Aprendizajes desclasados e inclasificables
Babysteps in Fighting the Monster
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In 2013 I invited 31 friends to participate in a research project that was part of my M.A. course in Gender Studies at the Humboldt-University of Berlin. One of the participating friends asked me to write this article about the project and I'll begin with shortly describing the realization of the project. Afterwards I will try to outline the idea behind it, and some of its important outcomes in terms of reflections.
The BerlinNotebooks project* was divided in two parts. For the first part I asked my friends to deal individually with a range questions about ones own social positionings** in different forms of structural discrimination. The second part consisted in a kind of written dialogue focussing on racist privilege (i.e. Critical whiteness) and racist discrimination. This second part - the BerlinNotebooks - was realized in three steps. First I've reformulated 11 sentences based on antiracist knowledge productions and I asked the participating friends to comment on these sentences. Second, I translated a part of these comments into the three project languages (English, German, Italian) and forwarded the comments to the other participants, asking them to comment on the comments of the others. Third I translated and forwarded these second comments to everybody, asking them to react to the comments of the others in turn and to write down their reflections about the project as a whole. The result is a text with many different voices, that is structured as a dialogue. After I finished the project I began writing my M.A.-thesis in which I tried to self-critically reflect and analyse how I reproduced discriminations and exclusions for example through the design and my methodic decisions of the BerlinNotebooks project. I also analyzed how these reproductions of discriminations are connected to my positionings. During this process of reflection I wrote comments to every participant myself. The last version of the Notebooks contains the dialogue between the participants as well as my retrospectively included comments.
Speaking about the relevance of my positionings: I was born in Eastberlin, in Germany, in 1979, and I was thus raised in two German societies. I came to realize how racist both German societies really are, including my own socialization (in a white leftist family), long after I became a politically active person in the age of 15. Two years ago and especially thanks to the political commitment and work of two extraordinary university teachers (Grada Kilomba and Lann Hornscheidt), I started the process of actually understanding and sincerely facing the fact that being socialized as a white person in a fundamentally racist society I am not free of racism, on the contrary, benefitting from racism and having learned all the racist shit that surrounds me from the beginning, it defines me so basically, that I have to do much more than identifying as radical leftist and calling myself antiracist. I have to struggle with everything I've learned – including my white feminist education – if I want to be solidaric and help dismantling my own racisms and the racism that surrounds me.
This process of dismantling has to be continious and can never be completed, which is why writing my M.A.-thesis as a self-critical examination of my methodological procedere and perspective in the BerlinNotebooks research project, was its necessary consequence. Looking back and reflecting the feedbacks of the friends who participated in it I realized how I reproduced exclusions and discriminating norms on many levels of the project. And I did that although my aim for it was the absolute opposite. I understand now and I still struggle with accepting that this happened because of the limitations of my perception of discriminations like racism or ableism*** which don't concern me negatively. By being positioned as white and ableised I did and do often not perceive how my actions are informed by racism and/or ableism (among other discrimination structures) and how I therefore reproduce them. I struggle with the acceptance of this limitation, firstly because I don`t want to act discriminatory, but also because my white colonialist education (which was never officially named as colonialist, but it neverheless was exactly that in many ways, just remember the name of my university) told me that as a white western person I can know and access everything. That means I was educated, in multiple, often subtle ways, to believe that – if I identify with the white male ableist norm – I can transcend my location with my reasoning and access or produce "universal" knowledge. Or at least that I should strive to do so. What an obviously impossible enterprise and yet what a powerful idea. So coming from this ideology it took me quite some time and a lot of critically reflected input from other perspectives to understand how very small and limited my point of view is. How inadequate it is to act as what I always saw myself like – a radical leftist and explicitly political person. But being as structurally privileged as I am and always was, those words have only very partially been filled with the meaning of experience and reflection for me, not to speak of the necessity for survival which political activism means for people who are systematically discriminated by racism. I had to realize that to a great extent those ideas and commitments are not a practice but rather abstract assertions to me.
