “feels like Oprah.” Today, the show is a continuation of the special series: “How to Live as an Activist,” Episode: “Blogging.” acclamie and Magda introduce the history of “Grrrls Team” and its development over its nine year lifespan. Coming to fruition in 2007 at the hands of three young white women, this blog family is now composed of fourteen writers, and has resulted in 4,500 posts that have received 51,000 comments.

The “Grrrls Team” writers, like most activists, work for a gain that exists outside the realm of capitalism ($0 per hour, after taxes). Magda is a self-proclaimed musician and political educator, doing events management to “pay the rent.” Her dress has smiling hot air balloons of different pastel colors, and she refers to herself as the “Grrrls Team granny,” as she is currently the longest standing writer, having joined the blog in 2009. She works specifically in queer feminism and fat activism. acclamie chooses to use a pseudonym for job safety reasons, but it also allows her freedom of voice that Magda writes without. “I’m still scared to hit the publish button!” Magda tells us. “Wow, really?” acclamie exclaimed, as she hasn’t fully realized the power of her own pseudonym until today. Both women found feminism in returning to Germany from studying abroad in “anglophile” countries, the U.S. and the U.K. They laugh, remembering the feminism they were reading at the time and reflecting on their constantly developing activism. acclamie finds that social change “takes for fucking ever.” “Things reconfigure, but do they really change?” she wants to know.

The writers tell us about the slow introduction of intersectional feminist theory throughout the years at “Grrrls Team.” For instance, for their fifth anniversary, they celebrated with panelists and other invited activists, but as happens in the world of activism and Oprah, some of the guests who came to speak about SlutWalks spouted some “racist bullshit” and set off a divide in the “Grrrls Team.” Five members of the team left, while the rest stayed on with an even clearer notion that antiracism and feminism must coexist. Four years later the blog is still thriving and inspiring readers every day. In looking back at this timeline, Magda was wary of the potentially teleological narrative that could arise, saying, “This idea that development is so linear, I have a problem with that.”

The conversation turns toward the possibility of “eradication” of oppressive systems. Heidi finds this a place of impossibility, but acclamie counters, “Racism is not transcendental. [It has a historical emergence.] It takes for freakin’ ever, but it is possible. It is man-made. It has a starting point, so it could have an ending point.” Along these lines, one of the early proponents of women’s rights in Germany, Clara Zetkin, found, “Only with the destruction of capitalism and the victory of socialism would the full emancipation of the female sex be possible” (Honeycutt 133). As capitalism is an essential part of sexism, the idea that anything man-made could be man-destroyed, or better yet woman and/or trans-destroyed, allows for a train of thought I had long ago believed was out of commission. What does it mean that capitalism and sexism are man-made? What does it mean that that which is created can also be eliminated? How do I even begin to imagine a world in which eradication is a possibility?

On “Grrrls Team,” not all comments are published. The authors monitor them, and about 10% do not make it through the screening process. While that is often an easy decision, it comes down to the author of the piece because, as Magda shares, “We have to feel comfortable with it. In German, we say, ‘This is our neighborhood, our little garden.’” “Our turf,” acclamie adds. Contrary to popular belief, this is not censorship, because it is not executed by the state. It is in their self-cultivated garden, and there are only so many bacteria along with which their flora can survive.

Grrrls Team IIIn addition to their (free, volunteer, activist) work on the blogosphere, they organize and host Lady*Fest, which happens two weeks from now in Heidelberg. The poster promotes workshops, parties, lecture/performance, self-defense, film, café, Do It Yourself, and art. Magda noted today that although the blog’s internet capital is soaring, social and financial capital is only a fraction of the size, which for a primarily internet activist must be a constant frustration. With this festival, the opportunity to merge the physical and virtual activist bodies becomes an imperative. The festival is creating a space to find comfort, learn, and create. This reminded me of the introduction to Winter Shorts, a collection of short stories illuminating oppressive systems in contemporary Germany, Sharon Dodua Otoo recalls, “Recently, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion called ‘Can art save the world?’ And when I think about how Black people are being dehumanized, my honest answer is: it is the only thing left that can” (18).

Grrrls Team IIISo here I am, sitting in Café Berio in Schöneberg staring at the art on the walls. Naked bodies in their own distinct coloring sit, thinking. A green woman kisses a blue one contrasting the bright red background. They exist as connected bodies, particles of paint, colors dancing with each other. I find the other works (all by the same artist, who signs “Sarah”) more subtly solemn and pensive, yet coexisting with the tender, passionate embracing couple. As activists, we will inhabit the single portraits of pensive philosophers, but we cannot thrive in the work without a laugh or a kiss. I’m still going to worry about the state of political affairs, queer safety, racism, and the many other pains that compose the world as I know it, but for now, I think I’m going to take a walk through Berlin and listen to Doublethink for the thirtieth time this week, as I’d like something to give me a little hope, and I think Otoo might be right: Art is “the only thing left that can” (18).


Lila IILila Schmitz is majoring in Film and Media Studies and minoring in Feminist and Gender Studies at Colorado College. She’s going to be starting her second year at CC and third year of college in the fall. She’s enjoyed getting involved with CC theater and a capella (Ellement!), as well as tripping and sweating her way through intramural sports. This summer she’s lucky enough to get to do some gallivanting on the European continent, where you can often find her in a park (photographed in Tiergarten) with that very notebook. Important note: She does not usually look so serious, but rather was trying to figure out how to draw a chin and ended up with this photographic chin display.

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years

By Cheanna Gavin

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
—Audre Lorde

Snapchat-1321204095298185718As our third full day in Berlin comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect not only on all of the amazing opportunities we have already experienced, but also all of the amazing people we have been able to meet. Today alone, we were able to meet four women who worked closely with Audre Lorde and see first-hand how she influenced them, as well as the influence they have had on their own communities. The day started off at the Joliba Intercultural Network, where we met with Katharina Oguntoye, the organization’s Founder and Director. I had a small background on the work Katharina had done in the ’80s from reading Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, which was co-edited by her, Dagmar Schultz and May (Opitz) Ayim. Today, I got to see the work she continues to do now, and the changes she has been a part of for the past 30 years. After an exciting morning with Oguntoye, we were able to meet with Ika Hügel-Marshall, Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, and Dagmar Schultz at Each One Teach One (EOTO), which felt like the perfect place. EOTO was created for the Black community, and its name means each Black person should teach another Black person their history/culture in order to form connections and build community. As the only Black student on this trip, this was a very special space for me.

