Image

Dis/continuities of Racism and Whiteness from the 1950s until Today

By Kadesha Caradine

Figge I

L to R: Maja Figge, Thais Vera Utrilla, Blaise, Nicole, Ximena, Kaimara, Gabi Zekina (Frauenkreise), Kadesha, and Gabi Wurmitzer (Frauenkreise)

A couple days ago, after stuffing our faces with pizza, the FemGeniuses watched a black and white film entitled Toxi (1952). When the character Toxi was introduced, it was hard not to think, “Aww! What a cute little girl!” Then, as the movie continues, the viewers learn that her cuteness, extreme politeness, and thoughtfulness is exactly what wins over the hearts of the white family that takes her in and simultaneously cures their racism. This movie pretty much includes every stereotype held against Blacks in Germany in the 1950s when this film was released. When watching the film, I was of course predicting that Toxi would win the love her biggest critic, Uncle Theodor, which she did. However, I must admit that the Black face the white children in Toxi’s adoptive family wore at the end of the film confusedme a little. Additionally, Toxi’s face was painted white, which, I assume, was supposed to make everything “okay.” I hate to spoil the ending, but I must say that it’s hard to realize that this film was actually considered as breaking point for racial barriers in Germany during that time.

The next day, we met at Frauenkreise for a session with Maja Figge, a scholar who focuses on film and history, culture and media history, gender, race and media, critical whiteness studies, and postcolonial theory. She explained that Toxi was a film that encouraged her to enter into her current field of study, and theorized how race, racism, and even gender are constructed in the film. Towards the end of her presentation, we also discussed the ways in which the film industry inspires backlash against Black films by creating ones with Black people playing in inferior roles.

Figge II

L to R: Kadesha, Gabi, Beril, Stefani, Casey, Melissa, and Sharon Dodua Otoo

During this discussion, I started to think about how much the character Toxi reminded me of Annie, a story about a little girl who is rescued from an orphanage to give an extremely wealthy man a better image. What is interesting is that producers recently remade Annie, featuring Quvenzhané Wallis in the starring role. I wondered, “Why does Annie have to be a Black girl? Are there not enough helpless character roles already fulfilled by Black actors and actresses? Or is it a crime to see white people struggle every once in a while?” Maja theorized that one of the possible reasons the film industry rejects complex Black images in lieu of simplistic ones is due to “the fear of the loss of white privilege.”

Later, we moved on to what Maja described as a more “progressive” film entitled Alles Wird Gut or Everything Will Be Fine (1998). This film features two Black German women who fall in love. Despite the language barrier—we weren’t able to secure a copy of the film with English subtitles—this movie seemed very entertaining, and was a refreshing follow-up after discussing Toxi. We didn’t discuss this film much partly due to time constraints but also because we still had so much to say about the disturbing representations of Blackness in Toxi.

Figge III

L to R: Casey, Stefani, Melissa, Ximena, Kadesha, and Maja Figge

I find it interesting that this morning some random guy who was drinking a beer at 8 am decided to address me as “Mama Africa,” especially since I haven’t even visited the continent yet. His comment may be the result of poor judgment due to his drunkenness or it could be the result of his deeply rooted racialized thinking that I can’t possibly be from Germany because I am Black. The conversations we’ve been having have helped me to realize that for many German citizens, German means white, and our discussion today and throughout the course helps me to understand how that ideal has been reinforced over a long period of time.

This is my last blog which unfortunately means that my amazing time here in Berlin is coming to an end. It has been such a great opportunity to meet and converse with very pivotal figures in feminist and Afro-German communities here. Rarely are students given the opportunity to meet the authors of the books and articles that they read, but we were more than fortunate enough to meet basically every author we read for this course plus many more amazing activists. If I weren’t in this course, I would defiantly be jealous.

Ciao!

********************

KadeshaKadesha is entering her third year at Colorado College, majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and possibly minoring in Race and Ethnic Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track.

Image

(Emerging) Fat Activism in Germany with Fat Up!

