Some Final Thoughts on the 2017 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

 

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Zlevor)

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

By Annie Zlevor

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

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

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Zlevor)

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

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

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

Memorial in Schöneberg (Mills)

Memorial in Schöneberg [Photo Credit: Nikki Mills]

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

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

Roma and Sinti Memorial (Zlevor)

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

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

Cheers

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

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

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

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


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

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

Photo Credit: Nora Holmes

By Nora Holmes

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

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

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

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

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

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Nora Holmes

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

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


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

A Day in Amsterdam: Seeking the Voices at the Margins

Jannet Gutierrez and Olivia at “I Amsterdam” [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

By Olivia Calvi

Having spent two weeks in Berlin really delving into the hidden histories of the city, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the voices we were hearing. Our class has been fortunate to meet some of the people who hold those quiet narratives, the narratives that some people never get the chance to hear. But being in Berlin has really called my attention to the voices we are not hearing. When someone thinks of Germany, they have learned to think of the Holocaust. Within each memorial lies the narrative of the collective memory that the Germans share in commemoration of the lives that were lost. I heard continuously about the guilt that the Germans experience, but it was not until I visited Amsterdam this weekend that I really felt like I had heard the individual voices of those afraid to speak for themselves. Perhaps at the time, I just wasn’t listening closely enough.

My day started very early in the morning, 4 am to be exact, as my classmate Jannet and I rushed towards Hauptbahnhof Central Station, worrying we would miss our train to the airport. Our train had, in fact, been delayed. From there, we got lost, we missed train stops, we endlessly and obliviously walked in the wrong direction, and we had to ask people for help. Through all of the chaos, I could not help but think of how excited I was to explore a new place—a new culture. Once in Amsterdam, we did some classic tourist things, like take a picture in front of the “I Amsterdam” sign, but we also indulged in local cuisine by eating Stroopwaffels—a yummy waffle dessert that everyone should try. Still, in the back of my head, I knew I was blogging about this weekend, and I kept thinking I had to do something that would have strong connections to our coursework. As it turned out, the locations I intentionally sought out were where I found the narratives I had been seeking.

Our first stop for these narratives was, of course, the Anne Frank House. Our class had been to the Anne Frank Museum in Berlin, and I wanted to be able to compare the two. However, my admittedly poor lack of planning led us to a line that stretched a few blocks, so we had to be content with just seeing the outside. By this point, Jannet and I had met up with one of her friends who had visited the museum before and was able to tell us some of what she remembered. She pointed out the nearby church tower, and told us Anne would write about the bells she could hear from down the street. She told us about a tree in the backyard that Anne could see from the window where she was hiding. A couple of years ago, the tree was found to be dying and was cut down. This was very controversial, because the tree played a huge part in Anne’s narrative.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

Without going inside, I could be sure that the museum does a very good job of accurately sharing her story, but what I couldn’t be sure about is if there are other narratives being shared. For example, we went to the museum in Berlin, we discussed whether or not memories of Anne’s story, while incredibly significant, had the power to overshadow the stories of other Holocaust victims and survivors. Our stop this weekend at the Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam made me feel as though that were true. The museum exhibit was comprised of objects and artifacts, as well as twelve interviews with Jews covering history in Amsterdam from the 1900s to present day. One of these interviews shared the stories of Jewish women whose parents died in the Holocaust. One woman described growing up as a Jewish youth in isolation, because there really were none of her people left: “We all experienced Judaism growing up, but we all experienced it in different ways.”

This quote called me back to the conversation we had just a day prior during our panel with Black German women of the Post-War generation. Then, we had the chance to speak with Marion Kraft, author “Coming in From the Cold: The Black German Experience, Past and Present.” Here, Kraft writes that in post-war Germany, “many mothers were ‘convinced’ by German authorities to have their children adopted by African-American families.” Our conversation led the panel of women to tell us how they and their friends experienced this separation of family and isolation first hand. None of them could answer the question of how the adoption process impacted the lives of Black German children, because no one narrative would be the same. The Jewish Museum was a reminder that we should not think of the world in generalizations, because that is how individual voices are forgotten.