Earlier this week, we watched Schultz’s film Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, and got a glimpse into Lorde’s time in Berlin, as well as her relationships with Schultz, Marshall, Oguntoye, Ayim, and other important people in the Black Women’s movement. As we learned in the movie, Lorde began visiting Berlin in 1984 as a guest professor. Schultz met Lorde in 1980 at the UN’s World Conference on Women in Copenhagen. Around 1984, the women’ss movement was just beginning in Germany, and Schultz believed Lorde would be a driving force. While teaching, Lorde met the Black Germans that came to her classes and encouraged them to write. Eventually, this led to the publication of Showing Our Colors. At this time, the term “Afro-German” was created, which exemplifies the influence of Black women activists. Along these liness, in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Maisha Eggers writes,

The naming project set out to embrace and acknowledge the position of subjects of African ancestry/heritage and German linage/situatedness/identity. At the same time, it symbolized a conscious endeavor to discard derogatory (German) terms connoting Blackness. Political self-definition as Afro-Germans, later Black Germans, initiated a new sense of collective identity and self-appreciation (3).

Not all of the activists involved in this movement were Black-Germans, though. Schultz spoke about how she interpreted her role in the movement as a white German woman, which often is not discussed. Regarding their participation in a movement for Black German women, Schultz arguess that White German women must critically analyze their role and intentions. In order to check her privilege and remain critical, Schultz said she would ask herself, “What am I missing out on by not including women of color?” instead of only asking, “How can I help them?”

IMG_0231 (2)While living in the U.S. from 1963-1973, Schultz learned from the activists she worked with and adopted the strategy of not primarily basing her participation on whether or not she would lose her job, something she had been threatened with many times. While in the U.S., Schultz lost multiple jobs for this reason, including a publishing job from which she was let go for publishing something questionable about the church and refusing to allow her boss to review all of her work after that article was published. By taking this and similar approaches, white Germans may find a way to escape the immobilizing white guilt Lorde discusses in the foreword to Showing Our Colors (xiii) and actively dismantle racism, sexism, xenophobia, heterosexuality, antisemitism, and other forms of oppression. As Schultz has aged and become less active in particular ways, her strategies have changed. Now, she works on telling her story of Audre Lorde in Berlin and teaches German to refugees.

We also got to speak with author Ika Hügel-Marshall, who was also a major factor in the formation of the Black women’s movement in Germany. Marshall is the author of Invisible Woman: Growing up Black in Germany (1997), which is the first autobiography written by a Black woman in Germany. In “Troubling Categories, I can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden argues that the histories we learn are a reflection of our own identities. In this case, Marshall is making history, and it is important this narrative is shared. Marshall spoke a lot about the tremendous impact of her relationship with Audre Lorde, so much that she was with Lorde the day she passed away, along with Schultz and Ayim. [Note: Early on, Marshall mentioned her English was not as good, so she didn’t speak as much. For that reason, we did not get to know her as well, but we were still learn a great deal about her life and her journey as a Black German woman.]

Last, we spoke with Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, who is from an el barrio in New York City and has lived in Berlin for 30 years. It was important for her to provide us with a transnational and intergenerational perspective. She spoke about her early connections in Germany (through the work of Audre Lorde and ADEFFRA) with Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, and Jasmin Eding, and still considers them her sisters today. She was also mentored by Gloria Wekker through a women’s/gender studies summer school. Here, she was able to connect with Black German women and women from throughout the Black Diaspora here in Germany. I see this as a continuation of the successful work that the Black women’s movement started in connecting the Black community.

Snapchat-1083077621951262231Dück also spoke about mental health and self-care. I was really able to relate to what she was saying, because many students of color back at Colorado College have been working to create spaces for people of color and to stress the importance of self-care. Dück discussed the toll that activism takes on the minds, bodies, and spirits of women of color and how spaces for women of color are crucial in mitigating this damage. As Eggers points out, “With the emergence of Black women activists, first individually and then collectively, belonging became a particular interest that required addressing” (3). Self-care is particularly important for women of color because of the battle fatigue they are constantly experiencing due to racism, sexism, heterosexism, and various other forms of oppression. By creating and nurturing these spaces, we allow for self-care, more opportunities for “Each One, Teach One” to occur, and more connections to be made.

Being in a room with these women was really grounding for me. Seeing them in films, reading about them, and reading their work made me a bit star-struck. But as Schultz’s movie intended to “humanize” Lorde, this opportunity “humanized” each of them to me. As our session was coming to an end, we were all sitting and looking at pictures and watching videos of Marshall and Oguntoye with Lorde from the accompanying website for Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, laughing and eating strawberries. Never would I have imagined I would get this opportunity, and I am beyond grateful to have been able to meet such influential women. I look forward to all the other amazing opportunities to come while I am here with my fellow #FemGeniusesInBerlin.


GavinCheanna Gavin is a rising Junior at Colorado College from Denver, Colorado. She is majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and potentially minoring in Human Biology and Kinesiology. She is on the Pre-Health track and planning to attend Physical Therapy School. Cheanna loves playing sports and is ecstatic to be a FemGenius in Berlin, as she can’t wait to explore and learn about different German cultures.

Introducing the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin

Breana Kathleen Taylor

Breana Kathleen Taylor

The longest member of the FemGeniuses crew (at least within this group)—Breana Kathleen Taylor (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘16)—took her first course at Colorado College with me (FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies) during Block 1 of First-Year Experience in 2012. It’s been a pleasure watching her grow over the last few years, and I’m ecstatic that her growth has, at least in some small part, been recorded on FemGeniuses. In FG110, Breana and her classmates produced a group video project entitled “Gender Roles in Heterosexual Relationships: Expectations and Reality,” which examines gender and sexuality on college campuses. Just over a year later, Breana and her classmates in FG309/ES300 Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: Critical Whiteness Studies (including Kadesha Caradine and Stefani Messick of the Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin and Jazlyn Andrews of the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin) produced a group magazine project entitled Divide, which is “dedicated to bridging the gap between white women and women of color in hopes of creating a discourse around race and feminism.” And just this past spring, Breana really stepped into her own as a leader in FG200 Feminist Theory, serving as Editor for Eve’s Apple, a group magazine project that provides adolescents with “information on issues ranging from sexuality, body image, and identity.” Along those lines, I’m really looking forward to Breana acting as a leader with this group. She’s more than ready.

