Reaching Out in the Fight against Violence

By Alejandra Hernandez

IMG_0613It felt incredibly strange making my way to Kruezburg this morning.  As we approach the end of our third and final week in Berlin, I finally feel comfortable navigating the city without needing my GPS every five minutes. The thought of leaving Berlin soon is baffling to me.

As the U-Bahn left the station, we made our way down from the Kotbusser Tor platform and headed to ReachOut. As the class trickled up the stairwell, Biblap Basu opened the front doors of ReachOut to greet us. We gathered around a table where he started with an introduction of his work with civil rights. Basu is from India and has lived in Germany since 1979. As a university student both in India and Germany, he has always been involved in civil rights work. In 1984, Basu began to examine how racism manifests in Germany. In the 1990s, there was a great increase in the number of attacks against communities of color. By the end of the 1990s, the government decided to start a program in response to the growing attacks; thus was the inception of ReachOut in 2000.

ReachOutIMG_0643 is an organization that offers counseling to victims of right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, or racist violence in Berlin. Additionally, because it is funded by the state, these counseling services offered by ReachOut are free. As one of its founding members, Basu explained how ReachOut was the first program that focused its work on victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Basu works as a counselor at ReachOut. To give us an idea of what ReachOut does for the community, Basu delved into what counseling work entails for him. Counseling connects you with people. “It becomes intimate,” exclaimed Basu. You build relationships with communities and form networks. First and foremost, he emphasized the importance of listening to victims’ stories. Furthermore, Basu talked about listening to the stories of these victims without judgment. “Give victims the feeling and confidence of ‘I believe you!’” Working with vulnerable populations, such as victims of violence, requires a tremendous amount of physical and emotional work.

As I watched Basu light up as he spoke about the work he does, it is evident how people within counseling need to be compassionate and authentic with their clients. For example, ReachOut makes great strides to ensure that victims of violence who come in to seek help are not pushed along from one organization’s door to another. As a counselor, Basu makes it clear that he is working with victims. He expressed, “Let people understand that they are not beggars. They have the right to this service.” This phrase stuck with me the most. He wants them to know that they are in control of their own lives. They took the first steps by seeking counseling, and will continue to decide for themselves what they would like to do not only throughout this process but throughout their lives. In this way, ReachOut seeks to empower victims and restore agency.

IMG_0642Over the course of the next few years, Basu took note of the discrepancies between the legal actions taken for victims of police violence in comparison to that of other groups of victims who have experienced violence. As he pointed out, “Victims of police violence are not believed.” Further, victims of police violence receive little aid and often get treated as perpetrators. For instance, in 2002, a victim of police brutality came into ReachOut seeking counseling. As Basu recounted this man’s story, everyone in the room could see the many stark parallels between police brutality in the United States and Germany. ReachOut continued to work on this case but soon realized just how poorly funded their organization was. As a result, ReachOut began a legal aid fund in efforts to raise money to hire advocates and aid in the court processes. However, as in most social justice work, raising money alone was not sufficient. It was evident to Basu that these people were clearly victims of racial violence. Even with the work they were pursuing, moving forward proved to be a challenge with the lack of acknowledgement of racial violence throughout the society. As Audre Lorde points out in the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, “To successfully battle the many faces of institutionalized racial oppression, we must share the strengths of each other’s visions as well as the weaponries born of particular experience. First, we must recognize each other” (ix). Along these lines, the words of Dr. Maisha Eggers rang through my head, “If you’re dealing with oppression…there is no way you are going to do that in a place of isolation.” Working as a collective creates a space in which dialogues can be started. In such spaces, collectively allows for reflection and the formation of language of one’s experiences. ReachOut came to the realization that the public needed to be informed about the injustices that victims of institutional violence face.