Another of these interviews was of a Jewish man who appeared to be in his mid-70s. He spoke of how when he returned from the camps, nothing was left in Amsterdam to remind him of his home. He would go to flea markets each week, hoping to find a book from a familiar time or a photo of his father. Every week he returned to the market because his sole hope was that he could somehow be reconnected to his family. The sad fact is it took a lot for me to find this museum and hear this man’s story. I had to actively seek out these narratives, because they are held at the margins. In “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden questions the validity of the way the Holocaust seems to be remembered in Germany by calling on people to look to the margins. More specifically, Linden questions “how our understanding of who the women of the Holocaust were, and how they lived, has been misshaped by fixing our gaze on the vortices of power and destruction, away from the margins.” It seemed to me that so much of the collective memory in Berlin focuses on those Germans who feel guilty for what their ancestors have done. Linden is right that many people don’t act as though we want to hear the stories of the marginalized—instead collective memory provides a space for the voice of the oppressed individual to be ignored.

The Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

Linden is not the only one who thinks women have been left out of the Holocaust narrative. Some writing on a wall in the Museum referenced three Jewish women who had a huge impact on emancipation for Jews in Amsterdam before the war. I sat down to hear the interview as I did all the rest, expecting to hear more about the accomplishments and successes of these women—to hear their stories. Instead, the interview was of a white man. I then clicked on the photos and documents section in hopes these women would be talked about. Only two of these women were pictured. The other four photographs were of white men. One of the women we spoke with during the aforementioned panel was activist and co-founder of ADEFRA, Jasmin Eding. In “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” Eding describes the purpose of her organization: “We are working on our vision to make ADEFRA a place for empowerment for women and their children, a place of comfort, a place to learn and grow, a place to heal.” ADEFRA and Linden aim to achieve what, in my opinion, the Jewish History Museum could not accomplish: substantial and intentional representation of women, of those who identify as LGBTQ, of Sinti and Roma—persecuted groups at the margins of the Holocaust.

During the panel, I asked, “Do people in Berlin feel as though they need to put all of their energy into one minority movement, or do they spread their energy around?” I know tensions about dispersing energies exist in the U.S., because of the fear that nothing will ever get done. I wanted to know how these conversations were being handled in Germany. One of our guests, Judy Gummich, responded that “it needs to be a balance of both.” She went on to say that people are so focused on their own interests, they forget about the interconnectedness that exists between minority groups. When people are only focused on the larger picture and getting things done, they forget to listen to the individuals who need their voices to be heard in order to heal. They forget it is in their own interest to help each other in their fight towards justice and equality for all. The larger narratives of collective memory and of the oppressor distract from the individual stories that have the power to change perspectives—those are the narratives that we need to seek out because they are so easily forgotten.


Olivia Calvi is a rising sophomore from Los Angeles, CA. She is double-majoring in Religion and Classics at Colorado College, and hopes to also attain a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. After college she plans on attending Seminary to eventually find herself in a career as a military or prison chaplain. She wholeheartedly believes in the Denver Airport conspiracy theory and has recently made the discovery that she is terrible at navigating public transportation.

 

Writing Ourselves into the Discourse: The Legacies of Audre Lorde and May Ayim

L to R: Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, Jasmin Eding, and Marion Kraft [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

By Nikki Mills

On a rainy Friday afternoon, three remarkable women sat quietly, listening to the rainfall on the roof of the FHXB Museum. While moms outside shielded children from the downpour and businessmen and women sprinted for the metro, we gathered, a class of nine, young and eager, into the museum’s auditory. Marion Kraft, Jasmin Eding, and Judy Gummich spent the next two and a half hours recounting their memories and their work, including stories about Audre Lorde and May Ayim, two remarkable people who led the way for Black women in Germany.

