Some Final Thoughts on the 2016 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

By Claudia Harrison

IMG_0094Our last Friday morning was especially colorful. The FemGenuises met in a familiar setting, Mauerpark, for a Graffiti workshop with Berlin Massive. Our instructor, Pekor Gonzles, gave us a little history lesson before we began. Mauerpark translates to “Wall Park,” so called because the site was formerly part of the Berlin Wall, specifically its Death Strip. “Right here was where you got shot,” Gonzales recounted about the once heavily-guarded area. Today, the Mauerpark is one of the city’s green spaces, very popular with young people. We had experienced this for ourselves the Sunday before, lying in the field next to the Mauerpark Flea Market, where we saw lots of people our age laughing, playing basketball, and picnicking in the grass. Often, performers take advantage of the laid-back setting, and the amphitheater’s karaoke draws large crowds every Sunday afternoon.

Graffiti is now legal on this remaining strip of wall, which is covered in bright, beautiful designs that change from day to day. Still, while Berlin has come to be known for its graffiti, Gonzales explained that it is still considered a young movement. The oldest people he knows who participate are around forty-five. This is because modern graffiti, popularized in the subways of New York City in the 1960s, did not really appear in Berlin until the late 1970s. He also tells us that graffiti culture has always been competitive, with artists writing over each other striving to create the largest, boldest tags. But it has also been inclusive. Anyone with talent can have their works recognized. For example, as Simon Arms writes in “The Heritage of Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Scene,” the first graffiti artists in Germany “weren’t ‘real’ Berliners, but outsiders: draft resisters, anarchist punks and Turkish migrants. They either opened businesses or formed squats and, with no resistance from the West German government, began turning walls into monuments to their own thoughts and beliefs.”

IMG_0124Because graffiti is largely anonymous, it can be used as a sort of secret code between the artist and her community. Thierry Noir is thought to be one of the first to do this, using the Berlin Wall as a canvas for his cartoonish creations. Influenced by classic painters such as Pablo Picasso, as well as pop-culture icons like Lou Reed and David Bowie, Noir left colorful, blocky images that represented the resistance to the dark shadows cast by the Cold War. Noir and Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet began painting in April 1984 and continued without pause until “the fall” in November 1989. In “Thierry Noir: The First Graffiti Artist Fired Up by the Berlin Wall,” Jonathan Jones writes, “The end of the Wall in 1989 was a sunny day for humanity. But in its monstrous strangeness, this scar running through a city had provided artists, novelists, musicians and film-makers with a dark subject matter and surreal inspiration so often lacking in the safe, consumerist world of the postwar democracies.” Traces of his work are still visible at the East Side Gallery of the Wall.

Graffiti has historically reflected the fringes of a community, voicing their concerns and forcing the minorities in control to listen to the majority. The goal of this re-purposed stretch of the Berlin Wall was to “make something against racism and for equality,” Gonzales told us. He added, “We are trying to create something accessible to everybody to improve the city.” Since street art originated in the inner city, it has a long multi-cultural background and has often contained anti-racist messages, used to transform spaces from oppressive to liberating for the people within. Its non-traditional form gives it more room for innovation than other art forms as well as inviting deep contemplation. Along these lines, according to Arms, modern street artist Mein Lieber Prost, “positions his characters to look like they are taking in their surroundings, laughing aloud at something happening right at that moment. It is natural, then, on seeing Prost’s characters pointing at them, for people to wonder what the joke is, asking themselves: is it me? Each character forces passersby to question their surroundings and (hopefully, if they don’t want to leave paranoid) to find a satisfactory answer.”

IMG_0173After hearing the history of street art in Berlin, it was thrilling to try it for ourselves. Gonzales gave us a brief tutorial on how to hold the cans of spray paint, and cloaked in protective ponchos, masks, and gloves, we went straight to work. Although I do think I improved by the end of the session, graffiti is much harder than it looks. Getting a clear, straight line requires a swift, steady hand that always knows exactly where to go next. Gonzales’ talent and style after years of experience was fascinating to watch. When showing us how to make a letter he drew a magnificent “S,” shrugged and said, “This is just the classic kind of flourish an artist would add to a letter, but I’m sure you can get more creative than that.” Afterwards, he outlined the entire background in thirty seconds. Each of us had our own letter to design and lots of background to fill in. Without trying, our piece came together as a rainbow of color.