In 2004, the term “racial profiling” was introduced into German public discourse. A speaker from the Institute of Race Relations came to Germany to speak to the public about what racial profiling is. However, Basu recounted how at the end of the talk, no one in the audience had any questions, which, as he reflected upon it today, came as no surprise. How could people begin to understand racial profiling with such a lack of awareness and recognition of racial violence as a problem? Along these lines, even in 2012, a young Black German boy was traveling on a train when he was approached by police officers who asked to see his ID. As in many instances across both Germany and the United States, when the young boy asked for the reasoning behind the senseless request, he was met with hostility from the police officers. Despite the evident racial profiling that was committed by the police officers, the courts dismissed his complaints and ruled that skin color was reasonable grounds on which to carry out ID checks. Hearing about this case brought to mind the term “person with a migration background.” Basu explained how many people of color are often asked to show their IDs by police officers because they are profiled as migrants. As Sharon Dodua Otoo points out in Winter Shorts,

“[The term ‘person with a migration background’] is rarely used to describe certain white non-Germans- I think white US Americans for example do not feel addressed by it. On the other hand, people who were born and raised in Germany, and who do not look white, are often labeled as having a ‘migration background’ (15-16).

Earlier in our conversation, Basu pointed out how up until the mid-1990s racism wasn’t a term used in Germany.  Basu also exclaimed how many people in Germany cannot fathom how racism could exist within institutions such as the police administration. There continues to be a great consensus in Germany believing that racism no longer exist; racism ended alongside with the National Socialism era. Instead, many people argue that there is a great fear of foreigners (xenophobia). For instance, in “Turks in the New Germany,” Jenny B. White writes, “Black means for the whites [:] abroad, foreign, not German. That’s why supposedly in Germany there is no racism, but only hostility to foreigners (Auslander- feindlichkeit)” (760).  This particular case brought an enormous wave of attention to ReachOut because they had been talking about racial profiling long before the case. As a result, film director Riccardo Valsecchi sought a collaboration with ReachOut on a film he wanted to create following the 2012 sentence in Germany. Subsequently, ID-Without Colors was released in 2013. Initially, the film was denied entry into several film festivals, especially in Germany. However, it is now being circulated internationally and continues to receive recognition.

IMG_0644Today, ReachOut continues to counsel victims of violence, as well as, works to develop strategies to study and eradicate police violence. Basu was excited to introduce an Android app in development that will allow for users to record incidents of violence. The app also logs the user’s location using GPS and takes pictures of anyone who incorrectly inputs the phone password. Both the audio and video that is recorded is immediately saved every minute and sent to the user’s Cloud so they are not at risk of losing footage if their phones are confiscated or destroyed. ReachOut is also seeking ways to record every confrontation police officers make, which include confrontations that do not result in charges. In this way, records and statistics can be gathered to help further study cases of institutional violence. While ReachOut has made and continues to make a great impact within marginalized communities, Basu has also acknowledged ways in which ReachOut can improve its services for the community. More specifically, Basu voiced the need for ReachOut to begin to look at incidents of institutional violence through an intersectional lens. Until recently, there has been little focus on how women and trans people are affected in different ways by institutional violence. Still, there is no denying how crucial the work Basu and ReachOut have completed within marginalized German communities. As the conversation began to wrap up, we were able to reflect on how far ReachOut has come but also be conscious of the work within this social justice movement that needs to be done. Basu’s passion for his work radiated throughout the room. Being able to hear from and talk to people and groups in Berlin, such as Basu at ReachOut has been infinitely inspiring. Once again, I am incredibly appreciative of the chance to be able to enter these spaces while in Berlin; it has been a humbling experience.


HernandezAlejandra Hernandez is a rising junior majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track, and is planning to attend medical school. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love reading and dancing to Latin music. While in Berlin, she is excited to explore and learn about different cultures and communities.

Beware of the Street Signs: The Hidden Realities of Colonialism in Berlin

By Baheya Malaty

IMG_0551When you think about racism and oppression in Germany, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? More than likely, your mind will jump to the Holocaust and Nazism. This is an understandable first thought: the Holocaust represents one of the most massive genocides in human history, and Nazism one of the most terrifying fascist regimes to ever come to power. Over the past nearly three weeks in Berlin, it seems that every day we have stumbled on some recognition of the Nazi past, be it the plethora of museums dedicated to educating people about Nazism’s crimes against humanity or the tiny golden “stumbling stones” that dot the city’s sidewalks, honoring the victims of the Holocaust. Visitors praise Berlin as a city that has recognized and atoned for its dark past. The first time I visited this city, aged 14, our tour guide took us to the site of Hitler’s bunkers and proudly proclaimed that Berlin was a city that had reclaimed its history. “Look,” she said. “Within 500 meters of Hitler’s bunkers, you can see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an organization which fights for the rights of the physically disabled, and a gay bar!”

