The summer of 2020 was marked by the resurgence of a social and political activist movement, known as Black Lives Matter. The protests, which spanned across the globe, were sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Black as a result of police brutality. With COVID-19 affecting social interaction and how we protest, many people could not go out on the streets and demonstrate in support of the movement. Thus, many of the calls to action took place online through blogs, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.
A significant role of the online protest involved sharing resources that help identify, understand, and unlearn some of the racial biases that pervade our everyday lives. As books, academic research essays, podcasts, and movies were shared, the idea of anti-racism gained more force. The concept drew a lot of attention as people in the US and around the world spoke out against police violence and systemic racial inequity. However, the idea behind anti-racism is far from new, with roots in decades of civil rights work by Black Americans.
Anti-racism, according to Ibram X. Kendi in his book How To Be Anti-Racist, is understanding how years of federal, state, and local policies have placed communities of color in the US in the crises of displacement, exclusion, and segregation that they face today, and calling those policies out for what they are: racist. In one of his articles, Binna Kandola, an expert on the topic of unconscious racial bias, says racism is “a virus that mutates, taking on different forms as it adapts to a changing environment. It’s mutation is made harder to observe by it being deeply embedded, not only in our traditions and institutions, but also in our unconscious lives. Behaviours can be separated into those which are under our conscious control and those which are not; and these two types of behaviour are not necessarily related to each other.” Racism was created by and upheld through policies, practices, and procedures to create inequities between racial groups, and, in his book, Kendi says, “The opposite of racist isn’t the passive act of being “not racist,” it is anti-racist.”
Anti-racist work means acknowledging that racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives, and then actively making efforts to tear down those beliefs and structures. This is something we can start doing by educating ourselves through literature, for instance. I asked professors at Bard College Berlin what resources they believe are good starting points for engaging with anti-racist discourse and can help kickstart conversations about the topic in our community and beyond. Here are some books, cultural centres, websites, and film recommendations from a few members of the wonderful faculty at Bard College Berlin.
Laura is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Bard College Berlin. Her recommendations focus on European actions towards anti-racism.
Kunsthaus KuLe e.V, in Mitte (Auguststrasse). Their Black Berlin Biennale is a venue for POC artists that promotes engagement and exchange of ideas. For 27 years, this community has cultivated many diverse artistic practices in various fields, including visual art, contemporary dance, art history, philosophy, theatre, and experimental and electronic music. Another fascinating anti-racist art source is their archival project, created for purposes of recovering blackness and the history of the African presence in Italian Renaissance art and in the archives of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt organises exhibitions, conferences and publishes important resources on, among other subjects, colonisation, decolonisation, racism, and the anthropocene.
The podcast series “Wortewandel” on the radio channel Deutschlandfunk Kultur features episodes on migration and intersectionality in Germany. Laura’s personal favorite is the episode titled “Schwarz, afrodeutsch, afrodiasporisch” on the linguistic changes that are necessary to counteract racial and gender bias.
The Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung is a governmental institution. Their webpage always features extremely useful articles and information on anti-semitism, racism, and many other topical political questions. One can request a subscription to their magazine, which is meant for a young audience and is useful in presenting difficult and academic concepts to a broad audience.
Here is the newly created website of the European Committee Combating Hate Speech, directly linked to the Council of Europe. The website hosts extensive information regarding efforts by the EU on tackling racism, specifically hate speech.
There are also other educational resources present on this website in English, Spanish, and French for the European youth. Some of the most popular resources are:
Compass, a manual for Human Rights Education;
Education Pack “All Different – All Equal,” containing ideas, resources, methods and activities for non-formal intercultural education for young people and adults;
Mirrors, a manual on combating anti-Gypsyism through human rights education;
Gender Matters, a manual on addressing gender-based violence affecting young people.
For those who read Italian:
“I recommend the novels and writings of the following contemporary authors, dealing with racism, the Italian colonisation and violence in Africa,” says Laura.
Igiaba Scego is an Italian-Somali poet who writes about the cultural and linguistic dynamics of racism in contemporary Italy, but also about the history of colonialism in Somalia. Some of her work has been translated into English and is critically acclaimed, such as Adua and Beyond Babylon.
