Witnessing Powerful Art: A Conversation with the Editors of Winter Shorts

By Ivy Wappler

IMG_20160615_095851662 (1)The FemGeniuses greeted the day with a rainy walk to the U-Bahn and a stuffy, damp subway ride. Peeling off our wet jackets, we settled in for class. This morning, we were lucky enough to sit down with the editors of Winter Shorts, the latest installment of the Witnessed Series. It was a pleasure to hear from Sharon Dodua Otoo and Clementine Burnley, co-editors of the influential collection. Otoo, a London-born artist and activist, moved to Berlin in 2006 with her three sons (she now has four). She described the motivation for the Witnessed Series as a desire to use her international connections to create momentum, shared understanding, and support for Black German activism through writing. Burnley has been in Berlin for 6 years, and writes poetry when she isn’t working for MSO Inklusiv. In 2015, MSO focused its work on youth, Black, and Queer people of color communities, collaborating with organizations like Street UnivercityJugend Theater Büro, Katharina Oguntoye’s Joliba, and the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland. This year, they’re working with Wagenplatz Kanal, a Queer grouping within the Sinti and Roma community, a Black Trans organisation hosted by Der Braune Mob, and a youth organisation in Heidelberg.

Otoo and Burnley emphasized that Witnessed, the first English-language series about the experience of Black people in Germany, is not meant to replace anything already written in German about the Black German experience. Witnessed is, rather, a diverse collection, a reflection of the myriad experiences that comprise a Black German collective consciousness. Previous installments include The Little Book of Big Visions How to Be an Artist and Revolutionize the World edited by Otoo and Sandrine Micossé-Aikins (2012), Daima by Nzitu Mawakha (2013), Also by Mail: A Play a Olumide Popoola (2013), and The Most Unsatisfied Town by Amy Evans (2015), which is based on the deeply controversial Oury Jalloh case. The original book launch and reading of this play was a collaboration with Roses for Refugees, a project Otoo developed that sought to engage with refugees living and protesting in Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg in order to improve the policies and discourses around refugees in Germany. A catalyst for activism, Witnessed also organized and hosted youth workshops in schools, along with performances of the play.

After Otoo and Burnley discussed their work, we asked questions about the texts we read for class from Winter Shorts, including Burnley’s “Boom,” and Otoo’s “Whtnacig Pnait (Watching Paint).” I found it interesting that Otoo explained that the latter was inspired by her son’s struggles with dyslexia. The protagonist hates school, in part due to this and also his new, unfamiliar home in Germany. Still, when the boy finds himself in a magical, secret safe space for people of color, he still feels somewhat out of place. This story, Otoo shared with us, was her way of saying “Look, I’ve been listening!” not only to her son, but also to all people on the margins of the Black community, estranged by forces like ableism, cissexism, and heterosexism.

IMG_0446I loved reading fiction for a change, and these stories were no disappointment, inciting rich discussions of racism, hegemonic narratives, and the role of art in activism. For example, I asked, “What role does autobiography play in your stories? How much of your writing is rooted in personal experience?” The answers I received were far more nuanced than I expected. Otoo articulated that, for her, even if she writes about something directly from her own life, that the very act of writing it down is interpretation. She is wary of the term “autobiographical,” as it may limit the interpretations of her work. Her stories are invitations for connection and inspiration, not simply narrations of disparate, specific happenings. Burnley responded, “I can’t write what I don’t know,” explaining that even though everything she writes is fueled by something she has seen, heard, or imagined, as soon as she’s written a story down, she no longer has anything to do with it. “What is more important,” she argued, “is what the person reading the story brings to it.” For Burnley, delineations of fact and fiction matter not: “Sometimes you write a story, and it’s complete factual experience, but for me it doesn’t make a difference. It’s still a story.” These responses made it clear, then, that no matter how connected to reality stories are, what matters most is how the reader can relate to the story.