Throughout my time in Berlin, I’ve been curious about the ways in which a singular narrative of oppression in Germany—which takes the Holocaust and Nazism as the chief and/or only example of racism—has erased other narratives of oppression. When a society goes to great efforts to apologize, atone for, and learn from a singular catastrophe without employing an intersectional lens, what other “catastrophes” are erased? In “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden problematizes how Holocaust scholarship often “privileges the experiences of one group…while turning our gaze away from other groups” (24). In this way, she argues, several categories of people who were targeted by the Nazi regime—including the Sinti, Roma, gay men, Communists, Jehovah’s Witness, Slavs, people convicted of crimes, and Hutterites—have been “marginalized in Holocaust discourse” (24). Expanding on Linden’s thinking, we must also question how Holocaust discourse in Germany itself marginalizes other narratives of oppression. Our “Africa in Wedding” tour gave me a lot to think about along these lines. Led by our wonderful tour guide Josephine “Josy” Apraku, the tour examined a (not so) different form of oppression: that of German colonialism and its legacy in the so-called “African quarter” in Wedding, a neighborhood of Berlin.

IMG_5682Josy began our tour by explaining that, contrary to what most people who come on her tours believe, this would not be a tour of the African quarter. Rather, this tour would take us through what can be more appropriately called the colonial quarter, referred to this way because 24 streets in the area are named in reference to the history of German colonialism in Africa. As we walked through the rain, Josy guided us past street signs which read “GhanaStraβe,” “TogoStraβe,” and “SwakopmundStraβe.” The latter is a reference to the city in Namibia, Germany’s first settler colony in Africa. In Swakopmund, the German colonizers constructed Germany’s first-ever concentration camp, built for the exploitation and murder of the Herero people. The idea for the concentration camp was borrowed from British colonizers, who had constructed similar work camps for the internment and exploitation of indigenous people in the British colonies, and was later used as model for the concentration camps that Hitler would build across Europe.

Although the Holocaust discourse in Germany has marginalized other systems of oppression, there can be no doubts about the strong links between Nazism and German colonialism. A major part of the Nazi agenda was to reclaim the lost German colonies. Furthermore, Hitler was inspired by many of the racist theorists whose writings were used to justify German colonialism. One such “theorist” was Carl Peters, a key individual at the helm of German colonization in East Africa. Peters, who was in a sexually abusive relationship with an African woman, became infamous after he discovered that this woman had been having a relationship with an African man. Upon learning this, Peters had both of them executed and burned their villages. In 1939, Hitler chose to name a street in the colonial quarter after Peters, as he saw him and his racist theory as an important source of inspiration for Nazi ideology. Sometime after the fall of the Nazi regime, city officials were tasked with renaming and rededicating the street. In Germany, the chosen method for renaming public relics of Nazism is that whatever public space is in question will be renamed after someone who resisted Nazism. City officials chose to keep the street name the same as what Hitler had named it, Petersallee, but rededicate it in memory of Dr. Hans Peters, a Berlin doctor who helped Jews to hide and escape during Nazi rule. Much to our chagrin, Josy informed us that during the process of the re-dedication of Petersallee, no mention was made of the legacy of German colonialism from which Hitler derived the name. This is exemplar of the way in which the recognition and atonement of Nazi crimes has erased the legacy of German colonialism which had always been a critical part of Nazi ideology from the start.

IMG_5679As we continued our tour, hiding beneath giant oaks in order to avoid the rain, Josy taught us about another critical legacy of colonialism, which is often erased: the ways in which the earliest women’s rights movements in Germany were driven by colonialism. Through aligning themselves with colonialism, white German women were afforded more political power and freedom. They were enlisted by and participated in the colonial project in several critical ways. In Showing our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, May (Opitz) Ayim quotes Baroness Zech, the director of a German colonial school for women, as she articulates the mission contract for German women:

Her energy should not take the form of a free, tomboyish nature, but through true femininity she should put the stamp of her nature on the new overseas Germany; she should not merely strive and work out there, but she should be imbued with the spirit of pure Christianity, the high priestess of German breeding and custom, the bearer of German culture, a blessing in the foreign land: German women, German honor, German devotion across the sea. (27)

