The 2022 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Photo Credit: Dr. Heidi R. Lewis

Click here to view a slideshow of pictures, and follow @FemGeniuses and|or @AudresFootsteps on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook to see more pictures and videos.

Multimedia Podcast Index:

The RomaniPhen Feminist Archive + the Romanja Power Walking Tour with Estera Iordan” by Christiana García-Soberanez
A Conversation with Jasmin Eding” by Eliza Strong
Jewish History & Culture Walking Tour + Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt with Adam Schonfeld” by Bridget Hanley
BlackEurope: The Beginnings of Black Self-Organization in Europe” by Erin Huggins
German Colonialism Walking Tour w/ Josephine Apraku + the Neues Museum” by Amalia Lopez
A Conversation with Sharon Dodua Otoo” by Latra Demaçi
The Wall Museum + the Berliner Unterwelten Tour” by Margalit Goldberg
Blackness in America and Europe: Where the Grey Space Exists” by Monica Carpenter
A Conversation with Dana Maria Asbury, Mona El Omari, and Iris Rajanayagam” by Vicente Blas-Taijeron
Graffiti & Street Art Walking Tour + the Urban Nation Museum” by Alexis Cornachio
A Conversation with Judy Lynne Fisher” by River Clarke
Queer Berlin Walking Tour w/ Mal Pool + the Schwules*Museum” by Riley Hester
A Street Art Workshop with Berlin Massive” by Judy Gonzalez

To read and|or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous #FemGeniusesinBerlin, click here

BlackEurope: The Beginnings of Black Self-Organization in Europe

by Erin Huggins

Photo Credit: Erin Huggins

The question and answer session begins, and the panels for the day come to an end. One of the last people to speak starts to ask their question by stating, “I was expecting a Blackity, Black, Black Black event.” This individual points out how they cannot truly be comfortable and vulnerable at a Black conference on Black issues when there are still white people in attendance. The truth is, in our own group, we are mostly non-Black. And looking around, though the room was mostly Black, there was a decent amount of white people in the audience. This space was not a Black only space, and the Black members of the crowd began to cheer in agreement.

The Black Europe: The Beginnings of Black Self-Organization International Conference was organized to answer the question: “But when, where, and how did Black people in Europe start to organize themselves? Together we want to explore what Black people have done to unite and collectively represent their interests under the difficult conditions in racist societies. To do this, we focus on the historical beginnings of self-organization in post-war Europe.” The discussions were about, between, and for AfroEuropeans. Members were staying up to date with what organizations and experiences were in other European nations for Black people.

The last two panel sessions I went to featured Simon INOU from Austria, Mandu dos Santos Pinto from Switzerland, Tade Omotosho from Poland, and Karen Taylor from Germany. INOU discussed the chronological history of Black activism and activism in Austria, dos Santos Pinto honed in on networking and knowledge production, Omotosho discussed building Black|AfroEuropean economic independence, and Taylor talked about AfroGerman activism, identity, and politics. Overall, my takeaway was that this conference was made to help build international solidarity and knowledge production among Black|AfroEuropeans. I agree with the person who spoke out and pointed out the white bodies in this Black space. To me, the conference did not warrant the presence of white people. The discussion at hand was very clearly directed towards AfroEuropeans, the discrimination they face, their history, and the activism and activist groups in their nations. Moreover, another individual asked how the African|Black American experience is detrimental or beneficial to Black European movements. This discussion, however, seemed pointless due to the presence of white people. The conversation was about Black activism and positionality, and unless a conversation is focused on protest or ways of supporting Black movements, I think their presence is unnecessary and potentially counterproductive.

Still, many AfroEuropean organizations are focused on, as well as created and organized by Black Europeans. For example, in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want to,” Jasmin Eding profiles Adefra, a German-based organization founded by Black German women as a place for empowerment, comfort, and healing for women and their children, networking and communicating with other Black organizations within and outside of Germany. This kind of networking and communication exclusively amongst and between Black communities was a consistent topic during the last two panels. For example, dos Santos Pinto talked about how important networking and transporting knowledge is for the Black community and the presence of white people was not deemed as needed in any of the panels.

