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.

Some Final Thoughts on the 2015 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

By Breana Taylor

KwesiBerlin has surprised me. This is a city rich in history, and I do not only mean history specifically focused on World War II. The course has focused, in part, on problematizing the limited popular narratives about Berlin and Germany, and has exposed my classmates and I to the histories, herstories, cultures, and politics of marginalized groups, such as Black Germans, Jewish Germans, Turkish Germans, LBTQIA folks in Germany, and other groups and how their experiences and relationships with Berlin and Germany are often absent from general narratives. We have taken numerous tours learning about Berlin’s Queer history, Jewish History, African history (particularly along the streets of Wedding), and more. In addition to tours, we have met with multiple intellectual activists like Stefanie-Lahya Aukongo, Asoka Esuruoso, Sandrine Micossé-Aikins, Noah Sow, Noah Hofmann, Dr. Maisha Eggers, Sharon Dodua Otoo, and many others.

Like other countries across the globe, Germany wishes to distance itself from racists and oppressive actions committed within its own walls and by its own people. As Heinz Ickstadt points out in “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” Germany is a country with multiple cultural layers. It is a country in which Black Germans, Asian Germans, Latino Germans, and more do exist and not all in small numbers. Still, Ickstadt argues, “It will probably still take some time until Germans fully understand how much their own culture has been enriched by these developments.” He further questions, “Is it a transitional phenomenon bound to disappear with the next generation of fully integrated Germans with Turkish names? Or will it be kept in place by a global tendency toward a bicultural existence?” (21). This is an unavoidable transition that Germany is approaching. And while German as an identity is growing and evolving to include many of the aforementioned marginalized communities, it is still not an inclusive term, even for marginalized people who were born and reared in Germany. Along these lines, Jasmin Eding argues, “Today we have to deal with a dominantly white society that now calls itself multi-cultural although we are viewed strangely if we identify ourselves as Black. We are also still struggling for visibility as well as Black consciousness within our own ranks” (2). Similarly, listening to Noah Sow speak gave us incredible insight regarding the distinctions between Black German and Afro-Deutsche.

GraffitiAs we learned from Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz, Turkish-Germans have also resisted similar challenges through their relationship with Black American culture through hip hop as means of expressing themselves. Generationally for the Turkish community in Germany, one’s citizenship is affected by whether or not one is born in Germany and when one person’s parents came to the country. Hence, when coming of age, many feel they have to choose between two citizenships, two identities. Because many young Turkish Germans were born in Germany, they consider themselves German. Unfortunately, the German identity has restrictions and limitations on what is actually German, and Turkish-Germans are often not treated as German. The idea of being German and what it means is evolving, but German often still means White German.

As the class came to an end, we concluded with a dinner at Maredo Steakhouse, enjoying a full course meal and good company. We laughed and spoke about what it has meant to be abroad and experience new things with all the phenomenal people on the trip. Though it may have seemed overplayed, it was still greatly appreciated. This was an amazing class thanks to the vision for the class provided by Professor Heidi Lewis, including the help of her colleague Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and our interactions with the rich herstories/histories of Berlin.

Group Photo2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.