This thought is one of the reflections the research project was meant to be about. I wanted to communicate what I learned from the antiracist knowledge productions of Black/ POC writers and activists like Grada Kilomba, Audre Lorde and bell hooks (and many others, I've listed some of them below). My motivation was to communicate a self-critical reflection of social positionings in interdependent power structures and to raise awareness of how fundamentally, and deeply these kind of discriminating educations influence us by continiously privileging those who are included and discriminating those who are othered. This us is divided in many groups, which are split and/or connected within – along the intertwining lines of social categorizations such as racist, sexist, classist and ableist constructions, which name certain people as "Others" or as "different" and simultaneously imply the dominant group as the norm. I also wanted to share the recognition that especially the so called subtle forms of everyday racism are so extremely normalized in the context I live in that it is hard to see them as someone, who is never negatively addressed by them. And that despite their normalization they are real, and hurting, they exclude and eventually kill people – literally. I wanted to share that beginning to perceive this I can not longer do nothing about it. I can not longer laugh about or accept discriminating jokes, comments or denominations, that are ironically constructed as 'progressive' by blaming political correctness as censorship, when I perceive them as such. I'm trying to stop using normalized racist language that defames Blackness. I will also continue to question myself regarding my racist socialization and how it shapes my perspective. And I keep on struggling to overcome my timidity, my fear and my false respect in order to speak up everytime when racist ideas are expressed or when racist actions are happening around me. When speaking about subtle forms of everyday racism, as I did above, I should reflect my use of these words, asking myself: Who defines subtlety? Subtle to me? That means subtle to white people! I learned from the articulations of Black people and POC that the normalized everyday racisms are not subtle at all to the people who experience their discriminating force constantly – because they are meant with it, and there is nothing subtle about that at all.
All this is to say that communicating my (self)critique and sharing the process of dismantling (my own) racism was my motivation for the BerlinNotebooks project. And the people I wanted to address and involve in a critical discussion of these realities were the persons who are closest to me: My friends. And there lies one of the problems I retrospectively see in the realization of the project. When I started the BerlinNotebooks project I had an unreflected aim of communicating my critique about our everyday racist attitudes to my white friends, because with my raising awareness, it troubled me to see our discriminating behaviours unconfronted. Thus the project was a tool for me to raise the issue and share my critique. The problem was that I also involved my Friends of Color, while I applied a normative (white) we as addressee of my critique. And although I was thinking a lot about how to underline the importance of social positionings for our actions, I designed a project that was, on many different levels, mainly addressing the friends that are positioned as white. I thus recentered the (>my) already privileged white perspective and I involved those friends of mine who experience racism themselves in a project in which they functioned merely as informants, without being considered and addressed methodologically. On many levels I reconstructed whiteness as a norm, although I've intended the contrary. Thus I can not give a review of the project without naming that its most important outcome for me is that I realized how persistent and extensive my racist socialization works on me and that there is no outside of it, but only a continuous and unfinishable attempt to deconstruct it.
Speaking about (not) addressing people: I'm aware of the fact that I am not saying anything new here to those among you who have first hand knowledge of racist discrimination and thus are understandibly tired of white people doing the same mistakes like me over and over again... But I guess I hope to find you reading this, and nevertheless being glad to know that there is one more white person, besides the ones you already know, who is trying to do babysteps against racist discrimination and I hope that you can somehow relate to my momentary point in this process.