Thabiso Ratalane

Thabiso Ratalane

I first came to know Thabiso Ratalane (French and International Political Economy ‘16) during summer 2013 when she enrolled in my Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) course. I almost can’t believe that it’s been two years since she’s taken a course with me, but I’m glad to have this happen before she graduates. While we haven’t had a lot of in-class experience together, I know for certain that Thabiso will bring a level of transnational theory and analysis to the group from which we will all benefit. Probably the most well-traveled member of the group this year, Thabiso will also undoubtedly benefit from this new experience, as she is acutely aware of the similar and unique ways in which race and other social, cultural, and political markers—like gender and sexuality—are constructed throughout the world. I remember several times in CWS when Thabiso would say things like, “That’s definitely not the way race functions in my country!” And then this would, of course, prompt us to delve deeper into transnational race analyses. I’m most looking forward to hearing similar assertions and questions in Berlin, as I know Thabiso will soak up such discussions like a sponge.

Spencer Spotts

Spencer Spotts

It wasn’t until I was preparing this introduction that I realized Spencer Spotts (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) is the third most experienced member of the FemGeniuses in the group, having first taken a course with me during the Bridge Scholars Program in August 2013. I admittedly didn’t realize that Spencer was a star at that time (he was really quiet back then—at least with me), but that soon changed when he enrolled in my FG314 Critical Race Feminism course during the Half-Block term of his first year. Afterwards, he really stepped into his purpose as a leader in various areas of social justice on and off-campus, writing “Don’t Come Out of the Closet (Yet)” for The Monthly Rag this past fall, as well as an essay co-authored with Melissa L. Barnes (Feminist & Gender Studies and Psychology ‘15 and member of the Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin) urging other on-campus leaders to make stronger efforts to understand and enact intersectional activism. Around this same time, Spencer enrolled in my FG212 Critical Media Studies course, at which time he participated in a group project entitled “Leave the ‘Blank Space’ Blank: Taylor Swift, Dating Violence, & Gender Role Performance,” which remains one of my favorite student projects. And most recently, in FG200 this past spring, he served as Graphic Designer (alongside Jade Frost of the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin) for College Grrrl: An Alternative Magazine for the Liberal Arts Woman, a magazine that acts as “a space where women are encouraged to liberate themselves through critical thinking, agency, empowerment, and raised awareness.” I’m most looking forward to watching Spencer become inspired by what he learns in Berlin, and strengthening his understanding of and commitment to transnational and intersectional activism.

Jade Frost

Jade Frost

Even though Jade Frost (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) was also in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during Block 1 First-Year Experience with Jazlyn and Lyric also 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin, we first met during the Bridge Scholars Program in August 2013 before FYE even began. From the moment I met her, I realized that Jade is one of the most kind and caring students I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—and she’s so eager to talk and learn about justice and all that encourages or negates it. This became even more clear to me after she and her group members submitted one of the first projects she ever completed in one of my classes, a group video project entitled “Let’s Talk about Sex: Slut-Shaming and Hookup Culture” (alongside Jazlyn). Most recently, when Jade submitted College Grrrl along with her group members in FG200, I realized that her curiosity and passion for intellect had not waned. I’m eager, then, to see the turns Jade’s intellectual interests take as a result of this experience. In other words, I’m interested to see where she pins them down and decides to make her mark.

Jazlyn Andrews

Jazlyn Andrews

Jazlyn Andrews (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) and I first met when she took her first course at Colorado College, FG110 Feminist & Gender Studies, during Block 1 First-Year Experience 2013. It’s been such a joy for me to watch Jazlyn take ownership of our campus and to become a strong voice and leader, especially over the past year. She’s also a tremendous thinker and writer. I chuckle looking back at “Let’s Talk about Sex” and Divide. It’s still amazing to me that a student can grow so much intellectually in such a short period of time, evidenced by the Critical Media Studies project she created (alongside Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Melissa L. Barnes), “Some Relationships Should Never Die: A Feminist Critique of the Female Relationships in Twilight,” which “examines how the Twilight series continues to depict women in a light that subordinates and marginalizes them,” and the project she created in FG200 (serving as Journalist) entitled Guns & Rosie, a magazine for women in the military. One of the great things about Jazlyn is that she pays close attention, reads carefully, thinks hard, soaks it all in, and then blows your mind with analyses that you didn’t even know were brewing in her head. Because of this, I’m no longer surprised when she’s able to teach me new things. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most—her learning a lot and then sharing her newfound knowledges with the rest of the group.

Lyric Jackson

Lyric Jackson

I also met Lyric Jackson (Psychology ‘17) in the FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies Block 1 First-Year Experience course almost two years ago. She was full of personality then and that fact remains today. I remember being impressed by the group video project she created in that class (alongside Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Stefani Messick) entitled “They Like It Hot,” which “explores the fetishization of women’s sexual engagement with other women.” I couldn’t believe that a group of women that young—after maybe 15 days of class—critiqued fetishization so seriously. Still, one of my favorite things about Lyric is that she’s full of joy and laughter, but make no mistake—I wouldn’t make any attempts to pee on her leg and call it rain either. I remember during FYE, she came to my office and asked, “Miss Heidi, how can I get a quiz exemption?” I was so shocked, because most students never ask. They just continue to write ineffective questions. But Lyric is different. She’s not afraid of critique; in fact, she embraces it. I can’t lie, though, I’m most excited about the fun Lyric will ensure we all have. And I’m curious about the ways in which she’ll make us all think, even as we’re laughing, pointing out things that I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to see without her.

Mackenzie Murphy

Mackenzie Murphy

I was so glad when Mackenzie Murphy (Film & New Media Studies ‘16) applied for this course. While she isn’t new to the FemGeniuses crew, she has only taken one other class with me, FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies, and it was over one year ago as of this past spring. That class, when I’m not teaching it for FYE, is always full (at 25 students) or near full, so it’s a bit harder for me to get as close to the students as I do in my other smaller classes or as I do when students take multiple classes with me over the years. But I must say that I will never forget the group video project Mackenzie created with her classmates entitled “Bound 2 Oppress You: Mediated Constructions of Pregnant Bodies,” which “examines constructions of women’s bodies during and after pregnancy” in popular culture. It’s still one of my favorite student projects, and I screen it to students in future classes to give them an idea of what a solid group video project should entail. It was such an original idea, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the original and unique ways I know Mackenzie will experience Berlin.