As Ayim further discusses, racism, sexism, and colonialism went hand-in-hand. The notion of a pure, chaste, white German woman, whose primary responsibilities were to carry on the “master race” through reproduction and to impose the German culture and moral code onto the “savage” natives, was used to enlist white German women in the colonial project. First and foremost, white German women were encouraged to move to Germany’s colonies in order to increase the white population; thus, they were essentially enlisted as “birthing machines.” Ayim argues that at the end of the 18th century in Europe, the new bourgeoisie offered a new feminine ideal that was “characterized more than ever by passivity” (11). This new ideal, that went hand in hand with the rise of capitalism, relegated women to the domestic sphere, where their chief duties were giving birth, raising children, and caring for the home (13). It was this ideal of femininity which was used in service of and allowed for the continuation of German colonization in Africa. In addition to their enlistment in the colonial project as birthing machines, white German women also participated in the act of “civilizing” the native population. While German men were primarily involved in the colonial military and administration, women took up the project of imposing a set of German ethical, moral, and cultural codes onto native societies.

IMG_0562On our first full day of class in Berlin, our tour guide Carolyn Gammon warned: “When in Berlin, beware of the green spaces.” This saying is a reference to the plethora of green spaces in the city, underneath which lie relics of Nazi crimes against the Jews: makeshift cemeteries in which the dead were piled on top of each other, the remains of a burned synagogue, and so on. Following our “Africa in Wedding” tour, we might add: “When in Berlin, beware of the street signs.” In Winter Shorts, Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo discuss the way in which people seek to deny the reality of racism. Burnley writes, “I believe that people invest more effort in denying racism than in dealing with it because facing the purpose for which institutional racism is constructed, is painful.” (13). In this way, people seek to hide or mask the realities of racism and colonialism in their daily lives, those unpleasant reminders that things are far from perfect. The ghosts of colonialism and racism appear eerily similar: in the United States, the tribute paid to victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the Statue of Liberty is completely hidden; in Israel, the side of the apartheid wall visible to Jewish Israeli citizens is masked by hills featuring beautiful flower gardens; and here in Berlin, the names of racist German colonists appear “innocently” on street signs. These ghosts are disguised as street signs, green spaces, monuments, and statues; they are a part of our everyday realities, and yet their true meanings remain hidden. As we learned from Josy, if we are to interrogate and dismantle systems of oppression such as colonialism, we must start by educating ourselves on how these systems permeate into and influence our everyday. We must always search for those tiny, hidden windows to the truth.


MalatyBaheya Malaty is a rising junior at Colorado College studying Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies and Feminist and Gender Studies. As co-leader of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Feminist Collective (FemCo), they are passionate about challenging Zionism and engaging in creative activism in solidarity with Palestine using a feminist lens. They are known to many of their friends as “Dad,” due to their superb barbecuing skills, knowledge of sports, classy button-up shirts, and their general Dad sensibility. Their dream is to one day develop a program through which students of color can travel to Palestine and learn about the occupation through a comparative, transnational, and feminist lens. Their alternative dream is to become a stay-at-home Dad.

Our Second Weekend in Berlin

By Amanda Cahn

Cahn IFriday morning, during our walking tour in the heavy rain, half of the group decided to get phở for lunch to warm us up. We took the metro to Kreuzberg, and tried to walk under the restaurants’ awnings in the fruitless attempt to stay wet instead of soaked. Unfortunately, we arrived a half-hour before the restaurant opened. Not wanting to wait in the rain, we started our second weekend off with drinks and olives at the Knofi Feinkost restaurant and deli. A half-hour later, we moved to Green Rice for phở. We were already halfway through our meal when we realized there was a large photograph of a naked woman hanging right in front of us, demonstrating how conditioned we are to seeing women’s bodies used as decoration.