As a follow-up, Heidi raised a concern that  too often marginalized writers, especially Black women writers (the literary community she’s most studied) are assumed only to write autobiographical content, that they rarely considered to be creative. Otoo agreed and added that the literary perspective of white men seems to be the neutral perspective, rich in variation and creative freedom, while perspectives of Black women and other marginalized groups are seen as a specialized, specific and connected to the narration of their marginal experiences. She suggested that since the wealth of literature catered to the masses is written by white men, the small amount of writing done by PoC or QPOC is usually assumed to be simply nonfictional, and not creative. It seems that writers from minority groups have been affected by what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of the single story,” something that Burnley mentions in the introduction to Winter Shorts. When dominant narratives are written only by those in power, those without power suffer. Burnley actually touches on this frustration through one of her characters, Mimi, in “Boom.” Upon researching the Bab el Mandeb straits for a vacation, “Mimi was at once pleased and annoyed at the morbid romanticism of the language and the way it entirely avoided mentioning the slave trade and the more recent wars in the region” (47). Otoo, Burnley, and the writers of the Witnessed Series are all painfully aware of the danger of the single story, and aim to complicate limited narratives about the Black experience with their colorful collection of writings.

Talking to Otoo and Burnley this morning helped us see a real relationship between creating art and Black political thought. All the scholars in the room seemed to agree that this work against the danger of the single story, the Witnessed Series, is certainly political. Along these lines in the introduction to Winter Shorts, Burnley reminds readers of Toni Morrison’s insight: “If there is a book you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Burnley laments that capitalism has turned the appreciation of the arts into an elitist endeavor that many do not have resources enough to access. But she urged us today that her art, and subsequently her manifestation of political thought, is not always found in the high, abstract realm, “because we don’t always have the time or the money.” Among capitalist frameworks that commodify creativity and impose limiting structures such as genres, Burnley sees an opportunity for artful dissent. “That’s freedom for me,” she states in a matter-of-fact manner, “writing what I want.” Otoo agrees, “I like to write in a way that leaves room for interpretation…leaves room for dreaming.” Through their collections of art, Otoo and Burnley have invited their readers to dream of liberation. Through conversing with them and getting acquainted with their work, it is clear that they see art as a powerful political tool.

IMG_20160613_104425639The curation of the Witness Series, including Winter Shorts, is a glimpse into the multiplicitous nature of the Black German experience, meant to engender awareness and solidarity for their movement towards liberation. Winter Shorts does a beautiful job of showcasing the difficult everyday moments in which multiple intersections of identity manifest. Clearly, in these personal stories, rife with racially charged struggle, is where the revolution is situated. Otoo and Burnley are uniting people with these stories and inviting collaboration and change to be made. As Heidi writes in her book-jacket praise for Winter Shorts, “The revolution happens in our hearts, minds, and spirits during moments when we might least expect it.”  I want to thank both Otoo and Burnley for sharing their keen, revolutionary, and poetic minds with the FemGeniuses this morning.


WapplerIvy Wappler hails from Long Island Sound and is grateful to spend her summers in New England, and her winters in sunny Colorado. She is a Feminist and Gender Studies major, and an Environmental Issuesminor. After school, she hopes to explore environmentally and socially responsible tourism. She may also end up reforming sex education. An avid foodie, Ivy is ready to experience Berlin through its food and drink when she’s not in class. You may find her taking walks through sunny streets, seeking out farmer’s markets and green, open spaces.

Katharina Oguntoye and the Joliba Intercultural Network

Joliba 1By Grace Montesano

This morning Baheya, Ivy and I sat around our dining room table discussing the plans for the day and enjoying our breakfast—sort of. While Baheya and Ivy had opted to make eggs and toast, I went the muesli route. I was only partially surprised to find out that the milk I bought was actually liquid yogurt. The surprise was partial because I seem to make this mistake in almost every new country I visit. This wouldn’t be a problem for someone who could appreciate liquid yogurt, I’m just simply not that person. I dejectedly ate half of my cereal concoction (I needed the sustenance) and then left the apartment, hoping for a better experience with our first visit with Katharina Oguntoye, Founder and Director of Joliba Intercultural Network.

