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

By Nia Abram

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

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

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

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

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


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

Stories of Blackness with Asoka Esuruoso and Noah Hofmann

By Breana Taylor

IMG_8973Often when we think of storytelling, images of bedtime stories or campfire stories come to mind. However, for Asoka Esuruoso, storytelling is how we relay the accounts of our lives and connect with people around us. For this reason, Esuruoso prefers not to refer to herself as an artist, though she performs spoken word, makes film, and is a writer. Instead, she calls herself a storyteller. Through her work—ranging from books she’s written and co-edited, her spoken word and films—Esuruoso shares the stories of those that are often silenced. Born in Boston, Esuruoso grew up in the U.S., and attended Columbia University for her undergraduate years. While living in the U.S., she noticed that racism was different from the racism she experienced in Berlin. Since she wanted to be an activist and use her degrees to help with her activism, she decided to move back to Berlin. In Berlin, she earned a Master’s of English from Freie Universität with an emphasis on Post-Colonial Literature and Post-Colonial Political Theatre. Her studies were not the only things keeping her busy; in addition to attending class, Esuruoso found Berlin’s social setting to be a second home. Activism, specifically, was something she knew would be a part of her life, having participated in activist works while in the U.S. In response to questions about how racism and activism are different in the U.S. and Berlin, Esuruoso spoke the more expensive cost-of-living in the U.S., and how as an African American Woman whose mother is African American and whose father is Nigerian, the activism she partook in too often privileged the experience of African Americans and was lacking in a Pan-Africanist approach.

Additionally, while in Berlin, Esuroso claims racism was much more blatant and obvious—people approach her for drug and hyper-sexualize her body with their gazes and questions, like what is your price? Having read some of Esuruoso’s work, especially Arriving in the Future: Stories of Home and Exile (a collection she co-edited with Philipp Khabo Köpsell), prior to meeting her, I was particularly struck by the moment in her short story, “Chasing Stars,” in which she writes about her grandmother, “I had asked her about blackness and happiness…Was it possible to have both? I wanted, no, needed to know. Was it possible to be both?” (2). This passage resonates with me, because through Esuruoso’s work, she exposes and gives a voice to silenced communities, promoting the culture of Afro-Germans. As a result, she proves that the relationship between happiness and Blackness do exist.

IMG_8974Germany is a country like many others in that many of its citizens refuse to accept the structural racism that is perpetuated on an institutional level against marginalized people. Along these lines, Esuruoso spoke about how racism is embedded into the structure of the country on a legal level. For example, a landlord can legally refuse to rent property to a Black person and other people of color on the grounds of not being comfortable or wanting to keep peace amongst their tenants. Another way Berlin specifically refuses to come to face with their racist society can be seen in some of their museum exhibits. Along these lines, Noah Hofmann, who also joined our session, spoke about Black people in Germany and how their narratives have been absent from mainstream Germany history. Hofmann identifies as a Black German, and is a writer and activist. His work addresses Blackness in Berlin and exposes the history and issues of the Black community in this country. Fortunately, we had Hofmann correctly inform us that the history of Black people in Germany actually dates all the way back to 450 AD, despite the common conception that Black Germans did not have a presence until much later. Moreover, Black German history can also be traced to the Holocaust, during which they also spent time in concentration camps. Black people also migrated to Germany post WWII, during which Black soldiers (from France, the U.S., and other countries) were assigned to come to Germany. Subsequently, many of them had relationships with White German women from which children came about as a consequence. Hence, we know now that Black people have been in Berlin and were never not present.

Present in both Esuruoso and Hofmann’s discussion was the use of the word “Afro-German” and how important it is to the Black German community, because it created “a conscious endeavor to discard derogatory (German) terms connoting Blackness” (Eggers 3). As a result of the coining of the term, various movement began in order to contest “dominant myths such as the claim that there are no Black people in Germany, and if there are any, they have nothing of importance to say” (Eggers 3). Both Esuruoso and Hofmann spoke about the power of this term and how it was monumental to the Black German community finding a voice in a country where they were isolated and lacked a sense of community amongst themselves. Still as Hofmann heavily emphasized throughout his discussion, White Germans still feel all too comfortable with eradicating Black history from German history, hoping to also eradicate racism from German history. As Jasmin Eding claims in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want to,” “Self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives” (131). Through all of this very important work, I see that Afro-Germans are alive, as is their history.


Breana Kathleen Taylor

While studying at Colorado College, Breana Taylor realized that feminism is a passion of hers, which is convenient, because she recently decided to declare her major in Feminist & Gender Studies. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Breana is no stranger to traveling or to being around lots people. Having grown up in a large family and with a father in the military, she enjoys being exposed to new environments and the experiences that come with being in new places. During her down time, she enjoys reading, stand-up comedy, and listening to movie soundtracks. Feminism has brought nothing but good things to her life, such as new perspectives on women, race, and gender, and how to think critically about these things and more. Being a member of the FemGeniuses is such an honor, and she cannot wait for the opportunity to grow in her knowledge on feminism across the globe!