Marion began. She recalled the first time she met the legendary Audre Lorde. She was asked to interview her. “I was so nervous,” Marion told us. “Very shaky.” She went on to describe the tape recorder she brought along, not conveniently sized back in 1985, and her questionable ability to work the machine. Marion conducted the interview and after an hour Audre asked, “Are we done? That was beautiful! Can we listen to it now?” Marion clicked the play button and nothing played back. She hadn’t recorded any of it! Mortified, Marion apologized, to which Audre responded, “Oh well, let’s do it all over again!” And they did. Marion shared this anecdote with us to describe Audre’s honesty and genuine compassion for her work as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Marion continued, “I believe every word public or private came from her heart.” Her encounter with Audre Lorde was life-changing and the beginning of a personal friendship.

Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

Marion, Jasmin, and Judy have each had their own unique hand in shaping Black communities Germany. Marion, a scholar and philosopher, has spent decades trying to right the racist wrongs of society. For example, her recent book, Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration, is a direct response to the lack of Black literature in Germany, because she, along with many other Black Germans of her generation, grew up in “total isolation.” Judy Gummich, diversity trainer and life-coach, recalled how before any organized Black German groups existed, it was sometimes hard to look at another Black person. She noted that it was like looking in to a mirror that reflected back the oppression and racism so prevalent in Germany. They didn’t even have a name for themselves. “Afro-German” and “Black German” wasn’t a common way for them to describe themselves until ADEFRA, a Black women’s organization claimed the name in 1986. Before then, being “Black” and “German” were not what we would call “compatible” identities. Along these lines, in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” Jasmin, co-founder of ADEFRA writes, “We chose to define ourselves, name ourselves. We called ourselves Black Germans, Afro-German or Afropeans, Blacks in Europe (instead of Europeans) or simply Black. We felt it time to challenge German society that being German doesn’t always mean being white and that we also had a long Black history in Germany/Europe.” This statement lays the groundwork for the importance of the Black community to define itself rather than be defined by anyone else.

Before helping to found ADEFRA, Jasmin found influence in Audre Lorde’s work—more specifically, the back cover of one of her books. On the back was an advertisement for another book, Farbe Bekennen: Afro-Deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out), co-edited by May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz. It piqued the interest of a young Jasmin and soon enough she had the book in her hands. During our discussion, she said, “It was like looking into a mirror.” Everything she was reading in this book about the experiences of other Afro-German women paralleled her own. So, she wrote a letter to Katharina Oguntoye, and eventually heard back. The two women got together and started talking. Those conversations sparked the thought process behind ADEFRA. It was a “mission,” Jasmin explained. In the 1980s, with no Facebook or Whats App, these women had to resort to person-to-person interaction to build their collective community. Handing out fliers on the street and through word-of-mouth, ADEFRA grew bigger and bigger. Jasmin noted it was like a “Black coming out.” They were no longer in “total isolation,” as Marion had described earlier. It was no easy process but slowly a connection on a national level was built among Black German communities. These women, including Ria Cheatom—who made a surprise visit to our discussion, spent hours driving all around Germany, even venturing into former German Democratic Republic (GDR) to find the Black community in East Berlin.

L to R from Top: Nikki Mills, Dagmar Schultz, Ika Hügel-Marshall, Marion’s Partner Oury, Dana Asbury, and Nora Holmes [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

They recalled their first office, a kitchen table, and laughed about the hours spent hand writing fliers because at that time print copies were expensive. A fascinating part of our conversation about ADEFRA’s beginnings were the challenges they faced venturing into East Berlin. There they found a common sentiment that there was “no racism,” an official position of the GDR. This inability to accept the racist discrimination made it incredibly difficult to have honest conversations about life for Black Germans. But as Marion recalled, after the fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent plummet of the GDR economy, many minorities were blamed. The classic story of using a minority group as a scapegoat for the ruin of the economy. The racial violence toward Black and refugee communities in the former GDR spoke to the necessity of groups like ADEFRA. Marion, Judy, and Jasmin all attested to the fact that there are still “no-go” areas for minority groups within Berlin. The voice ADEFRA and other Black German organizations, such as the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD), gives to Black German communities is essential in their fight for equity.

