Some Final Thoughts on the 2017 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

 

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Zlevor)

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

By Annie Zlevor

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

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

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Zlevor)

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

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

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

Memorial in Schöneberg (Mills)

Memorial in Schöneberg [Photo Credit: Nikki Mills]

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

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

Roma and Sinti Memorial (Zlevor)

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

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

Cheers

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

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

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

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


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

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

Photo Credit: Nora Holmes

By Nora Holmes

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

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

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

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

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

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Nora Holmes

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

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


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

Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni: Representation in Political Social Work

By Nora Holmes

It’s only been four days since the 2017 FemGeniuses arrived in Berlin, and we’re not yet used to the patterns of short, unexpected rain showers that occur so frequently in the city. We are, however, learning more about Berlin public transport, and were successfully able to navigate a few buses and U-Bahns to arrive at the ADNB des TBB office this morning for a discussion about Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni. Still, the afternoon was also a circular discussion that weaved through privilege, whiteness, migrant and refugee trauma, and the political nature of this hard work.

Salma began the discussion by situating their work in the context of various organizations. Gladt is a cross between NGO and non-profit organization—they require funding, some of which is necessarily from the government, but they do not seek any profit from their work. This work is centered around assisting non-white, LGBTQ+ of Color individuals of migratory history. Though Gladt mostly started for individuals from Turkey living in Berlin, their scope has broadened over the past twenty or so years. Then, provides LGBTQ+ migrant or refugee individuals the tools and assistance they need to successfully navigate the private housing system.

Arzouni II (Lewis)

L to R: Jannet Guitierrez, Julia Konuk, Salma Arzouni, and Ryan Garcia [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

SAWA is intentionally made to help migrants of color who identify as LGBTQ+, because so much of the system works against people at those intersections. The housing process in Berlin is massively bureaucratic—if you don’t speak German or English, your ability to navigate this process alone is significantly impaired (not to mention all the classic negative stereotypes that surround people of color and/or queer individuals being so present in the power dynamics between housing owner and potential tenant). SAWA works to teach these individuals about the process, giving them the tools to navigate it with autonomy, but also with personal support. As Salma emphasized, this project is critical for LGBTQ+ migrants’ survival and success in Berlin.

From there, we flowed into an exploration of the importance of the representation and visibility of queer individuals of color. Overwhelmingly, many organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community are run by white cisgender gay men. These groups generally have the most influence and are generally given the most funding. This way of giving power to those organizations supports a homogenization of queer identity, and is an explicit erasure of the rich variety of the queer community. This conversation reminded me of “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany” by Jin Haritaworn, who argues that “sexual assimilation is performed as a repetition of Muslim unassailability” (76) and examines how the visibility of queer communities is centered on people that are “white, young, non-disabled, non-trans, male…and assimilable” (77). Certainly, these exclusive norms do a particular kind of violence to those who don’t fit the ideal. Regarding Salma’s work specifically, we focused here on underlining migrant identities of non-dominant religions, races, national locations, trans and non-cis-male identities; these identities are validated by Gladt because it is run by others of those identities. Gladt provides people who are usually otherwise lacking one with a space overwhelmingly occupied by individuals like them, a problematically rare but welcome and highly necessary sight for Gladt’s clients.

 

Arzouni I (Lewis)

L to R: Salma Arzouni, Dana Asbury, and Nikki Mills [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

The white-washing of queerness is a global issue. We certainly have this problem in the United States, and while there are critical differences between American white-dominated queer spaces and German ones, they both revolve around the same/similar problems stemming from white privilege. For example, the white and Western concept of “coming out” as an authentication of queerness, and the “rainbow culture” of gay performance are all ways in which white privilege exerts its control and prevents valid visibility of other ways of being LGBTQ+. These white-dominated notions of the acceptability of queerness necessarily exclude ways of being by migrant queer individuals, a problem that Salma addresses in their “advising social work” with Gladt. Along with their colleagues, Salma emphasized to us that they work to ensure the maintenance of a safe space with certain authority in order to uphold the variety of their communities of practice. Though here we focus on the identities of individuals who work with Salma and Gladt, homogenization is a dangerous concept across the board. As R. Ruth Linden notes in  “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” there is a tendency “to privilege the experiences of one group […] while turning our gaze away from other groups” (24). Like Haritaworn, Linden underlines the problems we talked about in our discussion regarding the use of “universalizing, foundational, and ‘natural’ terms” (29).

 

Though our conversation was rich with varied topics surrounding specificities of the refugee crisis in Berlin, we even pushed it out of the ADNB des TBB office and into extended time on Heidi’s apartment balcony. One of the areas of conversation that struck me the most was hearing Salma talk about the heavy politics of activism and how that interacts with their personal life. While it is a nonprofit group, Gladt does depend on a certain amount of governmental financial aid; when Gladt or its employees say or do something too blatantly against government policies or ideas, they toe a fine line. Going too much against the government may result in threats or realities of a loss of funding, but going too much with the government and their ideas can occasionally rub against Gladt’s morals or policies. People in positions like Salma are forced to prioritize and make deliberate choices in the types of work they do—this is an exhausting process and, because this type of work requires heavy personal emotional investment and care, burning out is a far too common phenomenon.

Arzouni III (Lewis)

L to R: Salma Arzouni, Jannet Gutierrez, Julia Konuk, Liza Bering, and Talia Silverstein [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

Salma was incredibly transparent with us regarding the difficulties of doing this type of work in the real world, which I found to be exceedingly valuable. They talked about how school can only teach students the theory and ideas, but absolutely nothing except practice will truly teach students about how to effectively work in the field of social work for LGBTQ+, migrant/refugee, and various other oppressed/marginalized groups. Salma emphasized the point that to work in a field like theirs means “you really have to feel a deep connection to the work.” She continued, “You really have to want to be there [and to really do things],” if you want to make any sort of change. As a student, it was striking to so tangibly hear from someone so invested and hardworking in the field of “activist” social work. Salma did us the benefit of not sugarcoating their opinions and not beating around the bush; they made it very clear how difficult work like theirs is, but not in a “you’ll never succeed” way and more in a “get ready if you want it” mindset. My individual experience as a student of Feminist in Gender Studies has certainly told me about work like Salma’s, but the reality of the work becomes suddenly much more immediate when you see it in-person.

To me, that’s one of the main reason the FemGeniuses in Berlin choose to take the class each year—to have these conversations about our area of study that make it so much more palpable and realistic. Meeting with Salma during the first week was a powerful way to start the block, but we had to cut the conversation there because we were already late—we had an Anne Frank Museum tour that afternoon. As Salma told us, this work is time- and emotion- and energy- consuming, it is hard, it is necessary, it is ongoing, and it will certainly continue.


Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

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