#BlackLivesMatter All over the World: Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh

By Samantha Gilbert

IMG_8809Why is it that Michael Brown, an 18 year old black man who stole a few packets of cigarettes, can be shot on the spot by a white policeman, but James Holmes, a young white male, can shoot an entire movie theatre and kill 12 people, yet still be able to go to trial? This is a question that ensued after an emotional and eye-opening discussion we had today with Nadine Saeed and Mouctar Bah, extremely passionate activists part of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh.

To start off our session, Nadine shared with us the story of Oury Jalloh. 10 years ago, three women cleaning the streets called the police because they claimed that a young black man named Oury Jalloh was “harassing” them. Though he was only asking to use one of their cellphones to call his girlfriend, the police showed up immediately, eager to arrest any person of color, especially a migrant. At 8:15 am, Jalloh was aggressively arrested and thrown into a police cell. Four hours later, he was chained to a bed and burned alive. The police claim Jalloh set himself on fire, and without any further investigation of the crime scene, this became the concrete story. But there was no possible way for this to be a suicide. For one, Jalloh was tightly cuffed by each arm and leg to the mattress which made any movement of his hands impossible. Secondly, the lighter “found at the crime scene” had no traces of fibers from Jalloh’s clothing or the mattress, and was not turned in as evidence until three days after the burning took place. And finally, the extent to which Jalloh was burned was only capable through the use of a combustive agent and the absence of the anti-flammable mattress cover. However, the courts didn’t care. Even with this evidence, they ruled Jalloh’s death a homicide, and only charged a 10,800€ fine to one police officer for not saving Jalloh when the fire alarm initially went off. They also charged the police chief for turning off the fire alarm despite his excuse that the fire alarm was broken. As this case continued to be appealed, video evidence disappeared and police stories kept changing, but the verdict stayed the same.

IMG_8811Hearing this story physically made my heart hurt, and it reminded me of the contemporary Black Lives Matter (also referred to as Black Life Matters) movement in the United States. The Brown vs. Ferguson case brought needed attention to this issue, but there are dozens of cases just like Brown’s. Take for example the story of Victor White. He was a young Black man who police claimed “shot himself in the head” in the back of a police car in Louisiana after being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Despite being handcuffed with no ability to move his hands, his death was ruled a suicide. There are countless other Black men and women who have similar stories, so I am very aware of racism in America. However, racism in Germany is brought to a whole different, unique level.

Not only are police able to get away with killing minorities here, but the secret service in Germany actually funds and organizes the National Socialist Underground, a racist and terrorist group associated with the KKK that has been killing innocent minorities for years. Racism is not only tolerated in this country, but is deeply rooted in every system of power. I am shocked. I am appalled. I am disgusted. As Maureen Maisha Eggers made clear in her article “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging,” it’s difficult to even achieve a discussion of racism, let alone find a way to fight it and end it. Sandrine Micossé-Aikins, who we met with earlier today, echoes this idea in the introduction of The Little Book of Big Visions, a text she co-edited with Sharon Dodua Otoo (whom we’ll meet with next week). Micossé-Aikins told us that racism is so rarely talked about in Germany that people don’t even understand it exists, even though it is happening everywhere every day. She tightly links racism with nationalism—since the normative narrative is that Germans are white, so if you are not white, then you “can’t be German.”

IMG_8812The Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh has been investigating this case for years, with the hope of finally exposing the truth. They have worked with investigative journalists and have interviewed dozens of people connected to Jalloh and the police officers responsible for this crime. They have also made short films and held conferences to inform people of the situation. Ten years later and Oury Jalloh’s case is still being fought, and I can only hope that this time the courts bring him the justice he deserves. The Initiative is aware that the lawyers involved in Jalloh’s case aren’t activists and that they aren’t concerned about fighting for the truth, but rather doing what is best for them and their reputation. Nadine told us today that although she no longer has any belief in the judicial system, she believes it’s crucial for everyone to try to change the things they see going wrong in the world. Similarly, Philipp Khabo Köpsell gives hope to ending racism in “A Futurist’s Manifesto,” in which he writes, “This poem tells nothing about racism…. / In the future we rap about love / over beats made from smashing laptops against walls / rhythmically in sync with the tapping of / next door’s love birds. / In the future we love too much.” I can only hope that Koepsell’s vision comes true, but until then, the fight for justice and equality will continue. Oury Jalloh may be gone, but he is most certainly not forgotten.


SamanthaSamantha Gilbert is a sophomore who hails from Northern California and loves to be outside. From hiking to snowboarding to just breathing fresh air, nature really has her heart. She also really loves being active, as she runs track and field at CC as the team’s main female sprinter. She also writes for the sports section of The Catalyst, and is extremely passionate about journalism. She hopes to create her own major in Sports Psychology and double minor in Film & New Media Studies and Feminist & Gender Studies. Other hobbies of hers include watching The Food Network (specifically Chopped), going exploring with friends, and developing strong one on one connections with unique souls. Samantha loves traveling and learning, so this course has her super excited!