Cahn IIThat evening, the whole group took the metro back to Kreuzberg, where we had dinner and drinks at Ta’Cabrón Taquería and Que Pasa and went dancing at Havanna to celebrate Alejandra’s birthday. Unlike the majority of the nightclubs we’ve visited, Havanna did not play electronic dance music (EDM). Upstairs was primarily bachata; although, it switched to reggaeton later on in the night. Downstairs, there was an active salsa room, as well as another room playing mostly hip-hop and R&B, which is advertised as “Beautiful Black Sounds.” It is important to note that the other rooms are not referred to as “Latino Sounds” or any other similar label. Furthermore, many of the songs were not even by Black artists. The way in which the music is uniquely racialized is problematic, especially when the majority of the people in this room were white (or white-passing), suggesting the music is racialized primarily for marketing purposes.

Cahn IIIOn Saturday morning, a German friend of mine arrived at the apartment, bearing coffee for the both of us. Because it was sunny and still early, Chris and I walked around the city for a while before heading to the Boros Collection (Sammlung Boros), a contemporary art exhibition in an old Nazi bunker (Reichsbahnbunker). Forced laborers constructed the air-raid shelter in 1942, and it was referred to as an M1200 because it was intended to shelter up to 1,200 people, but it ended up sheltering around 3,000. We could still see the artillery damage on the exterior of the building, because in 1945, the Red Army used the bunker to house prisoners of war. Since WWII, the bunker has been used in quite a variety of ways. In 1949, it was used as a textile warehouse. In 1957, it became known as the “Banana Bunker” because imported fruit from Cuba was stored there.

Cahn IVCurrently, there are three pieces on display, all by Berlin-based artist Alicja Kwade, which particularly interested me and are quite relevant to this course. In a small room visible from the lobby but blocked off with a chain, an organized stack of shining gold bars sits elevated and illuminated. However, the bars are actually coal-plated in gold leaf. Upstairs in another small room, precious gems sit protected and illuminated within an elevated glass case. These are stones Kwade took from the streets of Miami and had cut and polished. The last piece is in another small room, but it is dark and the floor faintly reveals its past life as a bathroom. Kwade shattered a mirror, outlined it, then used the outline to cut this steal and position it as the mirror had shattered. All of these pieces problematize how we decide what is valuable and what is not. Along these lines, in the introduction of Winter Shorts, editors Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo refer to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness.” Burnley explains, “Du Bois wrote about the way double consciousness comes into being for us as Black people, because society sees us through a largely negative filter of assumptions and prejudices. Double consciousness is about both aspects: how we see ourselves as individuals or as a group and how society sees us” (10). Kwade’s work not only reflects the two aspects of the double consciousness, but also the filters that are used to manipulate which lives the mainstream society deems valuable.

Cahn VIn the afternoon, we were craving Thai food, so we took the metro to Charlottenburg and Chris showed me a little slice of heaven in Preuβenpark, also known as Thai Park. Exiting the flowery trail, we came upon a sea of umbrellas, shielding the vendors from the sun or drizzle, whichever one cared to pass by. There had to be at least fifty vendors, many who actually cooked the food right there in front of the customers after they ordered. Of course, I noticed that most of the vendors were Asian, whereas most of the customers were white. In Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak OutMay (Opitz) Ayim notes, “Turkish kabob, Greek gyros, Italian pizza, Indian and African teas have long since become a regular part of everyday life in the Federal Republic. Nevertheless the people who have made these and other enrichments possible through their contribution to cultural diversity are regarded with caution” (136). While Showing Our Colors was published in 1986, Germany may still be in much of the same situation. This also reminds me of the chorus of “Gold” by High Klassified,

They say melanin is in
I just can’t see why
‘Cause you love our style, ‘cause you love our skin
‘Cause you love our food but there ain’t no love within.

Cahn VIIThat night, half of the group went out for sushi and drinks at Le Coq D’or in Friedrichshain. Afterwards, everyone decided to go back to the apartment except for Nitika and I. On our way to Newton Bar, we were approached by a group of people on the metro and a couple of guys started asking us where we are from. For the first time during our stay in Germany, they did not take “the United States” for an answer. They said, “No, but where are you really from? You guys look Latina.” Nitika is Indian, and I am Indonesian, so when they said that we looked Latina, it only emphasized what we already knew: they wanted to know why we have brown skin, not where we come from (whatever that even means). Ayim describes an all too familiar sentiment, “No matter where I go, I know some guy is going to say something to me—especially at parties: ‘Well, where do you come from?’” (151). Again, we see that for the “Other,” not much has changed.