Besides the methodological discriminations I'm partially describing here, raising the issue of structural racism and reflecting white privilege as such with the BerlinNotebooks project had good effects as well. It partially did encounter normative realities. Many conversations emerged from the project, many reflections and ongoing confrontations began or deepened with it. The project certainly became a space where white awareness was raised and (self)critique was expressed. I've also learned many things which I would do differently now. For example I would not realize a project focussing on racism and then addressing white people and People of Color without collaborating or consulting the conceptualization with persons who, by virtue of their experiences and positionings, could mirror my discriminating actions and choices and help me finding a way to avoid the reproduction of racism as best as possible. In short: I would not believe I could address people, who are discriminated by structures that privilege myself, adeqately. And second I would pay much more attention to formal decisions that appear as neutral only from a/my unreflected point of view. That concerned for instance the written form of the dialogue, which had negative effects for many participants – by further privileging and supporting dominant speaking positions and distanced statements. And it also concerned the anonymization of the dialogue which as well served only already privileged speaking positions and enforced the marginalization of those, who, also in the context of the project, are structurally de_privileged.
Before finishing this article I want to emphasize that the most important recognition I took from realizing and discussing the BerlinNotebooks project is the fact that in order to act solidarically I have to keep struggling to reflect my positionings and I have to keep struggling to perceive discrimination as such in the first place. Because for me these are the first conditions for standing up against the everyday reality of racist oppression. The fact that those, who, like me, benefit from the inequitable status quo, often don't (want to) become aware of the unjust conditions this multiple and systematic oppression creates, supports this reality. This is what makes me think that it makes sense to help creating awareness among those, who – ironically – because of their privilege often don't (want to) see how they actively take part in reproducing this unjust situation. Raising awareness about how I am/they are involved in reproducing it by buying into racist constructions of the "Other" and other powerful and discriminating constructions of difference is one way I can confront and challenge this monstrous reality of racism. And for continuing this struggle with myself and for solidarity with those discriminated I have to keep listening to and learning from the articulations and knowledge productions of antiracist activists and writers. That's why I want to conclude with a selection of publications (many of them in english) that I've read in the course of the project and while writing my thesis about it, and which I really recommand:

By Anita Burchardt.

(* footnotes and website below)
AK Feministische Sprachpraxis (ed): Feminismus schreiben lernen. Frankfurt a.M.: Brandes & Apsel. 2011
Ahmed, Sara: „‘It's a sun-tan, isn't it?’“ Auto-biography as an identificatory practice.“ In Heidi Safia Mirza (Ed.): Black British Feminism. A Reader. London and New York: Routledge.1997, p. 153-167
Ayim, May: Nachtgesang. Berlin: Orlanda Verlag. 1997
Ayim, May: Grenzenlos und unverschämt. Berlin: Orlanda Verlag. 1997 [1977]
Carby, Hazel V.: “White Women listen!” In Heidi Safia Mirza (Ed.): Black British Feminism. A Reader. London: Routledge. 1997
Collins, Patricia Hill: Black Feminist Thought. Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge. 2009 [2000]
Chrystos: Not Vanishing. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1988.
Chrystos: „Askenet. Meaning ‘Raw’ in My Language.“ In Betsy Warland (Ed.): InVersions. Writings by Dykes, Queers, & Lesbians. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers. 1991, p. 237-247
Combahee River Collective: "A Black Feminist Statement." In Linda Nicholson (Ed.): The Second Wave. A Reader in Feminist Theory. New York and London: Routledge. 1997 [1977], p. 63-70
Fanon, Frantz: Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press. 1967 [1952]
Frankenberg, Ruth: White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1993
Haritaworn, Jin: „(No) Fucking Difference? Eine Kritik an ‚Heteronormativität’ am Beispiel von Thailändischsein.“ In Jutta Hartmann et al. (Ed.): Heteronormativität. Empiri- sche Studien Zu Geschlecht, Sexualität und Macht. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag. 2007, p. 269-289