Photo Credit: Erin Huggins

This helped me understand Transnational Feminism through a Black lens. During class after Jasmin Eding spoke, we discussed how Transnational Feminism calls on us, at least in part, to think about the collective, to understand our positionalities, and to consider how this impacts the way we think. For example, in response to the individual that asked about Black|African American activists’ impacts on AfroEuropeans, Taylor and Omotosho discussed the impact of colonization in Europe and the U.S and its uniqueness in both places.

This conference was an example of sharing knowledge between Black communities. It was not just the consumption of information but discussion about the information presented and also pushback against what some of the panelists claimed. Black individuals engaged with each other and actively produced group knowledge and debates. For example, Omotosho, strongly suggested Black communities needed to build economic independence. He wants Black people to build towns and hubs of Black-owned businesses and for Black people to learn skills that would help them establish and build economic capital. In response, a Black member of the audience pointed out that economic emancipation is not the only step that will empower the Black community. They also stated economic emancipation will not provide empowerment if our other bases are not covered. I agree and believe capitalism will not save marginalized groups and that capitalism inherently causes oppression. Still, as Prof. Dr. Maisha Auma points out in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” debate and discussion helps produce and disseminate knowledge amongst groups.

The question from the audience participants created an overall discussion about what liberation looks like for the Black community and both Black and Transnational Feminist theory frameworks holds space for the fact that this will be different for different Black communities. During the conference, I learned AfroEuropeans witnessed Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and realized their own power in protest against police violence, even though the reasons behind those protests were unique to AfroEuropean experiences. To that point, Omotosho presented a slide featuring a little girl holding a sign that read, “Stop Calling Me Murzyn,” which translates to “negro” in Polish. “Murzyn” is still present in Polish children’s books and was used to refer to a monkey in one specifically.

Being a part of this conference allowed me to participate in knowledge-sharing with AfroEuropeans, which I had not yet experienced. It allowed me to see transnational antiracist initiatives I had not known. Being privileged enough to witness these discussions gave me access to community and transnational Black knowledge I may not have if I did not take this course. The Black Europe: The Beginnings of Black Self-Organization International Conference reminded me that Black knowledge production is sacred and transnational. It also demonstrated the significant relationships between Transnational Feminism, anti-racism activism, and Black knowledge production and discussion.

Left to Right: River Clarke, Erin Huggins, and Amalia Lopez

Erin Huggins is a senior at Colorado College majoring in Sociology and minoring in Education. Her current academic interests are in family structures and how the relationships between children, guardians, and social systems. She took this course to learn more about the experiences of marginalized people and communities outside the U.S. She is especially curious about the following questions: What does childhood and family look like for German families? How do marginalized people raise their children in Germany and what challenges do they face that are unique to their experiences in Germany?

Dismantling Structural Racism: Kwesi Aikins on Politics in a Postcolonial Society

By Nia Abram

KwesiThe sun shone bright as the hot pavement carried us to our next destination. We shuffled into a cozy room, as our Heidi and Aishah chatted with their colleagues. From my seat at Each One Teach One, I could peer around the corner into a quaint colorful library. The library houses books written by Black authors, functioning as a historical archive for Black people. The room in which we were sitting is also home to several afterschool events and learning opportunities for Black children and adults. When the chattering settled, our teacher for this afternoon—Joshua Kwesi Aikins—stepped forward.

IMG_8989Aikins is an academic and political activist who has been active in the Afro-German movement, such as Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative of Black People in Germany), for the last 15 years. His roots lie in Ghana, thus he does activist work in Ghana, as well. Eloquently, he illustrated the inner workings of his political activist framework by emphasizing that theoretical reflection—which yields epistemic, analytical, and political benefits—can be an effective methodology for this kind of activism. His emphasis on epistemology reminded me of Maisha Eggers’ “Knowledges of (Un) Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany.” In this article, Eggers tracks the ways in which Black women in Germany have used their own production of knowledge to dismantle the present “racialized knowledge.” As a result, epistemic change has facilitated social and political change inside and outside of the Black empowerment movement. Along these lines, Aikins and the activists alongside him have been lobbying the United Nations (UN) to make use of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and they have had some success. Aikins has presented his collaborative findings on discrimination of all types (e.g., LGBTQI of color, Turkish, Jewish, Blacks) to the UN, and they have decided to put pressure on the German government to make legislative change.