Introducing the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Finding Their Presence: A Women’s Perspective Tour of Berlin” by Nia Abram
I’m My Own Flower: Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo on Intersectionality, Resistance, and Belonging” by Jazlyn Andrews
Understanding Black Studies in Germany (w/ Dr. Maisha Eggers)” by Meredith Bower
Beware of the Green Spaces: A Jewish History Tour (w/ Carolyn Gammon)” by DeAira Cooper
The Jewish Museum: Forced into Exile Workshop” by Jesse Crane
#BlackLivesMatter All over the World: Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh” by Samantha Gilbert
What is Racism?: A Discussion with Sandrine Micossé-Aikins” by Jade Frost
Student Resistance: Germany in the 1960s” by Mackenzie Murphy
Where You Reside?: Postcolonial Performance in Berlin w/ Salma Arzouni” by Lyric Jackson
I Am not Your Idea of Me (w/ Sharon Dodua Otoo)” by Thabiso Ratalane
‘Not So Tangible but Still Real!’: LesMigraS and Intersectional Anti-Violence Work in Berlin” by Spencer Spotts
Jasmin Eding and ADEFRA: On Self-Definition and Empowerment” by Willa Rentel
Stories of Blackness with Asoka Esuruoso and Noah Hofmann” by Breana Taylor
Dismantling Structural Racism: Kwesi Aikins on Politics in a Postcolonial Society” by Nia Abram
Consumption of Culture: A Trip to the KENAKO Afrika Festival” by Jazlyn Andrews
Ignorance Is Never Bliss: Our Turkish Tour Experience” by Meredith Bower
Freedom Summer, Selma, & Federal Civil Rights Legislation: Black History in Berlin w/ Rebecca Brückmann” by Jesse Crane
‘I Want You to Listen to My Story!’: An Afternoon with Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz” by Jade Frost
Misrepresenting a Colonial Past: The Africa in Wedding Tour with Josephine Apraku” by Samantha Gilbert
What It Is and What It Ain’t: Tour of the Neues Museum” by Lyric Jackson
Breaking Down Barriers: A Discussion with Noah Sow” by Mackenzie Murphy
A Visit to Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand” by Thabiso Ratalane
Resistance through Art: The FemGenuises Do Graffiti with Berlin Massive” by DeAira Cooper
‘Hier ist’s richtig!’: Creating and Dominating Queerness in Berlin” by Spencer Spotts
Site Seeing (and Thinking, Analyzing, Understanding, etc.)” by Willa Rentel

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


IMG_9349While 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!

Misrepresenting a Colonial Past: The Africa in Wedding Tour with Josephine Apraku

By Samantha Gilbert

Photo 3We began our morning by meeting our tour guide Josephine Apraku—a Wedding local who has been giving the Africa in Wedding Tour for eight years—at the cross streets of Ghanastraße and Swakopmunder Straße. At first, I was confused about how we were supposed to learn about the most diverse part of Berlin by standing at what seemed like a normal street corner. However, Josie explained that the African Quarter of Wedding is not where one would necessarily find the largest amount of people from throughout the African Diaspora, but that so much of we needed to know about Germany’s colonial history was in these street names. Many of these streets were named when Germany (then Prussia) was gaining colonies.

Photo 1Germany’s first colonial conquest was Namibia, Africa’s “town by the sea,” which resulted in the first genocide of the 20th century. According to Apraku, the German Military entered Namibia wanting to kill as many people as they could with “as much blood and brutality as possible.” First, Namibians were stripped of their land and given reservations instead. Angered by their lack of freedom, Namibians showed resistance against the colonial military. Subsequently, the German military pushed as many Namibians as they could into the desert so they would die of starvation. The Namibians that survived were sent to concentration camps, where they were expected to work long, hard hours day after day, and by the end of this war, Germans had eradicated 70% of the Namibian population. Swakopmund was the name of the first concentration camp built in Namibia, resulting in the street name Swakopmundstraße.

Photo 2During the same time, Germany was heavily involved in slave trading in Ghana, hence the street name Ghanastraße. These streets are Germany’s way of commemorating the colonization of the African continent. In “A Fanfare For The Colonized,” Philipp Khabo Koepsell explains the brutality and selfishness of colonization when he writes, “It’s a story of explorers / of the glory of these soldiers / who drove thousands into deserts…./ for the white men’s dream of glory…” Koepsell then goes on to write from the white man’s perspective, “You’re just over-sensitive! / Why should we apologize, / we colonized not much…” This poem sheds light on the insensitivity of the Germans towards the people they colonized.