With the help of members of ADEFRA like Jasmin and many other voices within Black German communities, Marion created Kinder der Befreiung to “write [Black Germans] into the discourse in [their] own voice, in [their] own language, that’s not imposed upon [them].” The book is composed of “life stories,” histories of the children of the liberation. For example, in an interview with the Jewish Museum of Berlin, Marion explains, “The title Children of the Liberation refers to the liberation of Germany from fascism” and “stands in contrast to the term ‘occupation’ and at the same time refers to liberation from the discriminating labels that prevailed for a long time to describe the children of Allied soldiers and German women, in particular the Black children.” The language used by ADEFRA and Marion is crucial to the liberation of Black Germans from colonial imposition and naming of certain minority groups. As she writes in “Coming in from the Cold: The Black German Experience Past and Present,” “The self-definition of Black Germans began in the 1980s, and the visions and actions of the generations born after World War II have had a profound influence on the development of a Black German cultural and political consciousness.” Our panelists and guests, which also included—to our surprise—Ika Hügel-Marshall and Dagmar Schultz, nodded in agreement that today’s young Black Germans admirably have a certain kind of self-confidence about their identity and belonging. We concluded that this confidence developed, in part, because of our guests’ generation, the children of the post-war era, a generation of elders that allowed this confidence to come to fruition.

Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

Marion also argues that Kinder der Befreiung is a vital way of combatting the notion that racism is in the past. For example, the forward opens with Anton Wilhelm Amo, an influential Black German philosopher from Ghana who was also a contemporary of Immanuel Kant’s. At the same time that Amo was teaching and writing in Germany, Kant claimed that no African has ever made anything of a contribution to society. Marion used this anecdote to highlight the racism that has saturated society. But that was the 18th century right? Marion then juxtaposes this problem with a more contemporary philosopher, Hannah Arendt. Arendt wrote in the 1950s that the social structures of the Black community were something akin to that of animals. Even more contemporary, a current street sign in Berlin proudly sports an extremely racist slur about Black people despite their resistance.

This, of course, can best be understood through an intersectional lens that carefully considers multiple forms of oppression. Along these lines, Judy has found herself immersed in the particular discourse on inclusion and what that means in terms of human rights. It’s a discourse about how to live together and allow all people the fundamental right to live. It’s also about moving away from words like “integration” and “assimilation” so often the terminology used to describe “progress.” Whether it’s a salad bowl, mosaic, or a majestic multi-colored coat, the discourse remains the same. “Integration” is not the goal. In Germany, this word often targets “people with a migration background” and problematizes them rather than the barriers they face. It is also important, as Judy asserted, to include all Black Germans, to pull everyone out of the “total isolation” Marion described and give them a voice in the conversation on Black German identity.

L to R: Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, Jasmin Eding, Marion Kraft, and Nikki Mills [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

The work that these women are and have been doing to give the next generation of Black Germans a clear identity, a cohesive history, a voice in a country that pretends they don’t exist, is remarkable. As I walked out of the museum into the evening drizzle I couldn’t help wonder, did I just meet this generation’s Audre Lorde and May Ayim?


Nikki Mills hails from the swampy Washington, D.C. area, and treasures the moments she gets to spend in sunny Colorado. She’s an Anthropology major and Political Science minor, but in an effort to leave her comfort zone and still explore issues close to her heart, she’s chosen to take her first official Feminist & Gender Studies course this summer. On campus, Nikki can be found hanging from ropes in the climbing gym and attending Shabbat dinners at the Interfaith House. Throughout school and beyond, she hopes to continue working hard for the disregarded in our society and find creative ways of moving past this particularly vile moment in U.S. history.

 

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.