CahnAmanda Cahn is from Portland, Oregon and a rising senior at Colorado College, with a major in Feminist and Gender Studies and a minor in Spanish. She is passionate about advocating for reproductive rights and has worked with Planned Parenthood teaching sexual education in public high schools, as well as analyzing statistical data from their various sexual education programs. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with friends.

 

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.

Activism: To the Blogosphere and Beyond!

By Lila Schmitz

Grrrls Team ILast night, I was up late. As the drizzle pitter-pattered on our window, Amelia and I joined the chorus around the globe of the vocal chords forming the sounds of tragedy. The feeling of pain and fear in our guts was enough to keep eyes open and minds muddled. As Amelia spoke on their feelings of hurt and powerlessness, I recalled Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s message about the necessity of activist self-care. In musing about my latest musical obsession, Akala, I had to share his words with Amelia: “The only way to ever change anything is to look in the mirror and find no enemy,” adding, “But I think it’s more than that, it’s more than ‘no enemy.’ It’s about being good and healthy first.”

We woke without the springing bounce that seemed to guide us out of bed over the past week. In my grogginess, I made it at least a block from the apartment before realizing my shorts may not have been the most appropriate choice on this chilly, damp morning. On the train, I pieced together, with the aid of good ol’ Google Translate (complete with a downloadable offline feature!), a headline about the massacre that read, “[Donald] Trump Calls for Obama’s Resignation.” I wish the permeation of the former’s overused name into this German headline had been a jolting surprise, but alas, since arriving in Europe three weeks ago, I’ve noticed it more than ever. While in London, I read an opinion piece in The Evening Standard, which claimed, “The Trump phenomenon would be a little less alarming were it confined to America. But it is merely the most dramatic instance of what looks increasingly like a pan-Western pathology.” The extensive transnational effect of the United States makes me worry tenfold about the aftermath of the events of this election season and this Sunday morning could have around the world.

In “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution,” Erik N. Jensen explores transnational collective memory, as it bridges between Germany and the United States. Jensen finds, “Films, plays, historical studies, and commemorative strategies produced in one country have often found a receptive audience in the other” (339). Yet, he also explores the dichotomy that exists as the gay community in the United States finds the Jewish Holocaust “a template for understanding the persecution of homosexuals, [while] the German gay community has avoided this comparison” and looks to the history of the United States (342). By appropriating the story of the Holocaust in association with German gay movements, the United States is able to elevate itself above the level of that sort of inhumane oppression by “othering” the terrors of the foreign. Meanwhile, Jensen notes the German commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in the United States, an act of not only solidarity, but also adopted history, leaving me to wonder what could happen if our histories begin to cross again in the current political climate.

This is where my mind is as we sit, again in Each One Teach One, to hear from Magda Albrecht and acclamie, writers for the largest German feminist blog: “Mädchenmannschaft” (“Grrrls Team” in English). Magda and acclamie sit at the front of the room in cushioned chairs in a laid back, talk-show style, next to Heidi, who “feels like Oprah.” Today, the show is a continuation of the special series: “How to Live as an Activist,” Episode: “Blogging.” acclamie and Magda introduce the history of “Grrrls Team” and its development over its nine year lifespan. Coming to fruition in 2007 at the hands of three young white women, this blog family is now composed of fourteen writers, and has resulted in 4,500 posts that have received 51,000 comments.

The “Grrrls Team” writers, like most activists, work for a gain that exists outside the realm of capitalism ($0 per hour, after taxes). Magda is a self-proclaimed musician and political educator, doing events management to “pay the rent.” Her dress has smiling hot air balloons of different pastel colors, and she refers to herself as the “Grrrls Team granny,” as she is currently the longest standing writer, having joined the blog in 2009. She works specifically in queer feminism and fat activism. acclamie chooses to use a pseudonym for job safety reasons, but it also allows her freedom of voice that Magda writes without. “I’m still scared to hit the publish button!” Magda tells us. “Wow, really?” acclamie exclaimed, as she hasn’t fully realized the power of her own pseudonym until today. Both women found feminism in returning to Germany from studying abroad in “anglophile” countries, the U.S. and the U.K. They laugh, remembering the feminism they were reading at the time and reflecting on their constantly developing activism. acclamie finds that social change “takes for fucking ever.” “Things reconfigure, but do they really change?” she wants to know.

