The Power of Our Own Spaces: A Conversation on Colonialism and Belonging with Iris Rajanayagam, Melody Ledwon, and Mona El Omari

By Baheya Malaty

IMG_0673As we emerged from the Rehberge U-Bahn station into the blinding sunlight, it dawned on me that this would be the last time we walked together to Each One Teach One (EOTO), the organization which has been kind enough to allow us to use their space for several of our sessions. Today was our hottest and fullest day yet here in Berlin. Between the nearly 90 degree temperatures and the three class sessions, I wasn’t sure how my energy level would hold up as I walked to our last session. But even as I walked, the heat and exhaustion slowing my every step, I felt a great sense of anticipation and excitement. Contrary to any of our previous sessions here in Berlin, this one would be a space for people of color (POC) only. POC spaces have been critically important to my mental health and well-being. Beyond that, though, POC spaces have also inspired me greatly and provided me and people whom I care about with the opportunity to really thrive in community together. In the past, POC spaces have been brilliantly creative, passionate, and supportive. Despite my exhaustion, my expectations were high.

IMG_0676And needless to say, I was even more blown away and inspired than I thought I would be. At EOTO, we were met by the Director of the organization, Melody Ledwon, as well as our two presenters, Iris Rajanayagam and Mona El Omari. Originally from an area heavily populated by Turkish and Arab migrants in West Germany, El Omari moved to Berlin and began working with Der Braune Mob, a Black/POC media-watch organization. As a Jordanian Muslim queer woman, she became involved in feminist and queer Muslim self-organizing throughout Berlin. For Rajanayagam, her involvement with political activism began when she moved to Berlin ten years ago. Her search for a space in which she could both conduct her activism and feel comfortable as a woman of color led her to become involved in self-organizing. Additionally, she wrote her Master’s thesis on colonial continuities in Germany with an emphasis on refugee and asylum policies.

Within the first five minutes of the session, Ledwon referenced a theme that would remain critical to our discussion: the notion that people of color are constantly forced to defend their right to “come together on their own terms.” We are always told that we are self-segregating, that we should focus on becoming more “integrated,” met with blank expressions when we explain why it is important for us to come together in our own space. However, as El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon articulated, POC spaces are absolutely critical to our empowerment, our learning, our community, and our creativity. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak OutAudre Lorde writes, “To successfully battle the many faces of institutionalized racial oppression, we must share the strengths of each other’s vision as well as the weaponries born of a particular experience. First, we must recognize each other” (ix). One tactic of white supremacy has been the intentional fracturing of communities of color, as well as the erasure of Brown and Black cultures and histories. For people of color, then, coming together on our own terms allows us not only to build community, but also to determine a collective vision, a way to move forward. Along these lines and regarding her work with Der Braune Mob, El Omari spoke of the importance of going beyond work that is strictly reactionary. Not only does the organization critique the presentations of Black people and people of color in the media, but it also creates an archive of alternative media and news articles in order to encourage people of color to write their own stories and to break the silences of the mainstream media. A critical part of her work at Der Braune Mob, then, has always been asking the question: What do we as POC communities do to empower ourselves? Mona explains that focusing on this question afforded her the opportunity to reflect, think, and develop visions for the future on her own and with other people of color.

As we continued to unpack the importance of people of color having the opportunity to assert a space, our discussion turned to the legacies of colonialism on the notions of inclusion, belonging, and citizenship in Germany. When Germany began its colonization of Namibia, German law stated that if you had a German father, you were German. As the rape of Black women by white men as well as sexual relations between Black people and white people created an increasing population of mixed-race babies, the German government decided to change the law. Now, if you had a “drop of Black blood, you could not be German.” Thus, the notion of German-ness as whiteness was born. The notion of Germany as a nation-state with colonies reinforced the binary between whiteness and blackness, German-ness and foreignness: the nation-state of Germany was white, and its colonies were Black. To this day, the law of (white) blood reigns supreme in Germany. For example, El Omari provided the example that if your great-great-great grandfather lived in unified Germany before the Second World War, but was in fact a white Polish citizen, you as a white Polish citizen would be able to obtain German citizenship. On the contrary, people of color who were born in Germany but lack a German passport can be deported from the country in an instant. Thus, in order to be German, one must be white. Similarly, in the introduction to Winter Shorts, Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo discuss the problematics of the prevalence of the term “people of a migration background” in Germany. More specifically, Otoo writes,