Joliba is housed in two unassuming buildings in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg in Berlin. Upon entering, we were greeted by several large paintings by Young Eun Sun, one of the current interns. Katharina Oguntoye also greeted us. Katharina was a highly influential figure in the early Afro-German women’s movement in Berlin. For instance she co-edited Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, which is regarded as the first and one of the most important books about the experiences of Afro-German women. Along those lines she’s been working towards liberation for many years, and it was neat to talk to such an important leader of the movement.

Katharina founded Joliba (another name for the Niger River, meaning “big river”) in 1997 as a place for intercultural networking and aiding immigrants. According to Katharina, this name was chosen because the Niger River connects many countries in West Africa, and the organization brings together many different people within Germany.  This reminds me of the foreword to Showing Our Colors, in which Audre Lorde writes, “This book serves to remind African-American women that we are not alone in our world situation. In the face of new international alignments, vital connections and differences exist that need to be examined between African-European, African-Asian, African American women” (xiv). It is clear that the movement Katharina participated in so heavily with Lorde has informed the rest of her life’s work.

Joliba 3In her office, Katharina gave us a bit of history of the organization, and then we were able to ask her some questions. One of the themes she spoke about was her own experience with racism. In “What I’ve Always Wanted to Tell You” from Showing Our Colors, Katharina writes about the feeling of otherness she experienced when she was the only Afro-German that she knew.  More specifically she explains reuniting with her brother: “It felt so good that the form of his hands and feet looked so much like mine. i loved him for making me feel that i was not alone, not an accidental exception” (215). Today in our discussion, Katharina strengthened this observation in several ways. She told us that Black Germans weren’t (and perhaps still aren’t) automatically recognized as German citizens. People would often ask her where she was from despite her being born in Germany. She went on to give the example of some anti-racist workshops she once co-led with her partner Carolyn Gammon. She said it was a very interesting exercise because she is Black German, and her partner is a White Canadian. This is the inverse of the way that most Germans conceptualize race, so some of the workshop participants are a little bit taken aback at first. I asked Katharina if there was ever any tension between the desire to be treated like a German citizen and to escape the othering, while simultaneously acknowledging that the white Germans had waged imperialist and colonialist efforts against several countries in Africa, including Ghana, Togo, Camaroon, Rawanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Namibia. She responded that while there is a very specific and negative connotation to being “proud” to be German, she is happy to be German. She is glad to be able to claim the rights of a German citizen and to a certain extent not have to deal with the xenophobia that foreigners must.

Her experiences make a lot of sense, especially within the context of the racism of colonial Germany. As written in Showing Our Colors, “In the consciousness of the colonial avengers Blacks remained subhuman creatures to be civilized and disciplined. It is no wonder, then, that the occupation by Black soldiers was felt by much of the German population to be especially humiliating” (43).  From the introduction to the book, we learned that for some Afro-Germans, “The nicest thing they [were] ever called […] was ‘war-baby’” (vii). With these quotes in mind, we can really begin to understand that the racism against Afro-Germans was exacerbated by the colonial history in which Black people were seen as less than human. It also makes sense that Katharina could desire being treated like the German she is, while also critiquing the Germany of the past, especially considering colonial Germany’s role in enhancing racism towards Afro-Germans.

After having this discussion, we took a short but beautiful walk through part of the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin to the other Joliba building, where met several more of the interns—none of whom are Germans. One thing about Joliba is that it truly is an intercultural experience. Another really important aspect of the work at Joliba that we learned about is the importance of appreciating culture and having joy. Katharina introduced us to cultural projects, such as children’s books and the kora. She emphasized that this type of cultural exchange and “fun” activity are so important to this movement, because the pain and difficulty of fighting injustice every day takes a physical and emotional toll on a person. Along these lines, in Jasmin Eding’s profile of ADEFRA (an organization we will be visiting with later in the week!), she writes, “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 to grow, a place to heal” (131). I trust what Katharina has to say about self-care, not only because other scholars like Eding (and Heidi!) seem to agree but also because she said it with the authority of seeing a movement grow from the beginning to the present, with all the ups and downs and failures and successes.