IMG_5560While naming streets after concentration camps and locations of slave trades seems wildly offensive, the questionable street names don’t stop there. Mohrenstraße, known simply as M-straße to many Black Germans because of its offensiveness, was the first street named in Wedding nearly 300 years ago. This word is derived from the Latin language meaning a dark person who is childish and stupid, and is related to the English word “moron.” This word was exclusively used for Black people during the time of slavery, which leads me to question how Germany can support such racist ideology. This reminded me of the “Introduction” to The Little Book of Big Visions in which Sharon Dodua Otoo and Sandrine Micossé-Aikins explain how the suppressed colonial legacy in Germany affects Black people today. They write, “Although the mainstream appears not to remember why, Black people are repeatedly reminded of, confronted with, and challenged by fantasies of white supremacy right up until the present day.” Even though Black people regularly request for these street names to be changed, many white Germans don’t see this as a problem worth addressing. Hence, because of white supremacy, these offensive street names are not changed.

Photo 5The last street name Apraku discussed, Petersallee, entailed her telling the story that angered me most. Named in 1939 by the Nazi Party, Petersallee was meant to honor an incredibly racist man named Carl Peters, who hung and burned several Africans during his explorations of East Africa. Despite being criticized for brutality to Africans and then removed from his position in office, he was later considered a German hero by Nazis for his radical racism. A movie was even made in this man’s honor. When many people in Germany protested this street name in hopes of having it removed, Germany simply decided to “repurpose the street name.” Now, hanging above Petersalle is a small sign that reads “Prof. Dr. Hans Peters.” Hans Peters was a man who was a politician that helped hide and free Jews during the Nazi era. Regardless of this repurposing, the street sign still stands, and the history of its significance cannot be forgotten.

Photo 4After we learned how many of Berlin’s street names are monuments of racism, the next part of the tour took place in a small, quaint park, where Josie introduced me to the words “human zoo.” To my disbelief, from the late 1800s up until the mid-1940s, this land was used as a zoo for African people and other minorities living in Germany. Germans paid them to work inside these fenced off enclosures and perform African “acts,” which entailed them wearing stereotypical African clothing and waking up in small huts—anything to feed Germans their idea of African life. As Maisha Eggers explains in “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging,” the problem with racism is that it often goes without being discussed, which makes it nearly impossible to eradicate it. To clarify, many people living in Germany think of human zoos as something that existed long ago and that should be forgotten. But they didn’t even end until the Nazi party had been overthrown, which was only 70 years ago. Most Germans don’t realize how prevalent racism still is. This may be history, but it is not very far in the past.


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!

Consumption of Culture: A Trip to the KENAKO Afrika Festival

By Jazlyn Andrews

Kenako Stage

Main Stage

We ended our jam-packed day on postcolonial theory and resistance through storytelling at the KENAKO Afrika Festival at Alexanderplatz. Upon arrival, I had a feeling of sensory overload trying to take in all the sights, savory smells, and sounds. “Shosholoza,” a song popularized in South Africa that I remember from my high school choir’s attempts at educating us on “the Other,” rang clearly in the background. In front of me were rows of booths filled with colorful tapestries and clothing alongside wooden bowls, artwork, and jewelry. The linen clothing hung on White mannequins as White consumers stared, attempting to imagine how they would look wearing a dashiki.

The first thing that struck me was the demographic of those attending the festival: apparently White Germans. I was confused and conflicted, since I hoped (naïvely) that this would be a space for the Afro-German population to celebrate in an area of their own without a fetishizing White gaze. Noticing the White vendors selling ethnic adornments or their own arts and crafts quickly brought me back down from the clouds, as I realized who the true beneficiaries of this festival were. While there were educational opportunities there—we briefly saw a panel on the integration of Africans into Germany—it was clear that they weren’t as popular. From what I could tell by peeking into the tent, it seemed the audience for the panel was more diverse than that of the consumers outside. Even though I saw posters with quotes from African scholars and activists hanging on some of the tents, no one was gathered around reading them or even taking a second glance. This made me question, what is it that makes certain aspects of African culture so desirable to predominantly White audiences?