Meredith

Meredith Bower

I was admittedly a little shocked when I saw the application Meredith Bower (Undeclared: Psychology ’18) submitted for the course. I was shocked, because Meredith was most recently a student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during this past Block 1 during First-Year Experience. I guess I’m still not used to students making it through that class and having any interest in taking another course with me—it’s a hard one!—this soon after. Still, she did produce a great group vide project entitled “16 and (not Ready to Be) Pregnant” (alongside 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin member Samantha Gilbert) that raised some important questions and concerns about constructions of hegemonic masculinity, femininity, pregnancy, and parenthood in popular culture. For that reason and so many others, I was happy she applied. Meredith is bright and has a subtle sense of humor, but she’s not easy to “pin down,” meaning that I don’t have a clear idea regarding who she is and/or who she’s trying to become. That’s what will be fun—me getting another chance to watch her learn and grow and having the opportunity to help her along the way.

Samantha

Samantha Gilbert

Even though Samantha Gilbert (Undeclared: Film & New Media Studies ’18) was also a student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during this past Block 1 during First-Year Experience with Meredith, I wasn’t exactly surprised when she applied for the course. That’s probably because Sam is my academic advisee, and we’ve actually bonded a great deal over the past academic year. In a lot of ways, Samantha reminds me of myself. She was bored with high school by the time she got to college, so she has a lot of ambition and drive. She’s smart, but she’s still trying to figure out why and how. She understands that something isn’t quite right with the world—evidenced by “16 and (not Ready to Be) Pregnant“—but is eager to continue learning how to most effectively theorize and eradicate the problems. I think that’s why I’ve been so drawn to her (and maybe vice versa). In any case, I’m glad she’s having her first college study abroad experience with me, and I’m looking forward to watching her figure herself out even more over the next few weeks.

Willa

Willa Rentel

When I first accepted the application submitted by Willa Rentel (Undeclared: Sociology ’18), I thought she would be another new member of the FemGeniuses crew, and then she showed up in my FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course this past spring. While I would have been completely happy getting to know her in Berlin, I’m glad I got the chance to get to know her better sooner. Willa is razor sharp, especially considering her youth, but is so open to learning that I shudder to think about what she’ll accomplish throughout the remainder of her college career and subsequently. Willa served a Journalist for College Grrrl (alongside Spencer), and really illustrated her knack for conducting analyses through multiple relevant frameworks in order to produce the most salient examinations possible. I realized this even more after reading a fall edition of The Monthly Rag in which Willa wrote an essay entitled “What is Flibanserin?” It’s funny, because as I was reading the article, I kept thinking about the faces she makes that lets me (and everyone around her) know when she’s contemplating—I’m hoping we get a good snapshot of it while we’re abroad—and I’m really looking forward to hearing her thoughts when she’s ready to share, as I expect nothing less than dynamite.

DeAira Cooper

DeAira Cooper

DeAira Cooper (Anthropology ‘17) is officially new to the FemGeniuses crew, but we’ve been getting to know each other slowly but surely over the past couple years on campus and social media. I’m glad that she’s finally taking a course with me, and I sure hope this isn’t the last time. DeAira is one of these “skyrocket students” who came onto campus and immediately began to stake her claim on the space in order to serve as a leader among her peers. One of the things that I think will help DeAira continue to build strong leadership abilities is her openness to the kind of vulnerability required to understand yourself and your comrades and those you are fighting alongside in any struggle. I was so comforted by her application materials, including her interview with me, because of her willingness to share her unclear and uncertain thoughts about things that she’s eager to learn about in the course. Hence, it’ll be a treat for me to watch her learn and grow in the process of trying to understand herself better.

Nia Abram

Nia Abram

Nia Abram (Environmental Science ‘17) is one of the FemGeniuses in Berlin that I know the least. But can I just admit that, because of that, I’m most excited about spending time with her and getting to know her better? More specifically, for a while, I have been growing more committed to building relationships with my colleagues in Environmental Studies, especially since our students seem to be urging this through their own interests in theorizing the relationship between the environment and justice. For instance, on her application, Nia wrote, “I hope to address issues of environmental social justice, potentially on a global scale. Environmental justice hinges on intersectional analyses: ecological needs are related to race, class, and sexuality. Additionally, the hidden ecological narratives of minorities can surface through. This course, then, can help me come to understand how intersectionality manifests on a cultural and global level, while allowing me to apply this knowledge to my desired subject of interest in the future.” How could I say “no” to that?

Jesse Crane

Jesse Crane

Similarly, Jessica “Jesse” Crane (Sociology ‘15) is also one of the FemGeniuses in Berlin that I know the least, and I’m glad that we’ll be spending this time together, as she just graduated this past May! Additionally, this will be her first college course abroad, so I’m really thrilled to be able to provide that opportunity for her. Most importantly, though, Jesse’s interests in marginalized people and communities will most certainly grow exponentially through intersectional and transnational analyses, something she emphasized a great deal in her application materials. One thing about Jesse that really intrigued me was her statement, “As I grew to view life through a sociological lens, this understanding has made me passionate, angry, and curious.” I wanted the opportunity to encourage Jesse to thrive in the anger she’s feeling alongside her passion and curiosity. So often, intellectuals are taught and encouraged to pacify their anger, which is antithetical to my own theories about anger—influenced, of course, by the late Audre Lorde (who was, and continues to be, a great inspiration for me and this course). Hence, I thought it would be great for Jesse to also develop the kind of anger that fuels her intellectualism during her last Colorado College course.