The phrase “person of a migration background” seems to suggest that you can see or hear whether a person is of “foreign” descent or not. However “person with a migration background” is a euphemism. It 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)

IMG_5741Hence, if you are not white, you do not really belong in Germany. You are a “guest worker,” a refugee, an asylum seeker, or a visitor. El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon all testified to the fact that most people assume they cannot be German because of their color. They spoke to constantly being asked questions such as, “Where are you really from?” and “When are you going back?” In fact, a few years ago, El Omari was taken off the voter registration list, because a German government official saw her name and automatically assumed that she could not be German with a name like hers. Additionally, the police began to search for her, because they assumed that she was an “illegal” migrant, and when she protested, German authorities explained, “You must understand, we thought a person with a name like yours could not be German.” In Showing our Colors, May (Optiz) Ayim speaks to notion that her identity as Afro-German is read as unintelligible and not really German:

You planning to go back?
What? You’ve never been to Papa’s country?
What a shame…Well, if you ask me:
A background like that, it sure does leave its mark
Me, for example, I’m from Westphalia
and I think
that’s where I belong. (138)

IMG_5745The notion of belonging as a person of color in Germany is a very complicated one. On the one hand, because German-ness equals whiteness, people of color are excluded from the German identity. Still, as our session with these three amazing women came to a close, I could not help but see some silver lining to the situation at hand. This is not to excuse the erasure and exclusion of people of color in Germany or to say that it is justified or to glorify it in any way. Rather, I wish to emphasize the ways in which German people of color have been able to establish spaces together on their own terms and develop a collective vision for the future. As today’s session with El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon taught me, the power of POC spaces is incredible. Not only do they function as ways through which to heal and build community, but they also offer us radical liberatory possibilities. POC spaces allow us to create and exist within a space on our own terms. Colonialism has taken so much from people of color; people, land, resources, cultures, and histories have all been destroyed and erased. Thus, the act of people of color creating and gathering in a space on their own terms is radical in and of itself; it represents the reclaiming of our bodies, our histories, and our cultures. Perhaps most importantly, as Melody taught me today, POC spaces allow us the opportunity to thrive together.


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.

Challenging the Discourse of the “Ally”

By Cheanna Gavin

Snapchat-6863880461254982180As I got ready this morning, I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that our time in Berlin would be coming to an end in the next few days. However, I was excited for the upcoming day, which would be busy and filled with exciting encounters. Our day started off at ADNB des TBB, where we discussed the work they do in counselling and empowering people of color facing discrimination. Through reflection of our time in Berlin thus far, I see that there have been common themes among almost all the groups we have met, and that the communities we have been in are all webbed together in one way or another. These common themes include colonialism, empowerment, and community building/networking. After our morning session, we grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin for our convergence class with Dr. Jule Bönkost and Josphine “Josy” Apraku, who we met on Tuesday during our “Africa in Wedding” tour. Accompanying us to the course entitled “Bündnisarbeit Intersektional Gedacht” was also Dr. Derrais Carter, Assistant Professor of Black studies at Portland State University.

On Tuesday, Apraku told us that we would be discussing “allyship,” so I was eager to learn how they believed allyship has developed in Berlin and how it relates to our ideas of allyship in the U.S. During class, we started with an introduction of the course. It was an undergraduate Gender Studies class studying a German discourse of discrimination, how many forms of discrimination work together and the terms of allyship in relation to discrimination. They then opened up the floor for the German students to ask us questions and vice versa. Early on, the German students mentioned that they are not allowed to mainly or only study Gender Studies. For their undergraduate studies, they must have a trans/interdisciplinary approach, and need other focuses in addition to Gender Studies. For their graduate studies, they are able to focus on Gender Studies, but it is very difficult to enroll in graduate programs. This was the first of many examples that arose in the class demonstrating the inaccessibility of different feminist discourses not only in academia but in society in general. I believe this inaccessibility contributes greatly to the blissful and intentional ignorance around colonialism and racism in Berlin.

