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Wannsee Lake, Theorizing Race and Racism, and the Carnival of Cultures: Our Second Weekend in Berlin

Lake

Melissa and Casey on the Wannsee Lake Beach

Our second weekend in Berlin was eventful but also relaxing, which was deliberate. I planned to wake up late (but still early) on Saturday to go to Wannsee Lake with some of the FemGeniuses. However, I (thankfully) didn’t wake up until 11 am, and didn’t leave for the lake until 1 pm, arriving around 2 pm. Melissa, Kadesha, Casey, Stefani, Ximena, and Nicole had already arrived and had taken quite a few dips in the lake already. I bought a slushie and sat on the beach only to enter the water a short while later to watch Melissa, Kadesha, and Casey go down the slide a few times. The water was nice, but I didn’t get too wet. I really came mostly for the pedal boats.

Boating

Nicole and Kadesha on the Pedal Boat

Nicole, Kadesha and I waited about 30 minutes for our chance to ride—Melissa, Ximena, Stefani, and Casey opted out, but we had so much fun! It was so relaxing, even with the pedaling! I can’t wait to come back next summer and pedal boat with Tony, AJ, and Chase! We rented the boat for an hour but only boated for about 30-40 minutes, but we all could honestly see how someone would spend a whole hour out on the water wading around with the other boaters, the ducks, and the swans—yes, swans!

Tipica

Casey and Melissa Sharing at Tipica

An hour or so later, Melissa, Kadesha, Casey, and I had dinner at Tipica, which was pretty good. Stefani, who left the lake early, and Blaise also joined us. I had a pretty awesome Mexican Fizz drink—not sure what was in it—and some nice beef tacos. Yummy to the tummy, indeed, but definitely not cheap. Haha! Still, I was full enough to go back to my apartment and get some good shut eye.

Hatef

Hatef Soltani of CrossPoint

I woke up a bit earlier on Sunday to meet with Nadine Saeed of the Oury Jalloh Initiative, along with Hatef Soltani and Mahdiyeh Kalhori of CrossPoint, in order to discuss racism and justice in the U.S.. Nadine also invited Beril to discuss racism and justice in Turkey. I was honored that we were invited by Nadine to be part of this documentary, because I’ve become more committed to transnational theoretical, pedagogical, and artistic activism (not in that order and inextricably linked, at least for me), and talking with her has been a large part of that deeper commitment.

I spoke at length about Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Marissa Alexander in order to communicate the necessity of intersectional analyses and activism. As a theoretical activist, I find it troubling when, especially within “liberal” and “progressive” communities, people denigrate theory in an effort to communicate the necessity of action. For instance, sometimes my audiences, including my students, grow frustrated when they ask what they can “do” to affect change, and I respond that theorizing is one of the most important things that can be done in response to injustice.

Nadine

Nadine Watching CrossPoint TV

Theory is simply a way of thinking about, understanding, and explaining the world. And it’s my contention that theory killed Trayvon Martin and Oury Jalloh. This same theory sentenced Marissa Alexander to 20 years for self-defense. Of course, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. And the police killed Oury Jalloh. And the United States legal system sentenced Marissa Alexander. However, those murders and that sentencing would not have been possible without white supremacist heteropatriarchal theories about Black and Brown bodies and lives, theories that suggest that these bodies are not worthy of love, affection, and protection, theories that suggest that these lives don’t matter and that they’re not worth saving. George Zimmerman began to name himself as Latino, especially during and after the trial, but that still does not exempt him from this theoretical framework. Only this kind of thinking would allow Zimmerman to see Trayvon Martin as inherently dangerous and violent because of his gender, his race, and his clothing. Only this kind of thinking would allow someone to see Marissa Alexander as anything other than a victim during her trial.

Beril at Oury Jalloh

Beril at Oury Jalloh

I was also quite interested in Beril’s narrative about her own struggles as a young Turkish woman studying in the United States. I was particularly intrigued by her relatively recent realization that uniting in struggle is one of the most important ways in which we can fight injustice, because isolated and disjointed communities are a strong tactic of those that are invested in our subjugation. I also appreciated learning more about the struggles Turkish communities face, especially pertaining to migration and the demonstrations last summer in Gezi Park. I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome of this conversation, because all of the CrossPoint videos I have watched—earlier today and since returning to my apartment—have been terrifying and powerful.