Dezerae Terrell

Dezerae Terrell

My little cousin Dezerae Terrell (Human & Family Development ’15—Kent State University) is an honorary member of the FemGeniuses in Berlin, as she’ll be spending some time with us during the first week of class. This came about after Dezerae talked to me about her uneasiness about taking a course abroad in Ireland. I, of course, encouraged her to take the course, and was extremely ecstatic when I learned that the last day of her course coincided with my arrival in Berlin. So, we both emailed her professor—Dr. Maureen Blankenmeyer—and asked if it would be okay for Dezerae to adjust her flight home so that she could spend a week with us in Berlin. I shouted when I read the first couple sentences of Dr. Blankenmeyer’s response, “What an amazing opportunity that will be for you! Yes, absolutely take the opportunity to meet up with your cousin and her students after we’re done with the Ireland trip.” Hence, Dezerae is here getting another unique “taste” of Europe, and I’m also grateful to be able to provide her with this opportunity. Dezerae is still in the process of figuring out just exactly what she wants to pursue after her graduation this winter, but I can tell you this—if she continues to be encouraged to fulfill her own budding dreams and goals—it’ll most certainly entail some kind of work on behalf of justice for marginalized people and communities. And I’m excited to see how this course helps her to develop her interests even further.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Last, but certainly not least, our Course Associate Aishah Shahidah Simmons (Creator of the Ford Foundation-funded internationally acclaimed and award-winning feature-length film NO! The Rape Documentary, Sterling Brown Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College for spring 2016, and former Adjunct Professor of Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies at Temple University) is also one of the brand new members of the FemGeniuses in Berlin. Aishah and I began developing a relationship through our work with The Feminist Wire (TFW), for which we both serve as Associate Editors, a website co-founded by Dr. Hortense Spiller and Dr. Tamura Lomax that “was inspired by a deep sense of crisis, shared by many, regarding the state of the U.S. nation and society at large, including popular misperceptions about the achievements of feminist critique and practice.” We bonded immensely during our work on TFW’s global forum in honor of “Audre Lorde’s 80th Birthday Anniversary Year,” curated by Aishah and featuring many Berlin comrades and collaborators with the 2014 FemGeniuses in Berlin, such as Ika Hügel-Marshall, Ria Cheatom, Dagmar Schultz, and Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, as well as Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins, Gloria I. Joseph, M. Jacqui Alexander, Jewelle Gomez, Cheryl Clarke, Robert Reid-Pharr, Jennifer Abod, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, among many others. Aishah and I also co-curated TFW’s forum in honor of “Toni Cade Bambara’s 75th Birthday Anniversary Year,” featuring Linda Janet Holmes, Sarah C. Poindexter, Louis Massiah, Nikky Finney, Cara Page, Kalamu ya Salaam, Kamili and Tom Feelings, Pearl Cleage, Clyde Taylor, Nikki Harmon, Eleanor Traylor, Malaika Adero, Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, and many others.

The 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin

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What the Berliners Said!

Per the suggestion of Vicky Jones, I sometimes ask my comrades if they’d be willing to share their thoughts about the course! Click their names below to read what they wrote:

Noah Sow
Jared Pool
Noah Hofmann
Carolyn Gammon
Jasmin Eding
Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz
T. Vicky Jones
Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück
Katrin Julien
Iris Rajanayagam
Dr. Celine Barry
Magda Albrecht
Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle
Kester Audu
Nadine Saeed
Sharon Dodua Otoo
Dr. Rebecca Brückmann
Heike Radvan
Josephine Apraku
Biplab Basu

To read and hear what students have written and said about the course, click here.


Noah Noah Sow

I wish such a class and course and curriculum existed in Germany. I had a great time presenting to these students who don’t have an ‘abstract’ approach on intersectional womanism, but know from living and breathing what it’s all about. This is the foundation for our theory and studies to be applicable and fruitful. I am especially delighted that matters of pan- and intra-Diasporic power and hierarchy have been brought to the table, as Afrodeutsche lately seem to be considered rather a ‘field of study’ than an autonomous culture (with our own research) by many American and British academics. The entire exchange was so positive and respectful that I wish more universities could learn from this class and prof. I’m sure Professor Heidi R. Lewis makes a huge difference to her students, institution and field, and I can’t wait until this generation of students makes many differences in their respective ways of life and professions. Peace.
Noah Sow


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Jared Pool with the Winter 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I’ve gotten to know many of Heidi’s university groups on my queer tours of Berlin. These tours focus on the solidarity of the city’s peoples, but also on past contexts in which groups like the Nazis or the provisional allied governments after WWII persecuted individuals. We move from contexts of persecution to investigations of queer club culture and activism. My tours are intersectional and inclusive. I try to leave no stone unturned, no point of contact unexplored. In this way, Heidi’s groups always feel like a perfect match. Her groups are the tours I most look forward to in any year. Her students are woke, engaged, critical, compassionate, and yet show each other a comraderie more common among family. Heidi’s herself is also a meaningfully charismatic person and absolute pleasure to be around. I only wish I could attend all her lectures.
Jared Pool


Noah Hofmann

Noah Hofmann with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

It was a wonderful and refreshing experience to see young people studying the often overlooked experiences of Black people in Europe! I felt really honoured that Heidi has chosen me as one of the people who should share their experiences and their knowledge! It was a new and very enriching experience to exchange thoughts and knowledge this time not on social media, but in real life and to get in dialogue with such wonderful, reflected, and highly-educated students and teachers! I’d be ready to repeat this at any time!
Noah Hofmann (author, activist on social media)


Mendelssohn (Calvi) Carolyn with the 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

I met the FemGeniuses for a tour of Jewish Berlin at the rather early hour of 9 a.m. on June 3rd in front of the main building of the Humboldt University on Unter den Linden. Only half of them were on time (it was quite early in their stay, and they were still figuring out the public transport system) but what totally impressed me is that those who were late came literally running down Unter den Linden with full cups of coffee to try and make it on time! The 2nd positive impression was how big the group was this year and how multi-cultural. No other exchange program I have worked with has achieved this level of involvement of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds like this group. Huge kudos to Heidi and the program!

We began the tour by going into the lobby of the Humboldt University where we saw an exhibit on the upcoming “Humboldt Forum,” a big project to rebuild the German royal palace and put the Ethnological Museum of Berlin into it. Activists had placed posters on the floor in front of the exhibit commenting on the stolen art (Beutekunst) contained in this museum. The FemGeniuses showed a lot of interest and background knowledge of what it means that so much of what is in our museums is presented in a racist way, yanked out of context, stolen, etc. Despite the language barrier of activist action, the group really engaged and asked questions and commented. We also “visited” with Lise Meitner, a Jewish scientist who discovered nuclear fission. Meitner has gone down in history as the clearest example of a person who should have received a Nobel prize and did not. And why not? She was a woman and a Jew and driven out of Germany and away from her work by the Nazis. So we discussed the knowledge we do not have because the Nazis were successful in suppressing that knowledge. Finally after many decades there is a statue of Lise Meitner in front of the Humboldt University so we “met” her and had photos taken. Unfortunately, we cannot yet take a photo of a proposed memorial for the Black victims of German colonialization, the Holocaust and racism in general. We looked at a picture of a proposed memorial by the Black British artist Satch Hoyt called “Shrine of the Forgotten Souls.” This memorial is being promoted by Katharina Oguntoye, the Black German author and head of the Berlin multi-cultural project Joliba.