Joliba 2I really appreciated this experience of being able to see a successful organization that actually helps people that is also founded on progressive principles. It is very difficult to understand for the first time the source of your oppression. It’s complicated and painful even though it might be rewarding and helpful. However, it is even more difficult to take that knowledge and create something to change the problem. What was so interesting about this visit is that we had read Showing Our Colors, and now we were seeing Joliba after 20 years of operation. As Katharina said to us, the movement started with Showing Our Colors so in the span of a week, we have seen both ends of 20 years of activism. This visit also elucidated some of the readings from this week by giving us a palpable context, i.e. meeting Katharina. There is such a large difference between reading someone’s work and then getting to speak to them about it face to face. After reading her essays, then seeing her (briefly) in the documentary, a chance to ask questions was great!

I have purchased some eggs and toast for tomorrow. Hopefully the day will start well and end well with the exciting sessions we have in store!

DSC09718 (2)

 


MontesanoGrace Montesano is a rising senior majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies as well as Political Science at Colorado College. They love discussing politics, and are known for making obscure references to various media that no one else has heard of. Grace is skeptical of the 9/11 story we have all been told, and believes the jury is definitely still out about the existence of mermaids.

Image

Some Final Thoughts on the 2014 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

Celine and I

Celine and I during the Farewell Dinner at TV Tower

Writing this was especially difficult. As a result, I’m so thankful that I asked the students to write blogs throughout our time in Berlin so that you all could follow our journey as it was happening. It was wonderful. Dreamy. Exciting. Adventurous. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that I don’t think I could have asked for a better experience teaching abroad for the first time.

I do want to “say” that, with the help of our Course Assistant and my new ace Celine Barry and Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, I’ve decided to change the title of the course in order to more accurately communicate its goals and objectives. The course will now be titled “Hidden Spaces, Hidden Narratives: Intersectionality Studies in Berlin.” During our course, we studied the experiences of Afro-German women, migrants and refugees in Berlin, victims of Neo-Nazi terrorism and police brutality, and LGBTQI communities, to name a few. We also embarked on tours that provided information based on official, state-sanctioned narratives of Berlin so that we could juxtapose them with tours that provided information about the narratives that are often hidden from tourists on the beaten path. This change does not mean the course will radically change, but this new title will better articulate what we actually did in Berlin. I don’t know if I’ll be able to teach the course again – this depends on whether or not my proposal is accepted by the Summer Sessions Committee – but I have high hopes.

FemGeniuses Late

The FemGeniuses figuring out how not to be late! Just kidding – figuring out dinner!

Speaking of high hopes, I had high hopes that this group of students wouldn’t disappoint. I think I had such high hopes and expectations, because I know 5 of the 9 students who came with me to Berlin. Those 5 had taken at least 2 courses with me, and most have decided to either major or minor in Feminist & Gender Studies. So, we know each other pretty well. I had also received strong recommendations for the other 4 students, so I didn’t imagine that they’d cause any trouble. Well, I was 99.8% right. I only had to “discipline” the students 3 times – twice during the first week, once during the second, and none during the last week. These things were pretty minor, though, if you ask me: a bit of tardiness, a bit of over-eager loudness, and a bit of inappropriate silliness. I honestly don’t think I need to make any major changes to the course in order to mitigate such issues. Sometimes, these things just happen. Regarding attendance and tardiness, though, I did have a policy that students couldn’t miss more than 2 sessions (not days) without being penalized; however, I didn’t have a tardy policy. The students who were late quite a bit on the first two days were not malicious, but students have to realize – at some point or another – that timeliness is important. I was a few minutes lates myself a couple times – Mercury was in retrograde, after all – but I was never late to a session during which I had asked someone to give their time and energy to our course. I don’t want to seriously hurt a student for honest mistakes, only to communicate the importance of respecting the time and energy of themselves and others. As for the loudness and silliness, I’ll handle that as it comes. No big deal, really.