The writers tell us about the slow introduction of intersectional feminist theory throughout the years at “Grrrls Team.” For instance, for their fifth anniversary, they celebrated with panelists and other invited activists, but as happens in the world of activism and Oprah, some of the guests who came to speak about SlutWalks spouted some “racist bullshit” and set off a divide in the “Grrrls Team.” Five members of the team left, while the rest stayed on with an even clearer notion that antiracism and feminism must coexist. Four years later the blog is still thriving and inspiring readers every day. In looking back at this timeline, Magda was wary of the potentially teleological narrative that could arise, saying, “This idea that development is so linear, I have a problem with that.”

The conversation turns toward the possibility of “eradication” of oppressive systems. Heidi finds this a place of impossibility, but acclamie counters, “Racism is not transcendental. [It has a historical emergence.] It takes for freakin’ ever, but it is possible. It is man-made. It has a starting point, so it could have an ending point.” Along these lines, one of the early proponents of women’s rights in Germany, Clara Zetkin, found, “Only with the destruction of capitalism and the victory of socialism would the full emancipation of the female sex be possible” (Honeycutt 133). As capitalism is an essential part of sexism, the idea that anything man-made could be man-destroyed, or better yet woman and/or trans-destroyed, allows for a train of thought I had long ago believed was out of commission. What does it mean that capitalism and sexism are man-made? What does it mean that that which is created can also be eliminated? How do I even begin to imagine a world in which eradication is a possibility?

On “Grrrls Team,” not all comments are published. The authors monitor them, and about 10% do not make it through the screening process. While that is often an easy decision, it comes down to the author of the piece because, as Magda shares, “We have to feel comfortable with it. In German, we say, ‘This is our neighborhood, our little garden.’” “Our turf,” acclamie adds. Contrary to popular belief, this is not censorship, because it is not executed by the state. It is in their self-cultivated garden, and there are only so many bacteria along with which their flora can survive.

Grrrls Team IIIn addition to their (free, volunteer, activist) work on the blogosphere, they organize and host Lady*Fest, which happens two weeks from now in Heidelberg. The poster promotes workshops, parties, lecture/performance, self-defense, film, café, Do It Yourself, and art. Magda noted today that although the blog’s internet capital is soaring, social and financial capital is only a fraction of the size, which for a primarily internet activist must be a constant frustration. With this festival, the opportunity to merge the physical and virtual activist bodies becomes an imperative. The festival is creating a space to find comfort, learn, and create. This reminded me of the introduction to Winter Shorts, a collection of short stories illuminating oppressive systems in contemporary Germany, Sharon Dodua Otoo recalls, “Recently, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion called ‘Can art save the world?’ And when I think about how Black people are being dehumanized, my honest answer is: it is the only thing left that can” (18).

Grrrls Team IIISo here I am, sitting in Café Berio in Schöneberg staring at the art on the walls. Naked bodies in their own distinct coloring sit, thinking. A green woman kisses a blue one contrasting the bright red background. They exist as connected bodies, particles of paint, colors dancing with each other. I find the other works (all by the same artist, who signs “Sarah”) more subtly solemn and pensive, yet coexisting with the tender, passionate embracing couple. As activists, we will inhabit the single portraits of pensive philosophers, but we cannot thrive in the work without a laugh or a kiss. I’m still going to worry about the state of political affairs, queer safety, racism, and the many other pains that compose the world as I know it, but for now, I think I’m going to take a walk through Berlin and listen to Doublethink for the thirtieth time this week, as I’d like something to give me a little hope, and I think Otoo might be right: Art is “the only thing left that can” (18).


Lila IILila Schmitz is majoring in Film and Media Studies and minoring in Feminist and Gender Studies at Colorado College. She’s going to be starting her second year at CC and third year of college in the fall. She’s enjoyed getting involved with CC theater and a capella (Ellement!), as well as tripping and sweating her way through intramural sports. This summer she’s lucky enough to get to do some gallivanting on the European continent, where you can often find her in a park (photographed in Tiergarten) with that very notebook. Important note: She does not usually look so serious, but rather was trying to figure out how to draw a chin and ended up with this photographic chin display.