Francesca Melandri’s work, especially the novel Sangue giusto, translated in many languages but not English; Laura also recommends the novel Eva dorme, about the oppression of the German-speaking minority in the Italian region of Alto Adige;
The magazine for transnational literature called El Ghibli, which is dedicated to “minor literatures,” and the literature of migration. Minor literature, contrary to popular assumptions, is not a literature written in a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language.
Texts by Stuart Hall
Laura recommends reading the works of Stuart Hall such as Questions of Cultural Identity. “Among many known authors, I recommend a perhaps less known one: the British-Jamaican marxist scholar Stuart Hall, who initiated the discipline of cultural studies in Britain and drew attention to the racist environment in British society, especially from the point of view of the people from the former Caribbean colonies. He wrote a large number of theoretical essays on the Caribbean diaspora, on questions of race, identity and culture,” she says.
When asked about how Laura stumbled upon the work of Stuart Hall, she says, “When I studied in the UK, the work of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies had a great impact on the study and teaching of literature, and the journal The New Left Review, that he co-founded, was a crucial source of political education for me and many friends and colleagues. Secondly, I came across his works on the theory, literature and history of the Caribbean diaspora through my passion for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, when I started studying works that rewrite Shakespeare’s play from a post-colonial perspective.”
Agata is a professor of Migration and Cultural Studies at Bard College Berlin.
Dark Matter University (DMU) was founded with the mission to “work inside and outside of existing systems to challenge, inform, and reshape our present world to a better future.” At the core of DMU is an urgent push for an anti-racist model of designing education and practice achieved by creating new forms of knowledge, community, institutions, practice, and design itself.
Design as Protest is a coalition of designers mobilising strategies to dismantle the privilege and power of structures that use architecture and design as tools of oppression. This organisation focuses on how physical spaces create racial, classist, and gendered differences in the world and try to combat both physical spaces as well as racial differences, in order to attain design justice.
International Women* Space (IWS) is a feminist, anti-racist political group of migrant and refugee women in Berlin. They aim to fight white, euro-centric patriarchy by documenting every day violence, racism, sexism, and discrimination. They host a number of events that are open to BIPOC and non-BIPOC women that are beneficial to adapting a feminist and anti-racist thinking.
Capitalism is structured and operated through the subordination of political, cultural, and economic minorities. One such method of subordination is by race. Race is the notion that sets inherent (often deemed “natural”) qualities to differentiate groups of people from one another in different ways. Agata has shared a generous preexisting anti-racist and anti-capitalist movie list, called “Visions of a Future Beyond Capitalism”, that includes one of my favourite documentaries of all time: A Place of Rage. This feature film/documentary was created by Indian-British-Kenyan filmmaker Pratibha Parmar who is known for giving voice to untold stories of Black and Brown women.
Fatin is a writer and is part of the faculty for Comparative Literature, Race, and Migration Studies at Bard College Berlin.
Thick: and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
A fantastic collection of essays by sociologist and professor Tressie McMillan Cottom, that looks at social, economic and institutional racism through the lens of black feminism. The book engages with race, feminism, and class by looking at the particular challenges that black women face navigating everything from healthcare systems to academic institutions. It’s a brilliant book that merges personal, political, and academic writing.
Move On Up
Move On Up is an email list for people of color based in Berlin. The emails inform subscribers of events, housing posts, job advertisements, medical, and other resources or queries focused on the needs of people of color. This emailing list serves as a familial thread used to bring people together for mutual support. Here, people advocate for one another in the fight to overcome any threats BIPOC face in Berlin. Note that the list is mostly in German, but open to English messages as well. If you are interested in being added, contact [email protected].
Ian is part of the faculty for Art History and Philosophy of Science at Bard College Berlin.