There are a couple other things I want to change, too, but not in response to anything that went wrong. For example, I think I could implement discussion points in this course as I do in all of my courses. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I didn’t. I must say that many of the folks we interacted with in Berlin were impressed by the students, as was I. And even though I don’t want to spend a lot of time grading in Berlin or even after I return home, I want to have the opportunity to evaluate student discussion so that I can help them maintain their strengths and improve their weaknesses. Our new friends in Berlin were also impressed by the great questions the students asked. I was, too. Most people who know me pedagogically know that I value good questions almost as much as anything else. So, I also think that I may ask students to develop discussion questions for each of our sessions ahead of time, like I do normally, so that I can help them craft their question-asking skills and also to acknowledge when they do so effectively. We actually did that in preparation for our first guest, Ika Hügel-Marshall, but we didn’t keep it up. We will next time. I’ll also do a better job evaluating the student blogs and student peer reviews of said blogs. I basically made revisions/edits to the blogs as I was posting them and quickly reviewed the peer reviews so that I could post the blogs promptly. In the future, however, I want to take some time to give salient feedback on the blogs so that students know what they should improve. This brings me to another significant change, “Just Us Mondays.” On Monday mornings, I want to spend time with the students for a few hours discussing all of these things, debriefing sessions, and preparing for upcoming sessions. We’ll follow that up with a group lunch before heading to one of our tours. I think they’ll like that, and so will I.

Frauenkreise

Me and the Frauenkreise Team: Iris, Nina, and Gabi

While our course was “jam packed” with seminars, tours, and visits to important sites in Berlin, that’s not going to change. We’re in Berlin for just 3 weeks, and there is so much to see and do. We aren’t there just to lounge around. We’re there to learn as much as we possibly can. And to be honest, I had more “chill time” than I even expected, so that’s pretty cool. That’s another reason why things were jam packed. We had mandatory sessions each morning and afternoon most weekdays so that we all could have our weekends free to roam the city, hang out with new friends, and things of that nature. On that note, I actually did the math. My regular classes at CC total around 58-59 hours. Our class totaled around 61-62 hours. I think that’s sufficient. I want my students to have the best, most-rewarding experience possible. And really, I want them and/or whoever is financially supporting their experience, to feel that the money was well-spent. Like I once said during the course, “If you wanted to come to Berlin to just do whatever, you could have done that on your own dime and for less money.”

At this point, I’ll note that our sessions at Frauenkreise were open to the public. That also won’t change. It was great meeting other folks in Berlin interested in intersectionality studies, and our open sessions helped us do that. The only problem is that our sessions were held at 9 am, so most folks in Berlin couldn’t attend due to their jobs. However, so that the students and I may have our evenings to roam, that’ll likely stay the same, too. The only thing I’m considering is starting the sessions at 10 am rather than 9 am. Most of our morning sessions lasted approximately 90-120 minutes. So, if we start at 10 am, that’ll leave us enough time to have lunch and head to our afternoon sessions at 2 pm, which will allow us to end our days around 3:30 or 4 pm. Of course, things don’t always go as planned – most of the time that means sessions run a little longer than planned – but I think this “new” schedule will work well, given what I learned this first time.

Carolyn

Carolyn Gammon, Katharina Oguntoye, Me, and Gabi Zekina (Frauenkreise)

Earlier, I wrote that we enjoyed juxtaposing official, state-sanctioned narratives about Berlin and Germany – via tours – with narratives about Berlin and Germany that are often hidden from tourists on the beaten path. Well, I was happy to learn about two other tours that will help us with the latter. During a non-mandatory session at Frauenkreise, I met Carolyn Gammon, author of The Unwritten Diary of Israel UngerAfter her talk, I learned that she is a Guide Coordinator for Milk & Honey Tours: Discover Jewish Europe. Sounds amazing, right? I also learned that one of Celine’s colleagues provides a tour of Berlin that focuses on Sinta-Roma history in Berlin. Again, amazing! These tours will definitely make their way to the agenda for next summer!