Hair Braiding Station

Hair Braiding Station

I continued making my way through the festival, stopping to explore and talk with booth owners, when I noticed a man singing onstage. He stood center stage dancing and singing in dark dreadlocks and a red dashiki, while four men with blonde dreadlocks played their guitars and drummed behind him. Seeing this Black man performing as the four smiling White men surrounded him epitomized the festival for me: Black artwork and culture placed on display for predominantly White audiences’ entertainment. As Sandrine Micossé-Aikins and Sharon Dodua Otoo write in the “Introduction” to The Little Book of Big Visions, “Dominant White cultural producers typically consider their own art to be universal (and the art of marginalized groups to be less relevant for the mainstream population)—they are usually completely unaware of their own Whiteness and of the constraints this will have on their perspectives, their creative work, as well as on their potential audience” (10). This inflated sense of ability reared its head at the festival, as race seemed to be a non-issue for White vendors and performers selling trips to Africa, “exotic” clothing, and beaded bracelets. The meaning of the traditions and items on display flew out the window, as African culture became something they could put on for a day while they sat to get cornrows put in their hair. They could even buy a drink named “African Feeling,” if they really wanted to get in the spirit. Seeing the White shop owners profit off of African cultures reinforced the ways in which Black art is flattened to something meaningless, something that can easily be replicated by “universal” Whiteness.

After spending a considerable amount of time today discussing the horrors of Germany’s colonial past, I was reminded to pay close attention to the colonial legacies lurking in the festival. As Sharon Dodua Otoo writes in “Reclaiming Innocence. Unmasking Representations of Whiteness in German Theatre,” “The justification of the atrocities that racism, White supremacy, the Maafa and colonialism are required the extensive dehumanization of people of African descent. It required people who considered themselves to be White to regard people constructed to be Black as less than them, as unable to feel pain, as mere beings to be exploited, or perhaps patronized, but in no way to be empathized with or regarded as equals” (63). While on the festival website, the patrons of the festival claim it is “an excellent platform of cultural dialogue between Africans and Germans,” from where I was standing, there didn’t seem to be much dialogue at all. Only when I got to the other side of the festival did I see tents dedicated to workshops and organizations such as the Afrika Center, which offers German language courses and various workshops, including one on how to interview for jobs. These spaces looked barren in comparison to the rows of food and other goods and services. African culture, history, and people, then, became a commodity for exploitative consumers.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” —Desmond Tutu

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
—Desmond Tutu

Even though I wished the festival would be different, I can’t say I am really surprised that I saw an “Asia Food” restaurant selling chicken nuggets next to cocktail bar selling “exotic” drinks. Ultimately, the festival reminded me of the importance of having spaces of self-definition. As Jasmin Eding, co-founder of ADEFRA writes 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 in a predominantly White, Christian, patriarchal society” (131). It is critical that such spaces of exploration, self-definition, and resistance exist outside the White heteropatriarchal supremacist gaze; otherwise, our voices will continue to be silenced and repackaged for White consumers.


JazlynJazlyn Andrews hails from Grinnell, IA, so she is a pro at navigating corn mazes, driving tractors, and tipping cows. When she isn’t out in the fields, she enjoys majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and minoring in Race & Ethnic Studies at Colorado College. On the weekends, she likes to binge watch House of Cards, obsess over her corgi, Biscuit, and be goofy with friends. When she’s less lazy, she likes to go for runs, have solo dance parties to “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae, and listen to music outside in the sun. Her future plans include finishing up her final two years at school, then hopefully either moving back out to Seattle, WA to pursue a writing career or attending graduate school to extend her studies.