Carnival

Carnival of Cultures 2014

After the interview, Celine and I went to the Carnival of Cultures to watch some of the parade. The Carnival is held from June 6-8 around Pentecost, and is organized by Philippa Ebéné, Executive and Artistic Director of the Werkstatt der Kulturen. Celine and I had fun taking in some Caipirinhas and talking about politics, as we love to do with each other, but we couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming sea of white faces at the parade. Black attendees were scant, and so were Black participants in the parade (at least the short part we saw). Both of us are fully aware that there are plenty white folks in many parts of Africa, but we also wondered why there were few Black African folks marching in decidedly African parts of the parade. I don’t know enough about the Carnival or the parade or Berlin or Germany—and we only stayed for a few hours—to provide a salient analysis of the “goings on,” but I am interested in learning more about the history of the Carnival, which is more than 60 years old, and its relationship with the culture of Berlin, including all of its migrant communities. Along these lines, I was made aware of some racism that Philippa has faced while planning the Carnival, and I’m eager to learn more about the role that has played in the organizing process. Perhaps I’ll write more about this next summer…lots to ponder.

Me at WannseeUntil next time,

Heidi

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Heike Radvan and the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung

By Kadesha Caradine

Kadesha

L to R: Melissa, Kaimara, Heidi, Heike, Beril, Nicole, and Ximena

Our day started earlier than usual, which seems like it caused the morning to go a little longer than usual. While it was interesting seeing the hustle of Berlinerson a week day, I was a bit uncomfortable being so close to strangers and occasionally bumping intothem due to the harsh stops of the train. I guess it is just the southerner in me.

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Beril

We arrived to the office of the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung where we were greeted with both coffee and tea which we were, the need for which was desperate. After everyone was situated, we went around the table and gave small introductions, which was followed by an introduction by Heike Radvan who has been working for the foundation for 14 years. She then gave us a brief introduction of the organization,and explained that it is named for Amadeu Antonio. Antonio was a contract worker who migrated to Berlin from Angola in 1980, and was, unfortunately, one of the first victims of Neo-Nazis. Antonio did not survive his brutal attack.

I was so excited to be able to talk to Heike about this organization, because I have been very interested in learning about the types of crimes that happen in Germany as compared to the U.S. I believe the reason why I was so interested in learning more about such information was because until our visit to the Foundation, many people I talked to described Berlin as a place that was way less violent than the U.S. I wanted to believe them, but it was hard for me to do that after learning about all the discrimination that happens here. So, I finally got the real scoop. Even though this particular organization has more of a focus on East Berlin, our discussion gave great insight on the somewhat hidden violence in the city and its rural areas.

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L to R: Kaimara, Heike, Beril, and Nicole

Heike explained that the police in Berlin are often racist, especially in cases involving migrants. Sounds to me like how African-Americans are treated in the United States, which is why I decided to pose a question about how Heike thought Germany might have handled the Trayvon Martin case. I asked because the day before, we had dinner with students from Free University, and on our way back to our apartment, we were discussing gun laws in Germany and the States. One of the students explained that gun violence isn’t as prevalent in Germany because of the lengthy process it takes to get one. Then, she went on to say that because of these gun laws, the Trayvon Martin case would have happened very differently here. This was shocking because it gave me hope that such racist violence doesn’t happen everywhere in the world, but I still had my doubts. In response to my questions, Heike basically said that because of the racist police, Neo-Nazis, and discrimination against people of color here, the case would have more than likely had a very similar outcome. I was disappointed, but I wasn’t shocked at all.

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Stefani

Afterwards, Heike explained that Neo-Nazis train their children to be young Neo-Nazis, which creates problems in schools. We also had some discussion about how there are still parts of East Germany that have large populations of Neo-Nazis and that they often go unnoticed because they don’t always try to make their selves visible. This instantly reminded me of racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in southern parts of the U.S. Even though they might not always dress in their traditional white uniforms, they are still very active. I went on to ask Heike if there were “smaller” ways that Neo-Nazis tried to display their pride, much like the confederate flag for southern American racists. She informed us that even though the swastika is banned in Germany, Neo-Nazis still identify themselves with other signs, such as Celtic symbols.

All this information was eye-opening to me, because even though people describe Berlin as a really safe place, as Heidi says, “Here, I feel acutely Black.” This is also a challenge for me. Yet at the same time, I feel accutely Black at Colorado College, so the feeling is familiar. This conversation really made me think, “Is there a place where Trayvon Martin would have received justice?”

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Kadesha II

Kadesha Reading Maya Angelou at #rosesForRefugees in Berlin

Kadesha is entering her third year at Colorado College, majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and possibly minoring inRace and Ethnic Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track.