By Nicole Tan

photo 5

Fat Up! at Frauenkreise

This past Friday was the very last classroom session at Frauenkreise. After our 3 weeks here, I was excited to see how everything would wrap up with our final activist group, Fat Up!  If you ask Kristina Kuličová and Magda Albrecht how they define themselves as a group, they will say they are a “fat positive, queer feminist riot group in Berlin.” Additionally, “emerging” is placed in parentheses in my title and the title of their discussion, because this group exists in what might be called a vacuum. There is an absence of a fat activist history here in Germany, so this marks the beginning of a new struggle. Still, Fat Up currently has a nucleus of 7 dedicated, passionate members who met during a Fat Empowerment Workshop.

During class, we began with our final round of introductions, a ritual that happens as many as three times a day. In exchange, Kristina and Magda told us their own personal stories and reasons for starting Fat Up. Magda is an activist and feminist blogger who attended her very first diet camp at the age of 5. Kristina recounted her experience growing up in the Czech Republic, where fat politics are almost entirely non-existent. Despite the absence of positive, fat role models around her, Kristina was able to discover this from within. In her own words, she “learnt to stop looking at [herself] through the eyes of men”and began to realise that “maybe it is not [her] that is wrong, but the structure of society.”

L to R: Kristina and Magda

L to R: Kristina and Magda

You may be wondering, what makes this relevant to our class on Afro-German women and feminisms? As our 3 weeks here have progressed, I’m beginning to realise that this topic was a platform that enabled us to engage with a much bigger discussion on what racism looks like today. If you look closely, you can see similar parallels in fat politics. In many societies, a thin body is perceived to be healthy, which is ideal and acceptable. Contrarily, fat people are often attached with stigmas like lazy, slow, and ugly. These negative connotations are similar to those that have been attached to Blacks in Germany, as we learned from Ika Hügel-Marshall, defining an altered perception of what is “normal” in order for those in power to exclude certain individuals as “others.”

L to R: Kadesha, Kaimara, Gabi Wurmitzer, Kristina, and Magda

L to R: Kadesha, Kaimara, Gabi Wurmitzer, Kristina, and Magda

Next, Kristina and Magda introduced the idea of being fat as a discriminating factor in the workplace. This narrative is similar to those we’ve heard from individuals and organizations committed to refugees and migrants. Along these lines, Kristina and Magda recounted an incident just recently in the U.S. when someone filed a lawsuit on the basis of fat discrimination after discovering an interviewer’s notes scribbled with comments like, “Too fat.” However, in most cases, discrimination is difficult to identify and prove. If someone does not hire you, how can you prove that this is on the basis of race or size? This quickly triggered discussion on the floor, as Beril recounted the weight requirements for women wanting to work as air airline stewardesses in Turkey. Why exactly is weight a pre-requisite that qualifies a candidate for this job?

The next question that evolved from this was, “Who exactly benefits from fat discrimination?” Immediately, we began to discuss how the fashion industry can exploit women’s insecurities about their weight for profit. I’m sure we’ve all seen the diet books, the fitness magazines, the gym equipment, etc.—all promising immediate and instant weight loss. This illustrates a mentality that suggests skinny is the only acceptable way to look, something we should all desire. In conjunction with the unrealistic body images presented in the media, the fashion industry is able to breed insecurity in women, the basis upon which they feel the need to purchase these items.

photo 3

L to R (unfortunately excluding those hidden): Celine, Jenni, Gabi Zekina (Frauenkreise), Marca, Beril, Melissa, Casey, and Stefani

A classic case and point of this is Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, who once said, “We go after the cool kids […] A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong.” He also said, “Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomachs who look like they’re about to jump on a surfboard.” This is why it is no surprise that fat activism has played an active role in counteracting these images.

photo 4

L to R (clockwise): Heidi, Beril, Celine, Nicole, Ximena, Blaise, Kadesha, Stefani, Casey, Kaimara, Melissa, Magda, and Kristina

In closing, Kristina and Magda provided several links to fat activist fashion bloggers like Fettcast and Fatty Fashion Fun Challenge. Today was a fantastic, engaging final conversation that I can’t wait to bring back with me to the Colorado College community, as with everything else we have studied over the last 3 weeks.

 

 

********************

NicoleNicole is an international student from Penang, Malaysia at Colorado College entering her second year this fall. She is interested in pursuing an International Political Economy major.