an outcome of racist dominance in the german left
Thursday evening, border camp Forst. Some people spent that sunny afternoon in the big tent, discussing the complex connections between racism and sexism.
Sexism and ways to deal with it have been a predominant issue within the radical left in germany for many years. We are still struggling to find a way to deal not only with sexist harrassments amongst comrades, but also with the strange mechanism that all too often moves the issue of sexism at the bottom of the agenda. I must admit that I don´t get much insight, let alone pleasure from most of the recent discussions - prefer parties and picknicks - yet as a feminist and anti-racist it is hardly possible to escape them.
At the Forst border camp, the issue was brought up by an email from the antifa-workcamp in Weimar informing us about a case of sexual harassment against two female participants of the camp. What made the situation more complicated was that the harasser was a black man, and that apparently, he had heard about the Weimar camp from the refugee self organisation "The Voice". So, the email from Weimar demanded not only a statement on sexism by this group, but that they should hold an internal discussion on sexism and make sure that this kind of incident never happens again. Some people from "The Voice" who are participating at the Forst border camp felt a need to discuss the accusations and demands from Weimar as an outcome of racist dominance.
So instead of hanging out at the nearby lake, a bunch of black men, white women and even some white men assembled in the rather sticky tent, trying to work out who was offended, by what, and why. The process went on all evening. People had informal conversations over dinner, others spent the night squeezed in front of computer screens in the media tent, immersed in collaborative efforts to produce papers explaining positions and setting agendas for the future.
For me, that whole process from the initial anger and worries to the textualisation of positions is part of a broader project - to understand the complex power-relations around racism and sexism and develop political and personal practices to deal with them.
The meeting in the tent was a series of statements rather than a dialogue. It involved a lot of patience - patience to listen to each others perspectives and concerns, even if they may seem threatening or difficult to understand. Also it was an exercise in bilingual discussion - another mode of communication which should not be taken for granted.
People from "The Voice" who participated in the Weimar camp made clear that for them, this email was a serious threat, an attempt to destroy "The Voice". They felt that the organisation was singled out as ´the sexists´ within the radical left. Also, they analysed the email in the broader context of racist domination. They described how they were only informed about the incident 3 hours after it happened, how they were under the impression that people did not believe or take seriously what they said. They felt that The Voice was held responsible for the sexist behaviour of a man who was not part of their group. Behind the Weimar demands towards the Voice, they felt the assumption that black men have a stronger tendency to behave in sexist ways than white men. It does not take much to link this assumption to the racist stereotypes on the sexuality of black men. While talking about being at the receiving end of racism and their anger about the Weimar accusations, people from The Voice also made very clear their solidarity with the women who were the victims of the incident: "it could have been my sister, my mother, my friend..."
There was some frustration: "If even the left is not able to see and recognise our position, what do we then expect from other germans?" Yet at the same time, the process of discussion was appreciated - slowly, the analysis is becoming clearer.
One woman agreed strongly with the concerns raised by The Voice. She emphasized with the two young women who were attacked in Weimar - very young, new to the movement, feeling safe in a group of comrades, who then had to deal with serious sexist attacks. After her statement, I felt strongly that everybody in the tent understood that the discussion on sexism is needed in a very practical way.
We were talking about two forms of oppression - racist and sexist. In this setting, we were not able to link them or even come to one single positioning - but we managed to begin exchanging our views and maybe understand the importance of both positions. After all, some of the problems black men and white women are facing in our own networks are quite similar: both often need to fight to get issues of racism or sexism on the agenda, both experience silencing, to name only two.
We did not reach a shared position on the complex issues of racism and sexism - but this would have been a rather ambitious project to complete in a few days. The ongoing discussions during the border camp might be part of a longer process of collaboration between and self-organised refugee groups, and the local german radical left. A process that needs to be open and leave space for both listening to and criticizing each other. Someone from The Voice said that it is impossible to learn about sexism and anti-sexism from a distance - that this process has to be connected to a community, to everyday life. This might also be true for the learning about racism and anti-racism.
Maybe we would have been able to take our exchange further in the more pleasurable setting at the lake...
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