M-StrasseAfter giving us an introduction to his work, Aikins parsed out the specifics of the postcolonial structures that Germany retains. First, he defined the word coloniality as the notion that colonialism is embedded in our current society, noting that our societal structures cannot be boiled down to only colonialism. According to him, there are five symptoms of coloniality: Coloniality of Power, Coloniality of Knowledge, Coloniality of Being, Power of Ignorance, and Ignorance of Power. Of these five, the Coloniality of Knowledge is the most interesting to me. This, in Aikins’ words, is simply the hegemonic knowledge of the “dead men of five countries.” In other words, our body of knowledge has been created and established by white males from five main western countries. The Coloniality of Knowledge erases the fullness of history and strips marginalized people of writing their own stories. Philipp Khabo Köpsell echoes these sentiments in his poem “A Fanfare for the Colonized.” He writes, “O they will tell you of tradition/ of the mapping of the world/ of the mapping of your minds,” and then colonizers will deny the consequences of their actions. Köpsell goes on to write, “Is this what it is? Like this?/ We can’t read the script? Like this?/ We don’t write our own stories?/ We can’t navigate in landscapes/ where the white men claim of glory?/ Motherfuckers we have maps too!” Both Aikins and Köpsell emphasize the eradication of the Black narrative from colonial history that still occurs today.

May UferAlong these lines, Kwesi told us that Germany denies conducting genocide in Namibia to this day. Although it is technically the first genocide of the 20th century, people frequently overlook it. This denial seems oxymoronic when there are still street signs and subway stations with derogatory names targeted at black people that clearly signify Germany’s colonial past. For example, Mohrenstraße is a street name that still exists. Mohren’s latin root means “dark,” but it also means “stupid” and “heathen.” This word has been historically used to degrade Black people in order to uphold white supremacist power structures, and its usage in a public space is a constant reminder of German colonialism. In response, Aikins has worked with Berlin Postkolonial and the ISD has begun to change the names of street signs to those of historical Black figures. The first sign to be created was in commemoration of May Ayim. The prior street name, Gröbenufer, commemorated a white male colonialist, Otto Friedrich von der Gröben, who theorized the racist notion of colorism. When May Ayim’s new sign was installed, there was also a plaque installed that explains the history of the sign. Aikins notes that the point is not to erase history, but rather to document it from all perspectives.

IMG_8991Aikins concluded his lesson with a final articulation—we have the ability to make positive change. If we realize that history is layered with similar and distinct connections, we can track the transcendence of oppression through time. By doing this, we have identified the structural oppression at hand. This is the kind of oppression that is not only institutional and individual, but is also a layer of oppression that is socially shared, sustained, and reproduced through everyday culture, education, and media. However, I was confused as to how could we track our history as Black people when it is constantly being erased. Aikins responded explaining that although it is hard to piece together our history, it is becoming easier. More importantly, we can track our history through the ways we’ve resisted. This reminded me of the ways that the gay and lesbian communities remembered the Holocaust. For instance, in “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution,”  describes this fragmented collective memory—gays and lesbians were so marginalized and traumatized from the events of the Holocaust that they were hard to discuss and remember. However, they were able to find a collective memory by wearing the Pink Triangle to resist the oppression they were facin. It seems that Aikins is prompting us to do the same, so as to rewrite history by filling in the erasures with the people, places, and experiences that we do have access to, which can even be in our own backyard.

NiaNia Abram is a rising junior, an Environmental Science major, and an avid dancer at Colorado College. She has lived in central New Jersey, Atlanta, California, and northern Jersey (in that order), but in the end, she calls north Jersey her home. Nia enjoys hiking and creative writing, as she often retreats to nature to write short stories and personal essays in her free time. Some of her favorite movies include Coming to America, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Mulan, Howl’s Moving Castle, and, of course, Harry Potter. She has taken an interest in Feminist & Gender Studies, and may have the opportunity to declare a minor. However, she hopes to use her knowledge as a feminist and an academic to address environmental justice issues through an intersectional lens. Optimistically, her future career will allow her to start a non-profit organization that brings environmental science and outdoor education to underprivileged urban girls through a program that teaches science, empowerment, and social justice.