I am not Your Idea of Me

By Thabiso Ratalane

IMG_8925While reading Sharon Dodua Otoo’s the things I am thinking while smiling politely, I was intrigued by both the narrative and the style in which the author chose to write her unnamed African main character. First of all, my preconception of Germany as a mono-ethnic white absolute majority country was challenged. Here was a middle-class black woman in Berlin dealing with “middle-class problems” like her emotions about a broken marriage. This is an atypical written narrative about African migrants, who are often written into Western history as perpetual victims.

IMG_8927The narratives we often hear or read about regarding immigration and migrants in Western literature are ones about suffering and struggling to adjust to a new country that alienates them. Often, the immigration is either illegal or even involuntary, like in the cases of asylum-seekers. For instance, in “Voices in Exile” Asoka Esuruoso writes, “The old asylum seeker from Sierra Leon looked at me. Her face was wrinkled. Her jet-black wig perched precariously above her head was in the slow process of falling, ‘It’s the stress,’ she said” (165). A hyper-focus on narratives like Esuruoso’s, whilst true, have the potential to perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes that black people do not belong in Germany—that they are outsiders, encroaching in spaces that were not meant for them. Sharon’s narrative, then, challenges this kind of thinking in Germany. It reclaims the black narrative as its own, and portrays it as normal, human. It also echoes Phillipp Khabo Koepsell’s poem, “A Fanfare of the Colonized,” when he writes, “We [black people] can write this history…rewrite this damn story from the bottom to the top… reclaim what is mine and sound a fanfare for the colonized” (213).

As Sandrine Micossé-Aikins and Sharon point out, “black people are repeatedly reminded of, confronted with, and challenged by fantasies of white supremacy right up until the present day” (Micossé-Atkins and Otoo 9). In this way, Sharon’s work plays an important role in challenging this fantasy. It is, after all, what she describes as the literature she would have wanted to read growing up, and is now accessible to millions of black German women who now feel represented and situated firmly in German society. It is also the reason why her main character lacks a name. Sharon wanted every woman to be able to see herself in the main character, to relate to her problems, because they are truly universal and human.

We were all eager to meet Sharon and ask her our questions about her book. The anticipation leading to this moment could be seen in the excitement everyone showed when we learned that we all got to ask a question along with our introductions. Sharon briefed us on how her love for the German language led her to study the language, as well as her decision to move to Berlin from her childhood home in London. Her life’s story until this point resonated with the main character in her novella. Everyone was anxious to hear about how and if Sharon’s characters were informed by real life experiences, even possibly her own. But this led to us to a discussion on imagination and how authors of color are always expected to have recounted their lives in their produced works of literature, almost as if they are not allowed to have an imagination, like their white counter parts. It is the double standard that we, as students of intersectionality, found ourselves upholding and having to challenge.

IMG_8928I found it interesting to point out that using People of Color (POC) to refer to people of the African diaspora is highly contentious in Germany, as it does not carry the same cultural and political history as it does in the United States. Sharon, through her work in activism, finds the term very broad and highly inclusive, making it unable to pinpoint and encompass the specific racial problems facing particular groups included under the umbrella term. For instance, we established that there were different racisms in Germany and that the lived experience of racism for one racial group might not necessarily be true for the other group.

IMG_8926We concluded by picking Sharon’s brain on her thoughts about racism in both London and Berlin. She smiled and said that English people are sometimes too concerned with being polite so that their racism is often passive. She prefers Berlin where everyone is blatant about their racism, because then she is more comfortable with honesty.


Thabiso Ratalane

Thabiso Ratalane is a rising senior from the city of Maseru in the Southern African enclave of Lesotho. She dabbles in French and International Political Economy major divisions at Colorado College. Thabiso is passionate about fashion, linguistics, politics, writing, and social justice for minority groups around the world. Thabiso idolizes Anna Wintour; she finds her strong will, tenacity, efficiency, and passion for what she does admirable, and regards Wintour as a champion for female empowerment. Thabiso’s passion for minority groups and how they navigate social spaces that alienate them made this course and Berlin a perfect fit to spend her first month of the Summer.