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The ducks visiting the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin!

And that was just the start of the tour! What is rewarding about touring with the FemGeniuses (this is my 2nd year) is their understanding of political contexts and the fact that they are absolutely prepared and open to hearing and understanding the complex issues that come up on a tour. It feels like you don’t have to start at ABC but somewhere far along in the alphabet! So, as a guide, I can unpack all my knowledge and passion for Jewish history and current day life in Berlin. There was a funny moment on Groß Hamburger str. As we were looking at a memorial, an entire family of ducks walked across the city street! I’ll include this photo as it is symbolic for me of how Heidi leads, protects and challenges her group like this mother duck.

Thanks for coming to Berlin FemGeniuses. And thanks to DeAira Cooper who wrote a great entry on my tour for the blog. You really got it!
—Greetings from Berlin, Carolyn Gammon


IMG_8950 Jasmin Eding with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

When Professor Lewis asked my if I would be willing to speak in her class about the History of ADEFRA e.V. (Organization for Black Women and Women of Color in Germany), I was highly surprised how interested the students have been in our 30-year History and Herstory. The lives and struggles of Black people in Germany is not well-known in the U.S., so i was thankful to share some of our experiences in Germany, knowing that  our stories will be shared in the U.S. This will strengthen solidarity, which is very important among activists and organizations here and there, specially to fight racism and to share experience  of resistance. We need to spread the word throughout the Diaspora and build  alliances. So hopefully, Professor Lewis will return with more students and meet many activists again next year. I thank Heidi for her commitment and passion to teach young people the real important things in life. 🙂
Jasmin Eding


Group Photo (Asbury) Mutlu with Ryan Garcia of the 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin, Noah Hofmann, and Musa Okwonga

I had  a very good time at the class. I rarely come across such a group of good listeners. They were very curious without crossing any boundaries, very open and attentive to the very complex story and information I shared with them. I was also very glad to right some of the wrongs the class experienced during their so called Turkish German Berlin-Tour. I think their white German tour guide had very little understanding about the migration history from Turkey to Germany and even less understanding about Turkish/Kurdish German culture and lived experiences. I had a great time sharing my perspective.
Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz


Frauenkreise Talk Helen, Professor Lewis, Cassandra, Marca, Gabi, and Vicky in 2014

I had a great time at your lectures and was really honored to go through and anaylze the advertising materials created here from a Black perspective. It’s rare to have this opportunity to speak about racial depictions in a European setting and to do this with young international and local scholars was a real treat. Thank you for energy and work!
—T. Vicky Jones, Founder of Krik TV and Rock It


IMG_0231 (2) Ika Hügel Marshall, Dagmar Schultz, and Dr. Ellerbe-Dück with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I was very impressed about the openness, thirst for knowledge and capacity for critical enquiry that these 9 young women – or better said-  the  FemGenuiuses group displayed during our interaction at the Clara Zetkin Museum in Birkenwerder.  And the term interaction best describes, I think, our encounter. The lecture was indeed an equal exchange of information, ideas and wisdom in both directions. The encounter with these young feminist pioneers embodied my concept of teaching and lecturing, and also demonstrated that creating a space that fosters interactive participation regarding the transfer of knowledge is not only possible, but vital.
—Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück


photo 4 Nadine Saeed and Katrin Julien (6th and 7th from left) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

 

Nadine  [Saeed] and I, both activists of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh, a refugee in Germany who was burnt alive in a police cell, met Heidi and her students to talk about our fight for justice. Since Oury Jalloh was murdered by the police in 2005, we keep on saying, “Break the silence, Oury Jalloh, this was murder!” Despite clear evidence that Oury was murdered, the system followed the most unlikely assumption that he killed himself by covering up and by manipulating evidence. We do not expect justice from the German political system, which is why we are doing our own investigations supported by experts who work independently. Oury Jalloh is not an individual case, and his murder was not “unfortune” as some people put it, but part of a system of discriminating, banning, criminalising and even eradicating people that are not wanted here. We do not want to accept that—that’s why we are member of the initiative. We spent a very intense afternoon together with Heidi and her students and could have shared our thoughts for many more hours.
—Katrin Julien, Inititiave in Memory of Oury Jalloh


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Mona El Omari and Iris with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I think what stayed in my mind most of all from our time together, was the evening when Daima was presented. When we were talking about the ‘privilege’ of being the one asking the questions…I was very grateful for [Heidi’s] comment about how important it is that experiences that are regarded as racist by Black Women and Women of Color (be it silly questions or comments or inappropriate and disrespectful touching of hair or body) be taken seriously and  accepted as such and not put into question. This is something that happens so very often in ‘mixed’ spaces. Being the ones asking the questions, demanding answers information and knowledge, taking up spaces is a ‘privilege’ that Black Women and Women of Color have  been denied for much too long and which they are starting to take on more and more. When [Heidi] said that [she] enjoyed the company of Black Women most because they knew what [she was] talking about, I had a very good idea of what [she] meant. [Smiles.] That does not mean that dialogue is not impossible (although it is hard work!) but that it can only be possible under certain preconditions. I don’t want to write too much; although, there are other things that come to my mind. For example, what [Heidi] said about the social status of [many] students at [her] university and how some students couldn’t take part because of lack of money.  This made it clear to me again how important it is to always think in terms of intersectionality: racism, classism, sexism….!
—Iris Rajanayagam, Xart Splitta


TBB II (Nora) Celine with the Fall 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