I can’t even begin to tell you about all of the great people and NGOs that I learned about while we were in Berlin, meaning those that we didn’t get to meet during our course. All I can say is that in order to engage all this fabulousness, I’m going to take Celine and Nicole‘s advice and incorporate more panels into our sessions. Speaking of that, structuring the course the way that I did really inspired me to attempt to team-teach more often back at home. I’ve had such talks with some of my colleagues, and Scott Krzych and I will be team-teaching a Bridge Scholars Program course this year on Critical Media Studies. However, this is something that I’d like to strive to do annually in addition to Bridge, which I also team-taught last year with Emily Chan. I’m very much a dialogue-focused teacher-scholar, so this will allow me to flourish in my strengths more, which is always a plus.

Frauenkreise Talk

After My Talk: Helen, Me, Annapoorna, Marca, Gabi, and Vicky

Last, I was asked by the Frauenkreise team to give a talk during my time there. So, I did what I love to do most and discussed mediated constructions of race and gender in “Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media.” This led to me being invited to actually join the team, which was wonderful. After my talk, Vicky Germain also asked if I’d be interested in recording some of my lectures in order to share them with the world. I’d actually thought about that before, but now I’m motivated to make sure to do so next year. I’m thinking that I’ll start with one session each teaching block, then I’ll post them here so that you all can take a look at my pedagogical work.

That said, I need to thank our viewers around the world for joining in our adventures! Since we started blogging for #femGeniusesInBerlin, the site has received views from Germany and the U.S., of course, but also from some places we’d never received views before, such as the U.K., Brazil, Sweden, France, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Japan, Argentina, Peru, Canada, Singapore, Norway, Turkey, Nigeria, Ireland, Australia, India, Spain, Iceland, Poland, Russia, Malaysia, South Africa, Italy, Ukraine, Croatia, Bahamas, Portugal, Tunisia, Denmark, Egypt, Netherlands, Mozambique, Phillipines, Greece, Macao, Tajikistan, Maldives, Mexico, Finland, Macedonia, Israel, and Senegal. I’m still amazed by this, and I’m hoping that my transnational work will continue to thrive in ways that I haven’t yet imagined.

Daima Crew

Me and the Daima Team: Nzitu, Me, Jamile, Tina, and Sharon

That “said,” I’d like to end by thanking my new friends and colleagues in Berlin: the Frauenkreise team (Gabriele “Gabi” Zekina, Nina Jenks, and Iris Rajanayagam), the Schwules Museum team (especially Elisaveta Dvorak), Ika Hügel-Marshall, Dagmar Schultz and Ria Cheatom, Diana Rücklicht the Lambda and Queer @ School teams, Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, Biplab Basu of ReachOut, Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle of the African Women & Youth Organization, Nadine Saeed of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh, Katharina Oguntoye of the Joliba Interkulturelles Netzwerk, Jamile da Silva of S.U.S.I., Andrea Ottmer of the German Society for Trans Identity and Intersexuality, Heike Radvan of the Antonio Amadeu Stiftung, Rebecca Brückmann of Free University, Josephine Apraku, Maja FiggeKristina Kuličová and Magda Albrecht of Fat Up!, Bernard Könnecke and Katarzyna “Kasia” Wojnicka of Dissens, Daniel Gyamerah of Each One Teach One, Sharon Dodua Otoo, and Hatef Soltani and Mahdiyeh Kalhori of CrossPoint TV.

Celine Pergamon Museum

Celine at the Pergamon Museum

Last but not least, I want to sincerely and wholeheartedly thank our Course Assistant Celine Barry. All you had to do was be “on call” in case we needed someone to translate for emergency purposes. However, you showed up to and participated in events, and you taught us so much more than we could have asked for. And you did it with such style and grace. We love you.

