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Heike Radvan and the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung

By Kadesha Caradine

Kadesha

L to R: Melissa, Kaimara, Heidi, Heike, Beril, Nicole, and Ximena

Our day started earlier than usual, which seems like it caused the morning to go a little longer than usual. While it was interesting seeing the hustle of Berlinerson a week day, I was a bit uncomfortable being so close to strangers and occasionally bumping intothem due to the harsh stops of the train. I guess it is just the southerner in me.

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Beril

We arrived to the office of the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung where we were greeted with both coffee and tea which we were, the need for which was desperate. After everyone was situated, we went around the table and gave small introductions, which was followed by an introduction by Heike Radvan who has been working for the foundation for 14 years. She then gave us a brief introduction of the organization,and explained that it is named for Amadeu Antonio. Antonio was a contract worker who migrated to Berlin from Angola in 1980, and was, unfortunately, one of the first victims of Neo-Nazis. Antonio did not survive his brutal attack.

I was so excited to be able to talk to Heike about this organization, because I have been very interested in learning about the types of crimes that happen in Germany as compared to the U.S. I believe the reason why I was so interested in learning more about such information was because until our visit to the Foundation, many people I talked to described Berlin as a place that was way less violent than the U.S. I wanted to believe them, but it was hard for me to do that after learning about all the discrimination that happens here. So, I finally got the real scoop. Even though this particular organization has more of a focus on East Berlin, our discussion gave great insight on the somewhat hidden violence in the city and its rural areas.

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L to R: Kaimara, Heike, Beril, and Nicole

Heike explained that the police in Berlin are often racist, especially in cases involving migrants. Sounds to me like how African-Americans are treated in the United States, which is why I decided to pose a question about how Heike thought Germany might have handled the Trayvon Martin case. I asked because the day before, we had dinner with students from Free University, and on our way back to our apartment, we were discussing gun laws in Germany and the States. One of the students explained that gun violence isn’t as prevalent in Germany because of the lengthy process it takes to get one. Then, she went on to say that because of these gun laws, the Trayvon Martin case would have happened very differently here. This was shocking because it gave me hope that such racist violence doesn’t happen everywhere in the world, but I still had my doubts. In response to my questions, Heike basically said that because of the racist police, Neo-Nazis, and discrimination against people of color here, the case would have more than likely had a very similar outcome. I was disappointed, but I wasn’t shocked at all.

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Stefani

Afterwards, Heike explained that Neo-Nazis train their children to be young Neo-Nazis, which creates problems in schools. We also had some discussion about how there are still parts of East Germany that have large populations of Neo-Nazis and that they often go unnoticed because they don’t always try to make their selves visible. This instantly reminded me of racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in southern parts of the U.S. Even though they might not always dress in their traditional white uniforms, they are still very active. I went on to ask Heike if there were “smaller” ways that Neo-Nazis tried to display their pride, much like the confederate flag for southern American racists. She informed us that even though the swastika is banned in Germany, Neo-Nazis still identify themselves with other signs, such as Celtic symbols.

All this information was eye-opening to me, because even though people describe Berlin as a really safe place, as Heidi says, “Here, I feel acutely Black.” This is also a challenge for me. Yet at the same time, I feel accutely Black at Colorado College, so the feeling is familiar. This conversation really made me think, “Is there a place where Trayvon Martin would have received justice?”

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Kadesha II

Kadesha Reading Maya Angelou at #rosesForRefugees in Berlin

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

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ReachOut Berlin with Biplab Basu

By Casey Schuller

ReachOut PamphletAs we finish our first week in Berlin, our friendships are growing and the sass is as strong as ever (which is maybe too much at times). Several of us have commented that it feels like we have been here for weeks already (or I believe “years” was thrown around once). Yet, we have just made it to Friday with everyone still in one piece and with about ten new German words in our heads. Most of us are just now conquering jet lag, so getting to sleep in this morning was just what we needed. After a morning of rest, we headed to ReachOut.  ReachOut Berlin is a counseling and support center for victims of racial profiling, as well as right-wing and anti-Semitic violence. When we arrived, we were greeted by Biplab Basu, one of the founding members of ReachOut. He has been working with victims of migration asylum and racial bias since 1980. After we explained who we are and why we were there, Biplab described the work he and his colleagues do. He is clearly passionate about his work and the need to help those who are told they do not belong in Berlin.