Snapchat-9062728769128009395After several minutes of dialogue, we split into smaller groups to get better acquainted with one another, as well as to have more intimate and inclusive conversations. In my group, the topic of how we got introduced to feminism came up. Something common among the German students was that this course introduced them to many of the aspects and terms of discrimination, racism, and colonialism in Germany. Along these lines, in Winter Shorts, Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo theorize,

“People invest more effort into denying racism than in dealing with it because facing the purpose for which institutional racism is constructed, is painful. Racism is a rationale to distribute social benefits by ethnicity. So, resisting racism brings members of socially dominant groups into a situation of discomfort for no immediate benefit” (13).

I believe this exemplifies the importance of courses like these to provide knowledge of these discourses to populations who normally do not have access to them.

However, we must keep in mind that we are privileged to even have access to these spaces in academia. One student spoke of how she had not heard of and had no knowledge of Farbe Bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out) until this class. Through different sentiments, it was clear that the available scholarship and discourses on feminism that they had been exposed to was very white. We also discussed how they had engaged in little to no discourse of colonialism or racism, because it is believed that racism ended after the Nazi regime, and there is “conscious amnesia” of anything that happened before. In “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden discusses how such a narrow framework “privileges the experiences of one group […] while turning our gaze away from other groups” (24). Privileging one narrative over another or generalizing one narrative for entire groups is extremely problematic. Not only are voices being silenced, but they are being erased completely.

Snapchat-4249857101675199255This is not only a problem in scholarship, but in aspects of allyship, too. People in dominant groups tend to talk for and replace the narratives of the oppressed groups, even when trying to help. This is apparent when dominant groups become the spokesperson of movements that are not for them. Allies need to realize that the members of oppressed groups are capable of examining and addressing their oppression. In addition, if someone calls themselves an ally, there needs to be a trust that is built that demonstrates that allies will show up if and when oppressed groups need them. Students from both the U.S. and Germany discussed how silencing narratives is one of the many difficulties/challenges faced through allyship.

Allyship, when looked at from a U.S. and German perspective, tends to have negative connotations. The discussion around allyship was supposed to start with possibilities and opportunities that may come from allyship. Yet, in the large group, as well as in my own smaller group, we struggled to find “benefits” of allyship. In addition, there was confusion between the term allyship and the German translation which is bündnisarbeit. As understood by the students from the U.S., allyship was seen as an individual practice. The German students, on the other hand have a more institutional understanding of allyship. Personally, I don’t like the word ally. I feel it has become sterile and fosters superficial support. For example, in “Accomplices, Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex,” Indigenous Action Media writes,

“[Non-profit capitalists] build organizational or individual power, establishing themselves comfortably among the top ranks in their hierarchy of oppression as they strive to become the ally ‘champions’ of the most oppressed. […] Where struggle is commodity, allyship is currency. Ally has also become an identity, disembodied from any real mutual understanding of support. The term ally has been rendered ineffective and meaningless.”

When fighting these struggles, it is imperative that actions speak louder than words. Even as people or women of color, we must acknowledge the power we have and what we can do with that power. If we focus solely on our oppression, we face becoming what we are fighting against.

Snapchat-3150015239727894670Through our discussions of allyship, the conversation integrated into one about community and relationships. Instead of calling oneself an ally, the communities we are working with should decide to call us allies from the work we do and the trust we build. To take it a step further, instead of focusing on allyship, we should focus on our relationships with people. Along these lines, Dr. Carter discussed how we need to be in community with the people we care about and want to thrive. This is similar to the foreword to Farbe Bekennen, in which Audre Lorde writes,

“This book serves to remind African-American women that we are not alone in our world situation. In the face of new international alignments, vital connections and differences exist that need to be examined between African-European, African-Asian, African-American women, as well as between us and our African sisters. The first steps in examining these connections are to identify ourselves, to recognize each other, and to listen carefully to each other’s stories” (xiii-xiv).

Not only do we need to be in community with each other as women of color, but we need to be in community with various oppressed communities. By being in community with each other, we are able to build relationships and trust among one another.

As the class finished and final thoughts were shared, I realized how empowerment plays a huge role in allyship and fighting discrimination and forming and maintaining communities with others to strengthen each other. As Dr. Cater said, “There is no right way to survive. Sometimes we need to sit and take it in. We need to remind ourselves that the world doesn’t exist on our terms.” We need to share the knowledge we gain in these spaces with those who do not have the privilege to be in these spaces and/or have access to these terms and scholarship. We need to empower ourselves and each other by challenging and deconstructing the idea that others hold the power instead of one’s self.