Berliners, thank you so much for sharing your time and energy with me and my students. You’ve taught us so much, and I can only hope that we gave you all as much as you gave us. I’m really looking forward to building our new relationships, and I’m positive that we’ll be working together for many years to come.

Tschüss.

Heidi

2014 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.

The FemGeniuses Are in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
The New Berlin Walking Tour” by Melissa L. Barnes
Zanele Muholi at the Schwules Museum” by Kadesha Caradine
Meeting with Ika Hügel-Marshall” by Ximena Buller
Meeting with Dagmar Schultz and Ria Cheatom” by Kaimara Herron
Lambda Berlin and Queer @ School” by Beril Mese
Meeting with Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück” by Stefani Messick
ReachOut Berlin with Biplab Basu” by Casey Schuller
The Struggle against Racism in Britain (1976-2012): Its Implications for Justice and Democracy w/ Paul Gilroy” by Nicole Tan
Our First Weekend in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Riots Reframed and Absent from the Academy: An Homage to Stuart Hall” by Melissa L. Barnes
Africa in Wedding” by Blaise Yafcak
Convergence Class with Rebecca Brückmann at Freie Universität” by Ximena Buller
Heike Radvan and the Antonio Amadeu Stiftung” by Kadesha Caradine
German Society for Trans Identity and Intersexuality” by Kaimara Herron
A Talk with Jamila da Silva e Silva of S.U.S.I.” by Beril Mese
Meeting w/ Katharina Oguntoye of Joliba Interkulturelles Netzwerk” by Stefani Messick
Nadine Saeed and Katrin Jullien of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh” by Casey Schuller
Meeting w/ Elizabeth Olayinka Adekunle of the African Women & Youth Organization” by Nicole Tan
The ‘Alternative City’ Tour” by Blaise Yafcak
Wannsee Lake, Theorizing Race and Racism, and the Carnival of Cultures: Our Second Weekend in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Berlin from Below: Dark Worlds” by Melissa L. Barnes
Meeting Sharon Dodua Otoo and Discussing the Witnessed Series” by Ximena Buller
Daniel Gyamerah and Each One Teach One” by Kaimara Herron
Dissens: Work on Masculinity, Feminism and Working with Perpetrators” by Beril Mese
Museum für Naturkunde” by Blaise Yafcak
(Emerging) Fat Activism in Germany with Fat Up!” by Nicole Tan
Dis/continuities of Racism and Whiteness from the 1950s until Today” by Kadesha Caradine
Schloss Charlottenburg” by Casey Schuller
Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media at Frauenkreise Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Rain, Towers, Rainbows, and New Beginnings” by Stefani Messick
What the Berliners Said about the 2014 FemGeniuses in Berlin
Kwaheri, Nzitu!” by Heidi R. Lewis

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

Image

Meeting w/ Katharina Oguntoye of Joliba Interkulturelles Netzwerk

By Stefani Messick

Subway StefaniOur morning began with an invigorating discussion with Jamile da Silva from S.U.S.I. We conversed about the overt and subtle forms of racism she has encountered since moving to Germany, and the momentum carried the FemGeniuses through to the afternoon. As we made our way down to the now-familiar U-Bahn station, the sunshine tickled our skin, and so did the wildlife. I was pleasantly surprised to find a ladybug on Kaimara’s head, and as she was not about to put up with that, I promptly rescued the creature. It flitted to Casey’s head then, and it was eventually rescued from the floor of the train. It took several stops for me to convince the bug that flight on the subway was not advisable. After flitting about, it landed on my head, and I persuaded it to remain calm for the remainder of the ride. It traveled with us through eleven stops on the U2 before we made our way into the free air again. Had we been together for several more stops, I would have had a deep enough connection to give it a name. I have a feeling it would have either been Lyle or Lola, both good names for a gentle-hearted ladybug.