What a beautiful encounter of sharing biographies of our lives within contemporary postcoloniality. I especially enjoyed our critical tourism journey through Berlin when we visited the prominent spaces that define the German narrative as well as the spaces that are not so known, that are created at the margins and that make a difference for those excluded by official Germany. I am glad we started our project of researching the multiple narratives of the city, of confronting them, and of locating ourselves within these dividing hierarchies (with the appropriate share of humor). A work in progress.
—Dr. Celine Barry, Each One Teach One


photo 1 Kristina Kuličová and Magda (second and first from right) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I was thrilled to become part of this extraordinary feminist lecture series by facilitating a discussion about Emerging Fat Activism in Germany with my fellow FAT UP activist Kristina. I was truly amazed by this bright and engaging group of students as well as Professor Heidi Renée Lewis who created a wonderful atmosphere for honest and critical discussion – a perfect space where academia and activism could meet and stimulate each other.
—Magda Albrecht, Author and Political Officer


AWYO II

Elizabeth (second from left) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I want to thank Heidi for picking our organization as one of the NGOs or projects her group of students from Colorado will like to see, know and probably network with for future projects when they visit Berlin. It all started with an email and the interest was established to get to know each other and to transfer experience and knowledge between the two organizations when the group visits. Little did I know that the students are from different backgrounds but with a passion to make a difference in their society after their study program. I was moved by the openness and readiness to learn from each other and to want to do something together in the future.
—Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle, African Women & Youth Organization


African Women & Youth Organization Kester with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

“Heidi R. Lewis will be visiting the AWYO organization with some of her students from Colorado College in June,” was the announcement of Elizabeth Adekunle to me as I stepped into the office that morning. Reading through Heidi’s CV gave me some exciting impression of our guest to come and the thought that she will be coming with some of her students made it more exciting. June 6, 2014 will always be a memorable day for AWYO as the day we hosted the FemGeniuses.

I had excitedly come early to the office, since our guests were expected. At exactly 9 am, the bell rang and there we had the FemGeniuses matching confidently on the stair case leading to the office. Their faces looked very bright to me and had a few of them with brimming smiles as I welcomed them into the conference room. A quick glance at their areas of discipline and individual interests was very insightful, as I discovered that these are world change agents as they have stakes in almost every field of study. It was then clear to me that in tandem with the AWYO’s vision of being recognized as the premier resource centre for excellent development of African change agents, world change agents were meeting in that conference room that morning. Social issues such as women and youth empowerment, racism, poverty, career trends and development, challenges and opportunities in Africa among others were discussed. The insightful comments and questions from the FemGeniuses sustained the passion in our talks and it was almost as if the meeting should not end. AWYO looks forward to coming to Colorado next summer with African kids as part of the organization’s cultural educational programme held once every year. We trust AWYO’s partnership with the FemGeniuses will grow leaps and bounds. Miss you all, dear FemGeniuses.
—Kester Audu, African Women & Youth Organization


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Nadine and Mouctar Bah with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

To meet you and your students was very inspiring. It was like meeting someone for the first time and coming directly to the point. It was less time, so we ran through different aspects of racism in big steps. The face of institutional racism in Germany and the U.S. has the same shape and same roots. To exchange our political and daily life experiences and analyses of that system means realizing that we fight against same big problem just in different places. Coming to this point, it is necessary to learn about different ways of resistance and combine them. I will keep you informed about case of Oury Jalloh and the uprising refugee movement in Germany and Europe. We should know about ongoing peoples movements around the world to catch the fire!
—Nadine Saeed, Inititiave in Memory of Oury Jalloh


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Sharon with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I am really honoured to have been asked to contribute to the FemGeniuses in Berlin programme. The morning we spent together was lively and engaging and I was very impressed by the way the students engaged with the material I was presenting. The Witnessed Series is dedicated to documenting stories of Black experiences in Germany, written in English. My dream is that these stories – written by us and for us – can be shared in the Diaspora. I am especially grateful, therefore, that Witnessed could be included in the programme as a step towards achieving this dream! Most of all, however, I am grateful that this is not a one-off but the simply the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Looking forward to FemGeniuses in Berlin 2015!
—Sharon Dodua Otoo, Mother, Activist, & 2016 Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis Winner


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Drs. Brückmann and Lewis during a convergence class with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Working with Professor Lewis was a wonderful, rewarding experience. My students and I tremendously enjoyed our convergence class with the Femgeniuses. It was a unique, intercultural learning environment, which provided the opportunity for direct debate and exchange of knowledge and ideas between groups of students who rarely meet each other despite their courses of study: students of US history and Women’s Studies in Germany and students of German history and Women’s Studies in the US. Not only was the convergence class very interesting and instructive for students by creating a transnational academic exchange, the socially interactive convergence class enabled everyone to form professional ties and personal friendships across the Atlantic.
—Dr. Rebecca Brückmann, Free University


Kadesha

Dr. Radvan with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

What impressed Carmen and me most about your visit was that we did have so very much intensive discussions about topics that are not so easy to explain mostly. Our research about right wing women and their influence within Neonazi-groups in history and present brought up very interesting questions and discussions. For me, it was very impressive that for the students the topic of overlooking the victims of Neonazis in general played a very important role; we did have good talks about this as well! So I look forward meeting you again next year and I hope your application is going to be succesful!
—Dr. Heike Radvan, Antonio Amadeu Foundation


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Josephine with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Meeting Heidi and her group of students has been very important to me. Our fields of interest are very much alike but obviously differ strongly as the national contexts of both the U.S. and Germany have a huge influence on how race an gender operate. To me, it was a very empowering experience to be able to exchange thoughts and ideas on feminism and everyday racism with not only a diverse group of women but with a group of women that seemed highly educated on the topics. Thank you for giving me even more inspiration!
—Josephine Apraku, Africa in Wedding Expert and Tour Guide


ReachOut

Biplab with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Thank you very much for a very interesting afternoon with all your lovely students. I consider myself lucky to have met and spoken to so many excellent and intelligent young people. Please convey my best wishes to them and especially to Casey for the blog entry.
—Biplab Basu, ReachOut

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Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media at Frauenkreise Berlin

Frauenkreise Talk

Helen, Heidi, Cassandra, Marca, Gabi, and Vicky

On Friday, June 13, I presented “Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media” at Frauenkreise in Berlin at the invitation of Project Manager Gabi Zekina. Below, you will find a written version of the introduction to my analysis. Click here to view the complete PowerPoint presentation, and click here to listen to the audio (approximately 90 minutes) recorded by Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück. I would also like to thank Vicky Germain for also recording the event and for suggesting that I post it to the web for you all to listen to and engage.