GavinCheanna Gavin is a rising Junior at Colorado College from Denver, Colorado. She is majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and potentially minoring in Human Biology and Kinesiology. She is on the Pre-Health track and planning to attend Physical Therapy School. Cheanna loves playing sports and is ecstatic to be a FemGenius in Berlin, as she can’t wait to explore and learn about different German cultures.

Empowerment, or Support as Needed

By Nitika Reddy

IMG_0639Today was what I like to lovingly refer to as our “marathon” day. For the majority of us, it consisted of three sessions, an expedited lunch in a train station, and getting home at 6:30 pm. Now that might sound overwhelming (and yes, it was), but since this was our last day of academic sessions, I thought it was pretty fitting. CC style is always go big or go home and make it look easy. So, my classmates and I awoke this morning ready for our last day and our first session at the Antidiskriminierungsnetzwerk Berlin Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg (ADNB des TBB).

When we walked into the ADNB des TBB building, it was not hard to immediately notice the open space and welcoming atmosphere. Once inside the presentation room, we met with the equally welcoming Celine Barry, one of the five full-time staff members. She told us that this organization was founded as project of the Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB) against discrimination. While TBB focuses primarily on Turkish communities, both organizations are committed to the struggle against discrimination in general. ADNB des TBB addresses these issues through counseling and other forms of intervention regarding sexism, racism, Islamaphobia, and discrimination based on sexuality.

IMG_0641When we first got there, a lot of us expressed interest in the relationship ADNB des TBB has with the German government, since they are funded by the state. This is not unlike many of the other organizations we have visited with these past few weeks. This, of course, seems like a source of conflict, because we have seen, time and time again, countries say they care about marginalized communities without every fully listening to what needs to be done. For instance, one main goal of Germany has been the idea of “integration.” For example, in the introduction of Winter ShortsClementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo problematize this idea when claiming integration “is the carrot dangled in front of those with a so-called migration background. It will never be attained but we are told it is what we should be aiming for. We are told to keep chasing that damn carrot!” (12). But Barry was careful to explain that this was not the case with ADNB des TBB, and although the government funds ADNB des TBB, it is not a government organization. It’s an independent counseling center dealing with discrimination issues and legal support aimed at giving confidence and a voice to people.

At one point, Barry asked us why we thought counseling might be important for people in these situations. Dealing with everyday racism (even microaggressions) is exhausting, and people need to address those emotions in some way. Barry explained that it goes deeper than the classic counseling most might understand. Their counseling method revolves more around empowerment. To ADNB des TBB, it’s important to allow people to resolve their own problems while still receiving support. To help us understand this more clearly, Barry split us into small groups to discuss real cases. My group’s case was about a Muslim university student named Nura. Nura was studying Orientalism, and applied for a job at a museum specializing in that subject. She ended up having an interview, but when Nura arrived, the manager was surprised that she was wearing a head scarf. After the interview, the manager said that he would give Nura the job because she was very qualified, but only on the condition that Nura remove her head scarf. The reasoning was that it would confuse the museum customers. We struggled mainly about how to advise Nura on an individual level. More specifically, Nura needed to determine whether she would just not take the job or pursue the long, drawn out bureaucratic process of going to court. Neither option seemed satisfying.

IMG_0649As Celine pointed out, it’s also important to realize the more deep seeded importance of liberation and empowerment practices. So much of this work deals with strong power structures and oppression. When the oppressed gets empowered, the power structures in place are challenged and deconstructed in a way that immediately affects and threatens the oppressor. Barry explained that the oppressed are the only ones that can free themselves, and that eventually the liberation of the oppressed will also lead to the liberation of the oppressor.

Being in a class about intersectionality, helped us to be aware of the different intersectional issues regarding Nura’s case. An intersectional approach was beneficial when we discussed the importance of an inclusive safe space. Along these lines, Otoo writes, “Well for me Black spaces still have to work against logics of oppression. Black men need to reflect and work against make privilege every much as straight people need to think about ways the gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer people experience marginalization and violence…in Black communities” (14). Barry explained that although ADNB des TBB is a safe space, she and her colleagues are aware of the crossovers of different forms of discrimination, such as that based on language. Because of their awareness, they are able to operationalize these ideals in the empowerment strategies they implement when addressing their cases.