For our design, the FemGeniuses semi-ironically decided to paint the phrase “Stay Woke” adorned with a hash tag and two large exclamation points to give each student their own letter or symbol to paint. Behind the rainbow letters are purple clouds and rain, a tribute to Prince, who died this past April. His legacy as a musician, defying traditional conventions of race, gender, and sexuality, is one we were all excited to honor.  Underneath the clouds are pieces of a broken island with the ground underneath revealed to be multi-colored. We never discussed the exact symbolism of the piece, but it lends itself to the interpretation of the passer-by. On either side are the designs of Chase and AJ Lewis, two emerging artists with very different styles. The design turned out beautifully, in large part thanks to Pekor’s finishing touches, and we were all in awe of the result. To think, the FemGeniuses of 2016 have our own section of the Berlin Wall! By next year, the message will be entirely painted over but the layers of paint remain a part of the wall itself along with so many others.

IMG_0192 (2)In the evening we gathered at the docks for our final farewell cruise. Dressing up, for the first time since our group dinner on the first Monday of class, gave the whole trip the kind of circular feel that I relish, and everyone seemed relaxed and happy once again. On the boat, we talked, laughed, and reminisced in between a few facts delivered intermittently by the automated tour’s loudspeaker. Over fruity summer cocktails, we watched the sun go down and cool breeze set in, and I relished the bittersweet feeling of knowing I’d never be in Berlin for the same reason or with the same people ever again. I thought back to some of my favorite moments:

Having met so many brave, intelligent, passionate people in the last few weeks, I am inspired to try to be more heroic in my own life. On this trip I’ve learned that fighting oppression requires determination and the ability to think critically about one’s society but most of all it requires heart. Building communities out of compassion and empathy is essential for the well-being of humanity and ourselves. I leave Berlin knowing that my experiences here and the people I’ve made connections with will fuel a lifetime of activism.

2016 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.

Introducing the 2016 #FemGeniusesInBerlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
The Ghost of the Third Reich: Educating Ourselves about Berlin” by Ivy Wappler
The Wall” by Nitika Reddy
Difference is Key: Audre Lorde and Afro-Germans” by Amy Valencia
Jewish History Walking Tour” by Amanda Cahn
Katharina Oguntoye and the Joliba Intercultural Network” by Grace Montesano
Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years” by Cheanna Gavin
Marketing Narratives and Misplacing Others: Queer Berlin Tour” by Amelia Eskenazi
Generation ADEFRA 2.0: How Creativity & Collectivity Intersect” by Alejandra Hernandez
Queer Spaces and Clubbing Culture in Berlin” by Claudia Harrison
Activism: To the Blogosphere and Beyond!” by Lila Schmitz
Little Istanbul: Our Walking Tour through Kreuzberg” by Amy Valencia
Witnessing Powerful Art: A Conversation with the Editors of Winter Shorts” by Ivy Wappler
Superqueeroes at the Schwules* Museum” by Grace Montesano
Hidden and Recovered Narratives: Women in the Center of Berlin Tour” by Amelia Eskenazi
Our Second Weekend in Berlin” by Amanda Cahn
Beware of the Street Signs: The Hidden Realities of Colonialism in Berlin” by Baheya Malaty
Reaching Out in the Fight against Violence” by Alejandra Hernandez
Building a Community of Voices from Silence” by Lila Schmitz
Empowerment, or Help as Needed” by Nitika Reddy
Challenging the Discourse of ‘Ally’” by Cheanna Gavin
The Power of Our Own Spaces: A Conversation on Colonialism and Belonging with Iris Rajanayagam, Melody Ledwon, and Mona El Omari” by Baheya Malaty

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


HarrisonClaudia Harrison is a senior ClassicsHistoryPolitics major from Washington, D.C. Her second day of college, she decided to spend the next four years trying to understand all of human history and thought. While she’s still actively failing at this task, she believes taking her first Feminist and Gender Studies class this summer may be a step in the right direction. In her free time, she can be found reading obsessively, over-analyzing TV shows, and boring her friends with useless facts about everything.

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.