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Before I begin the analytical discussion, I want to spend about 10 minutes introducing myself and my work to you. As you know, my name is Heidi R. Lewis, and I’m an Assistant Professor in the Feminist & Gender Studies Program at Colorado College, where I also serve as a core faculty member in the Race & Ethnic Studies Program. My teaching and research interests include Black Feminist Theory, Transnational Feminisms, and Critical Studies of media and popular culture, feminism, race, whiteness, and hip hop. I’m also an Associate Editor for The Feminist Wire, a peer-reviewed online publication that provides sociopolitical and cultural critiques of anti-feminist, racist, and imperialist politics pervasive in all forms and spaces of private and public lives.

Alexander

Marissa Alexander

Regarding my own career, I have begun to situate myself as a theoretical activist, because often, especially within “liberal” and “progressive” communities in the United States, I hear people denigrate theory in an effort to communicate the necessity of action. For instance, sometimes my audiences, including my students, grow frustrated when they ask about what they can “do” to affect change, and I respond that theorizing is one of the most important things that can be done in response to injustice. I respond in this way, because for me, theory is simply a way of thinking about, understanding, and explaining the world. How many of you are familiar with the Marissa Alexander case in the United States? It’s my contention that a theory sentenced Marissa Alexander to 20 years for self-defense. Of course, the racist legal system, including police, attorneys, the jury, and the judge, sentenced Marissa Alexander. However, this sentencing would not have been possible without racist and sexist theories about Black women’s bodies and lives, theories that suggest that our bodies are not worthy of love, affection, and protection, theories that suggest that our lives don’t matter and that they’re not worth saving. Only racist and sexist thinking would allow someone to see Marissa Alexander as anything other than a victim.

At this point, then, I’d like to clarify the theoretical framework of my work on U.S. media, a framework situated at the nexus of cultural studies, critical media studies, and feminist studies. As Paula Saukko points out, “The trademark of the cultural studies has been an interest in the interplay between lived experience, texts or discourses, and the social context,” which relies heavily on an investment in multiple validities. Saukko points out that this draws attention to the fact that the theories, methods and modes of analysis that underpin our research open up different and always partial and political views on reality. Multiple validities ask us to be more critically aware of what drives our research. Additionally, acknowledging that there is more than one way of making sense of social phenomena asks us to come up with a more multidimensional, nuanced, and tentative way of understanding one’s object of study. Multiple validities, then, suggest that we should approach reality in less simplistically dichotomous ways, such as “true” or “false” and “right” or “wrong,” and instead to develop more complex terms. This does not mean that there are no rules for conducting research. It simply means that rather than one universal rule that applies everywhere, there are different rules, and we need to be aware how they make us relate to reality differently. There are three methodological approaches to uncovering multiple validities: hermeneutic/ dialogic validity, which evaluates research in terms of how truthfully it captures the lived worlds and experiences of the people and communities being studied; poststructuralist/ deconstructive validity, which evaluates research in terms of how well it manages to unravel social tropes and discourses that, over time, have come to pass for “truth;” and realist/ contextual validity, which refers to the capability of research to locate the phenomena it is studying within the wider social, political, and even global, context. My talk this evening will be methodologically reliant upon the latter two frameworks insomuch as I will examine how advertisements communicate tropes and discourses that have come to pass as “truth” for racialized women in the U.S. and also how these tropes and discourses can be best theorized by examining the wider sociopolitical contexts in which the advertisements are situated.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall

Regarding critical media studies, James Lull argues, “The most potent effect of mass media is how they subtly influence their audiences to perceive social roles and routine personal activities.” This happens because media functions as a hegemony, which Lull defines as a “power or dominance that one social group holds over others.” Along these lines, Antonio Gramsci argues that hegemony and mass media “are tools that ruling elites use to perpetuate their power, wealth, and status by popularizing their own philosophy, culture, and morality.” More specifically, Sut Jhally argues that “advertising thus does not work by creating values and attitudes out of nothing but by drawing upon and rechanneling concerns that target audiences already shares.” Stuart Hall would, of course, connect this to racism and white supremacy. He writes, “Every word and image of such programmes are impregnated with unconscious racism, because they are all predicated on the unstated and unrecognized assumption that blacks are the source of the problem.” Hall defines this as “inferential (or unconscious) racism,” which leads to “apparently naturalized representations of events and situations relating to race, whether factual or fictional, which have racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions.” Audiences typically only respond viscerally to “overt racism,” which Hall defines as “occasions when open and favorable courage is given to arguments, positions and spokespersons who are in the business of elaborating a racist policy.”

Scholars writing within the tradition of feminist theory have advanced these arguments by taking an intersectional approach that considers race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, and other social markers when examining mediated constructions. In “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” bell hooks explains that in “mass culture, imperialist nostalgia takes the form of re-enacting and re-ritualizing in different ways the imperialist, colonizing journey as narrative fantasy of power and desire, of seduction by the Other.” Further, she explains that white males “claim the body of the colored Other instrumentally, as unexplored terrain, a symbolic frontier that will be fertile ground for their reconstruction of the [white, Western, heteropatriarchal] masculine norm, for asserting themselves as transgressive, desiring subjects. They call upon the Other to be both witness and participant in this transformation.” Marian Sciachitano explains that these “heteropatriarchal and imperialist politics of domination that desires and demands the construction of ‘fantasy islands,’ ‘new planets,’ and ‘playgrounds’ where Black and ‘Third World’ women are positioned as interchangeable, exotic, sexual commodity-objects.” It is this practice of commodifying the “Other’s” interchangeable, essentialized difference that, as hooks claims “promotes paradigms of consumption wherein whatever difference the Other inhabits is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer cannibalism that not only displaces the Other but denies significance of that Other’s history through a process of decontextualization.” I also want to point out here that throughout this talk, I won’t describe these constructions as “stereotypes,” which refers to “too-simple and therefore distorted images of a group, generalizations, usually exaggerated or oversimplified and often offensive, that are used to describe or distinguish a group.” Instead, I will use Patricia Hill Collins’ “controlling images” theory, which I think more effectively conveys the implications of stereotypes for subjugated people and communities.

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Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation.
Click here to listen to the audio recording of the discussion.