Ian suggests a couple of classic academic journals about scientific racism, “[t]he old bugbear of 19th and early 20th century biology that (so the story goes) was put to rest after the Holocaust. The coffin was nailed shut by the Human Genome Project (though of course the story is far from over…).” While Ian strongly recommends these texts, he also acknowledges that they might be too old and that plenty of work has been done regarding the same topic in recent years. He goes on to say, “Genomics has gone from being a colourblind, race-free science to one devoted to understanding it in various newish ways. I’d also recommend Catherine Bliss’ Race Decoded published in 2010. It investigates the ways in which geneticists are rethinking racial concepts in the post HGP era to address social justice issues like racial health disparities and minority health.”
Two classics in the field of scientific racism are:
The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen J Gould
“Gould’s work is mostly a rebuttal of 19th and early 20th century empirical anthropology, particularly the work of researchers like Samuel Morton who took cranial measurements of different ethnic groups as a proxy for intelligence. Gould is not known for hiding his partisan views on the topic of biological determinism but at the same time it’s hard to find fault with his work. The original is from 1981 but the 1996 version contains a valuable couple of chapters addressing the then-recent The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which also attempted to find heritable determinants of intelligence.”
Genes, Peoples, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
“Cavalli-Sforza was a leading member of the Human Genome Project and generally a leading population geneticist. Genes, Peoples, and Languages (2000) is a brief overview of his life’s work, including important findings about the ‘genetic distance’ between different population groups across the globe. He argues sensitively that there are clear (though not as pronounced as one might have expected prior to the HGP) genetic differences between populations of humans, but these don’t match the classic ‘races’ of earlier categorisations and there is no evidence that they significantly affect any non-superficial (basically, behavioural) traits.”
Aya is an art historian and a professor of Visual Arts, Culture, and European Modernism at Bard College Berlin.
She begins her recommendations with wanting to share, “two readings from our museum course which may turn out to be a useful resource that offers new perspectives, for instance, on Renaissance sculpture at the Bode Museum and on how to discuss ethnographic artefacts, like the ones present in the Future Humboldt Forum. More generally, these two brochures can give ideas about how to apply new questions to existing collections and thereby also enhance our understanding of the visual arts within the ongoing discourses.”
The Amsterdam based Tropenmuseum’s brochure on the origins, use, and abuse of terms. It includes a glossary with short introductory texts that may serve helpful for analysing artwork through a racial lens.
Bode Museum’s recent exhibition catalogue offers a great perspective of what is “usually not included in the conventional art history discourse,” and also comes with a section on terminology at the end. This piece is eligible for free download via the Bode Museum’s temporary exhibition website.
Kerry is the Associate Dean at Bard College Berlin. She is also a professor of English and Human Rights Studies.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
The Bard College Berlin community is engaged with the Antiracism Working Group (ARWG) on campus, which was formed as an ad-hoc body of students, members of the administration, and professors. I am also a party of this working group and during one of our initial meetings, we shared a wide range of books, essays, and poetry that we thought would be of interest and serve as a great asset for our community. One of the books on the list that Kerry strongly recommends is White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Kerry mentions that, “the book focuses on white people in the USA solely, but is definitely worth considering.”
Blues in Schwarz-Weiss by May Ayim
May Ayim’s collection of poetry from 1996 is playing on her bilingualism (as English was the language she shared with her father), as well as a larger connection to a global African diaspora through the invocation of the musical tradition of the blues. May Ayim was active in both the feminist as well as the Afro-Deutsche movements in Germany.
Kerry also strongly encourages students and faculty members to explore this center and the variety of information, events, and courses regarding anti-racism offered through it. The resources available at BCSH are open to all of the Bard Network, and when I ask why Kerry recommends this, she says, “Our colleague Ken Stern who heads the Center for the Study of Hate at Bard Annandale speaks about the importance of thinking intersectionally and addressing discrimination and oppression through the lens of hate studies.”
I would like to thank all the professors I spoke with for their generous contributions to this list of anti-racist resources. Through this compilation, I want to highlight the importance of continuing anti-racist work and fighting against racial injustices; especially when the amount and coverage of Black Lives Matter protests has drastically reduced. Black lives still matter and it is our responsibility to create safe spaces for BIPOC around us, whether it be in the US, Berlin, or anywhere else in the world.