Joliba PictureFrom the subway, we met Heidi, who was chatting away with Katharina Oguntoye, founder of the nonprofit intercultural association Joliba. The organization provides “integration assistance” and “psychosocial services for children, youth, and families in the intercultural field, especially for Afro-German families.” The employees are qualified people with a knowledge of many languages who can counsel the children and families. Joliba also holds educational seminars and provides activities for children, such as parties and reading groups. Very few organizations that are specialized in intercultural relations exist in Germany. Katharina told us that in conversation with people in the area about minority issues and the work her organization does, last year was the first year in 17 years that people didn’t react negatively and brush off the status of the Afro-German minority. “That’s kind of crass,” she said, “but it took a really long time.” The work in this movement has just begun, but to Katharina, the most important parts of it are community, history, and togetherness. Smiling and storytelling, she took us through her neighborhood in Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, through the cobblestone streets permeated with the wafting scents of cafes and cigarettes and the visual stimuli of graffiti and German pride.

Katharina and Stefani

Katharina, who was raised for part of her life in Nigeria and the rest in Heidelberg, Germany, also co-edited Farbe Bekennen (or Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out) with May Ayim  and Dagmar Schultz, a book that we read in preparation for class. Farbe Bekennen was the first of its kind to document the experiences of Afro-Germans. As a history major, Katharina values experiences. “When you get someone who is willing to talk and share their history, that is a great gift,” she said. “The book gave us an excuse to reach out to people like us to ask them if they’d heard of the book and the Afro-German movement.” She also commented on the necessity of being in an environment that is affirming, and because Katharina valued this acceptance, she formed Joliba. “I wanted something that is focused on producing projects and work and also where it doesn’t matter what gender or what color or what culture you are…I try to get people to be together and to get something done.”

IMG_3457“My feminism didn’t start with the book. I think I was born a feminist,” Katharina declared. What was crucial, though, to her activism as a radical feminist, was her coming out. She was active for 10 years in the Afro-German movement, but was also a dynamic powerhouse as a radical lesbian in the women’s movement. Like the experience of Ika Hügel-Marshall, who struggled as a feminist in a space that often excluded Black women, Katharina had to confront her “white sisters.” She had her “second coming out” when she came out as a Black feminist. She aligns this experience with “coming out” because of the surrounding fear of losing friends because they may not want to hear or accept her affirmation as a Black feminist. But to this sentiment, she replied, “Some people you might lose. But hell, sometimes we are afraid too long.”

IMG_3453Katharina’s compassion and commitment to community is uplifting. Her words were reminiscent of Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s, whose recent work has explored the necessity of safe spaces. In “Networks and ‘Safe Spaces’ of Black European Women in Germany and Austria,” Ellerbe-Dück argues, “The networks of Black women in Germany and Austria have come to function as ‘safe spaces.’” In her study of interviews with Black European women, she concludes, “The creation of a strong cross-border network of Black women in Europe is one of the many crucial steps necessary for tackling the numerous societal issues that impact the lives of Black communities.” Along these lines, Katharina has created communities for herself, as we were briefly able to hear in her stories, but also for those around her and for future generations of Afro-Germans.

IMG_3473

L to R: Kaimara, Ximena, Blaise, Stefani, Katharina Oguntoye, Casey, Heidi, Nicole, Melissa, and Beril

For her, it’s about being radical. “It’s a tool,” she stated. She warned that people sometimes forget why they are being radical. “It is more my goal to define what I’m doing.” Katharina was tired of feeling like one single person in the midst of a movement, tired of seeking out others like her who would join the fight. She was tired of being an outsider. “That’s why these groups are so important,” she said, the passion that has kept this organization alive over many tough years dancing in her eyes.

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

StefaniStefani Messick is a rising sophomore at Colorado College and hopes to major in English and Education. She also runs for the cross country and track and field teams, and has been finding time to run laps around the block near the apartment where she lives in Berlin, rain or shine. She prefers shine.