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L to R: Stefani, Melissa, Beril, Biplab Basu, Casey, Ximena, and Kadesha

ReachOut is one of three programs under the larger organization ARIBA. ReachOut was the first of these programs and was founded in 2001. It is also the only program financed by the State, even though it is a NGO. This is very fortunate, because it allows ReachOut’s six employees to be paid, yet still offer free services to their clients. Five of the six employees at ReachOut are women, but they make a point to keep the racial and ethnic diversity at a balance of at least 50%. Hence, only three of the current employees are white Germans. ReachOut not only offers counseling to victims, but also provides assistance regarding how victims will proceed with their cases. ReachOut will help and follow their clients all the way through the legal process of filing a claim and taking it to court. They work with about 150 clients per year, which is only a very small percentage of those affected by racial discrimination.

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L to R: Kadesha, Heidi, Nicole, Kaimara, Stefani, Melissa, Beril

Biplab explained the tendency for victims to blame themselves or their bad timing on the days they are victimized. He also discussed the work he does to create a safe space for victims to share their stories, similar to Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s work we learned about yesterday. Victims do not need to justify their feelings or testimony nor do they have to tell every detail. The victims also have no obligation to do more than they feel comfortable with and the counselors will believe them no matter what.

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L to R: Beril, Biplab Basu, and Casey

Biplab also told us that most people do choose to take action against their perpetrator, even though 98% of their cases are dropped. Despite that, Biplab has no intention of backing down, as he feels his work is important to create change. He has been in this field for more than 30 years and because of this he has hope for the future. He has seen change, so he tries not to get too frustrated. He mentioned that he is seeing passionate young lawyers emerging, which will help make progress. He has also changed his method from focusing on changing the perpetrators to focusing on the victims and their experiences with racism.

ChronikA second organization under ARIBA that Biplab mentioned is KOP, which is for victims of racist police violence. One of the biggest issues this organization faces is the lack of awareness and public acknowledgment that racial violence and profiling is a problem. The police are supposed to be helpful and non-violent in their authority and that is exactly what many Germans believe. Yet, racial profiling is a serious issue that is being ignored. Unfortunately, people need to mobilize around their rights themselves because that is not always done for them. There is no funding for KOP, because the government and police departments have officially denied that this kind of racial profiling exists. Well, as Biplab said, they admit it is a problem…but only in the U.S.

ReachOut PosterTo us, this is especially ridiculous since we have created a whole class around the issue of being discriminated against because of your race. And this is in Germany in particular!  Unfortunately, it is absolutely an issue in the U.S as well, as with most of the world. As a white American, I have never come close to experiencing police violence myself, but I have certainly heard stories. Part of Biplab’s earlier frustration is that when he gave talks, he found that most people had never even heard of racial profiling and that they are skeptical, and sometimes he still has to start from scratch during those conversations. Hence, there is more funding for group violence, such as violence from Neo-Nazis.

ID Without Colors

Click the Picture to view a Link to the Trailer

As we have been learning in class, so many people become defined by their race, especially in a place such as Germany, where people of color are particularly visible if they are not white. It is important to bring the power back to those being defined and let them define themselves. As Toni Morrison wrote, and Heidi keeps repeating, “Definitions belong to the definers, not to the defined.” Just as Black Germans have begun identifying themselves by creating the word “Afro-German,” other ethnic minorities are fighting to feel comfortable and safe with their identity. Creating safe spaces, as Biplab and Cassandra encourage, is important for this progress.

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CaseyCasey Schuller is entering her junior year at Colorado College. She is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology, and she is particularly interested in media and gender. She has been particularly challenged by this class, since for the first time in her life, she is being out-sassed by those around her.