IMG_0645As the session ended, I couldn’t help but think about something we addressed in the very beginning of the course. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes, “We are the hyphenated people of the Diaspora whose self-defined identities are no longer a shameful secret in the countries of our origin, but rather declarations of strength and solidarity. We are an increasingly united front from which the world has not yet heard” (viii). Germany, the U.S., and other western countries do not acknowledge their problems with discrimination, which then causes them to fail to acknowledge the people being discriminated against. These acts of silencing can only really be reconciled with the oppressed finding their voices to speak out. The fact that ADNB des TBB gives that opportunity to people on the people’s terms is inspiring to see.


ReddyNitika Reddy is a rising senior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is an Economics & Business major, as well as a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. She is an avid dancer and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity. She has been traveling for the past 5 months (studying aboard in Copenhagen and visiting parts of Asia), and is finishing her 6th month of traveling with FemGeniuses in Berlin! Nitika loves reading memoirs, really any kind of film, and singly loudly in the shower. Fun fact: She is currently in a long distance relationship with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which she misses dearly!

Building a Community of Voices from Silence

By Lila Schmitz

SUSI Blog 1On the first day of summer, the streets of Berlin transform into stages, housing artists of a multitude of disciplines and genres for the Fête de la Musique. Around 5 pm yesterday, I found myself plopped down on the sidewalk outside RosaCaleta, a restaurant some of my classmates have been raving about since day two of our trip. Somehow, I aimlessly ended up outside the restaurant, watching the performances on the cobblestone sidewalk. With a stroke of luck I had yet to encounter in my nights out in Berlin so far, the attendees were mostly young and, seemingly, mostly queer.

The artists that I saw perform were primarily women of color, and the feeling in the air was that of hesitancy to pass judgment and liberty to dance like nobody’s watching. One of the performances was a voguing troupe and after their choreographed performance, they opened the “runway” for anyone who wanted to take the stage, giving the spotlight to those who might not have that opportunity often. Originating as an art form to illuminate those who wish to come out of the shadows, voguing, a series of poses that could be found in Vogue magazine linked together with music, was created in the New York Black drag ballroom scene, as I learned after watching Paris is Burning. Yet, when I try to find a hyperlink for a proper definition, each website silences its exact origins, claiming rather that voguing originated in the “New York gay scene” or “African-American ballrooms.” Along these lines, another performer, a German slam-poet, recited: “White supremacy gives daily racial injustice its supremacy.” As I wandered away to ingest two scoops of ice cream before dinner, the sun began to dip behind the buildings, and the party was just getting started with a reggae beat padding the way.

SUSI 4The following morning, we visited the incredibly inspiring Biplab Basu at ReachOut. After, we made our way to RosaCaleta to introduce Heidi and Dana to the delicious Jamaican food and beautiful setting. We ate outside, where yesterday the faux stage housed so many passionate performers. I munched on a juicy portabella sandwich, and after forgetting ourselves in the delicious tastes and relaxed conversation for a moment, we scurried to our next stop, SUSI: Interkulturelles Frauenzentrum (Intercultural Women’s Center). We ran up the endless flights of stairs and made it (a bit sweaty and slightly tardy) to meet Jamile da Silva e Silva.

Silva ushered us into the center, where she provided an array of drinks and snacks in a magnificently warm welcome. She began by apologizing for her English, which I’ve noticed seems to be a trend among the folks we’ve been meeting. How have we gotten to a place where our hosts apologize to us for not speaking perfect English when we all know so little German? I love that I am able to communicate with so many people, but like many things recently, I’m realizing how much of this language connection I’ve been taking for granted. Next, Silva told us that she was born in Brazil, so she speaks Portuguese and German fluently, while also being able to deliver our entire presentation in English. Yet, she is apologizing to us?

SUSI Blog 2Next, Silva shared that S.U.S.I. is a gathering place, a counseling center, a cultural network, and a voice in the community. Women gather in the beautiful rooms to cook meals that smell like home and deliberate on their activism. In those same rooms, they can find counseling in seventeen different languages, because as we’ve learned, immigration can be particularly traumatizing for women. Hence, having psychological and social counseling in their first language can significantly change their quality of life and mental well-being for these women. S.U.S.I. also provides a continual cultural and political educational program, using panels, classes, lectures, and art to bring awareness to racism, sexism, and other relevant issues.