hooks, bell: Ain’t I a Woman. Black Women and Feminism. Boston: South End Press. 1981
hooks, bell: Black Looks. Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press. 1992
hooks, bell: Teaching to Transgress. Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, London: Routledge. 1994
Hornscheidt, Lann: feministische w_orte. ein lern-, denk- und handlungsbuch zu sprache und diskriminierung, gender studies und feministischer linguistik. Frankfurt a.M.: Brandes & Apsel. 2012
Kilomba, Grada: Plantation Memories. Episodes of Everyday Racism. Münster: Unrast Verlag, 2008
Nduka-Agwu, Adibeli und Hornscheidt, Lann (ed.): Rassismus auf gut Deutsch. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk zu rassistischen Sprachhandlungen. Frankfurt a.M.: Brandes & Apsel. 2010
Lorde, Audre: „The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.“ In id.: Sister Outsider. New York: Crossing Press. 2007 [1984], p. 110-113
Lorde, Audre: „Poetry Makes Something Happen.“ In Rudolph Byrd et al. (Ed.): I Am Your Sister. Collected and unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde. Oxford University Press. 2009, p. 184-187
Lorde, Audre: „When Will the Ignorance End? Keynote Speech at the National Third World Gay Conference, October 13, 1979.“ In Rudolph Byrd et al. (Ed.): I Am Your Sister. Collected and unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde. Oxford University Press. 2009, p. 207-211
Mirza Heidi, Safia (ed.): Black British Feminism. A Reader. London and New York: Routledge.1997
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade: "Under Western Eyes. Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse." In id. et al. (ed.): Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1991 [1986], p. 51-80
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade: "‘Under Western Eyes' Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles.“ In: Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, No. 2 (2002), p. 499-535.
Morrison, Toni: Playing in the Dark. Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage Books. 1993 [1990]
Nkweto Simmonds, Felly. "My Body, Myself: How Does a Black Woman Do Sociology?" In Safia Heidi Mirza (Ed.): Black British Feminism. A Reader. London: Routledge. 1997, p. 226-253.
Oguntoye, Katharina et al. (Ed.): Farbe bekennen. Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte. Berlin: Orlanda Verlag. 1991 [1986]
Kien Nghi Ha et al. (Ed.): re/visionen. Postkoloniale Perspektiven von People of Color auf Rassismus, Kulturpolitik und Widerstand in Deutschland. Münster: Unrast Verlag. 2007
Rich, Adrienne: „Notes toward a Politics of Location (1984).“ In id.: Blood, Bread, And Poetry. Selected Prose 1979–1985. London: Virago Press. 1987, p. 210-232
Maureen Maisha Eggers et al. (Ed.): Mythen, Masken und Subjekte. Kritische Weißseinsforschung in Deutschland. Münster: Unrast Verlag. 2009 [2005], p. 491-513
Smith, Barbara: The Truth That Never Hurts. Writings on Race, Gender, And Freedom. New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press. 1999
Sow, Noah: Deutschland Schwarz Weiss. Der alltägliche Rassismus. München: Goldmann Verlag, 2008
Spade, Dean: Normal Life. Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. New York: South End Press. 2011
St. Jean, Yanick und Feagin, Joe: „Distancing White Women.“ In id.: Double Burden. Black Women and Everyday Racism. London: M.E. Sharpe. 1998, p. 123-150
Ika Hügel et al. (Ed.): Entfernte Verbindungen. Rassismus Antisemitismus und Klassenunterdrückung. Berlin: Orlanda Verlag. 1993
* All information about the BerlinNotebooks project including most of the related publications and the original invitation/ introduction can be found in English, German and Italian under:
BerlinNotebooks 2014: The last and complete version of the Notebooks-dialogue, which contains an introducing explanation, and the complete dialogue between the participants, as well as my later reflections about the problematic methodology and content of the project design and my answers to each participant you find directly under that link:
If you want to share reflections and critique or if you have suggestions regarding the project or this article write to:
** With social positionings I mean structural positionings in power relations, that are based on social categorizations, that is for example being positioned as white or as a Person of Color, as transgender or binary gendered ('man' or 'woman'), as dis/ableized, ill, healthy, young or old, financially privileged or de_privileged, having (which) citizenship or not ....
*** Ableism is the structural and/or individual discrimination of people that are constructed and perceived as disabled.



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