Silva explains that in the 1990s racism in Berlin became “much clearer.” Due to the fall of the wall in 1989, Germans felt themselves united from east to west and therefore rejected all those who did not fit this new “unified” community, primarily excluding migrants and people appearing to have a “migration background.” Contract workers were deserted, and papers were voided. One of many groups affected was that of the tens of thousands of Vietnamese migrants, who were deported, being torn away from jobs that had promised consistency. Throughout the country, “antiforeigner violence” flourished, and, according to Wolfgang Kil and Hilary Silver in “From Kreuzberg to Marzahn: New Migrant Communities in Berlin,” in 1992 and 1993, fifty to 100 racist attacks a day were reported in Germany (107). Silva refered to “much clearer” racism, and yet even with numbers like this, these stories are continually silenced by the mainstream German narrative about history, culture, and politics. As for people who are German and yet still suffer from “antiforeigner violence,” Sharon Dodua Otoo and Clementine Burnley explain in the Introduction to Winter Shorts that in Germany:

“‘Person with a migration background’ is a euphemism. It 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.’ Well I did migrate to Germany – I come from the UK. But dominant German society does not have this in mind when my migration background becomes of relevance” (15-16).

IMG_0615Along these lines, many Black German women have specifically told us that they are still spoken to in English even after their lips produce perfect German. Last night at RosaCaleta, a spoken-word poet did her entire set before speaking in German, and when she did, those that understood German laughed with surprise. She then explained to them that although she is Black, she is German, an astounding revelation even for some gathered in such a diverse setting. Similarly, in Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, May (Opitz) Ayim argues, “Because [‘hyphenated Germans’] appear to be foreigners they are most often treated as such—as people who do not really belong in this country” (136-7). As for the people who actually do immigrate, they are definitely not treated as though they belong in Germany. In an investigation of homophobic hate crimes in “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” Jin Haritaworn finds that migrants are specifically targeted and “destined for incarceration” (71). Haritaworn determines that migrants are disproportionately imprisoned for homophobic hate crimes because of the detachment from homophobia that this allows for Germans. By throwing the homophobic accusations onto a different “other,” Germany is able to contrive a homonationalist narrative, while demonizing migrants and masking the xenophobia and racism.

When the narrative constantly attacks, migrants need spaces to find emotional and psychological support. S.U.S.I. is unique in its specified attention given to migrant women, and while there are women’s centers sprinkled throughout Berlin, Silva shares that she is part of the only international one. Yet even with its precarious position as the only center serving multitudes of migrant women, S.U.S.I. is not granted any full-time employees. Silva and her four colleagues are salaried for no more than 30 hours per week, and three of these five core members have to reapply to the state for their positions every two years. Additionally, Silva shares that the counselors cannot thrive on what ends up being basically volunteer work due to the minimal compensation the state provides. Yet, there are twenty-five counselors who speak up to five languages each currently practicing and giving their time to S.U.S.I.

SUSI Blog 3“How do you stay resilient in this work?” Heidi asks, referring to the constant bureaucratic battles. “Well for the others it is probably different, but I would do this work regardless [of the pay],” Jamile begins. Before working with migrant women, she was particularly active in the Black rights movement here, and she also cites her days at university, where she acquired a Master’s degree in Gender Studies, not a subject area with which the members of this class are unfamiliar. She also adds, “I believe it’s going to change.” In the foreword to Showing Our Colors, Audre Lorde writes, “The essence of a truly global feminism is the recognition of connection.” Later, she notes, “The first steps in examining these connections are to identify ourselves, to recognize each other, and to listen carefully to each other’s stories” (xiii, xiv). As humans, we need each other; we need connection for solidarity and support. Racism and sexism serve to isolate and disempower the “other.” Jamile and her colleagues at S.U.S.I. are fighting against the desertion and disregard of migrants by striving to create community. They are fighting for change, and no matter how small the steps, they continue, one at a time, forward. After all, they’re in quite good company, surrounded by artists and in the footsteps of Audre Lorde.


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.

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.