photos: Roger Sabaté.
In 2020 –– despite all its setbacks –– the Black Lives Matter Movement and its fight for justice and equality for BIPOC* has gained new momentum, not only in the US but in Europe as well. Yet, while education and awareness around colonial crimes, racism, and xenophobia are a global affair, change begins right in front of our doorstep.
So –– do black lives matter in Berlin? Do black/brown people, and any other marginalized group in Berlin –– no matter its identity, sex, or ethnic background –– get the representation, recognition, and protection they deserve? In a post-Hanau Germany, our eyes need to be wide-open to the realities of racism today, and the rise of new fascism presenting itself as an electable “Alternative”. In recent polls the “AfD” passed 10 percent even in Berlin; that is Europe’s self-proclaimed capital of freedom and excess.
15 thousand people gathering in silence and solidarity at Alexanderplatz this past June manifested a unique moment of hope and assurance for many Berliners. Yet, the realities of many marginalized folks won’t change through one viral event on social media. Social change is uncomfortable and tedious, quite challenging for a generation used to instant gratification. Have we become too complacent for change?
We talked to the founders of Black Brown Berlin, an emerging platform for Black and Brown people in Berlin, about their mission to give their community a seat at the table in the capital and what (white) people should do to make Berlin live up to its open and diverse reputation.
Tells us a little about Black Brown Berlin and how did the idea for this platform emerge?
Black Brown Berlin has a core team of four co-founders: Chanel Knight and Femi Oyewole are from the UK, Rhea Ramjohn is from Trinidad and Tobago and the USA, and Tristan Littlejohn* is from the USA. We were lucky to find each other, all connected through an individual desire for a deeper connection to this city and for people who looked like us.
Initially, the project was created from a place of frustration and searching for real information. There had been too many stories of bad experiences of black & brown friends who had shared stories about going to spaces that presented as BIPOC ‘friendly’, just to learn that some of these were unaware of what needed to be implemented for a space to be truly BIPOC ‘friendly.’ Together, we aimed to create a new platform where Berliners “who look like us” could find information and community and a source of connection for local black and brown businesses.
What’s your mission?
We are a community directory and platform that celebrates black & brown culture and community in Berlin. We aim to shine the spotlight on BIPOC excellence throughout the city no matter their gender identity, age, ability, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, size, and cultural background. We seek to provide a range of thoughtfully curated content that informs, connects, and serves the black & brown community in Berlin.
What was your experience of the BLM “silent demo” on the 6th of June at Alexanderplatz?
In general, it was nice to see support from all different types of people; that people recognized and highlighted the fact that ‘Black Lives Matter’ –– but we want to see that same energy all year long. You have to ask yourselves why do you not support a black business today, or how many people in your workspace do in fact look like the ‘diverse’ world we actually want to see represented?
Also, we need to recognize that this is not solely an “American problem”, but equally a European one that runs deeper than we think. There are so many forms of racism that take place on a daily basis. Even at the demonstration, there were a lot of non-black people not giving black people the space to be front and center themselves.
If you are non-black, it is important to ask yourself on a daily basis: “How am I contributing to this system of injustice?”. That’s uncomfortable, yes, but necessary.
Also, we wish the news of police attacking protesters after the demonstration was reported by the larger media outlets. There have been decades of reports of German police brutalizing peaceful protestors. This cannot be ignored.
What are some specific actions that those with power and influence in Berlin should take to change the conversation and the realities of racism?
It is time for Berlin to finally accurately display how diverse this city truly is. Platforms like ours and others (who have been here longer than us) are doing this but there can be more! More visual representation of black & brown people in general, plus more representation from different perspectives of the black & brown community. Berlin should highlight and pay tribute to the black & brown people who have made and continue to make life in this city more just, equitable, and anti-racist.
Germany should publicly acknowledge its colonial past by e.g. removing the street names of people who brutalized black & brown people, removing the memorials of colonizers, and those responsible for the disenfranchisement of our community.
Black and brown people should be leading this conversation with the support of those in power to implement these changes.
It is time for them to listen, learn, reflect, include, and step back.
“It was so freeing to share my poetry with everyone, speak my mind about discrimination, and have the support and love of the Berlin community.” - Rhea Ramjohn
What is within your power to change these realities?
Our marketing campaigns display a celebratory response to the realities of racism – by spotlighting our community. We would like to see more representation of the community in leadership positions, teaching positions, hiring positions, as trainers, policymakers, and more.
One fast solution we offer is making information easily accessible for everyone: our map displays locations of black & brown owned businesses within Berlin, whilst our website directory highlights these businesses.
We also have our B! REDI training program that offers anti-discrimination training through seminars and courses to schools, businesses, and institutions who really want to do better and grow.
Tristan Littlejohn, Rhea Ramjohn, Chanel Knight, Femi Oyewole
Tell us some of your success stories.
We have been so fortunate to create and add our voice to the conversation of representation in small and large scale projects such as the behind the scenes work for the We Are Here series, or our team member Rhea performing one of her poetry pieces at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt as part of the Anti-Discrimination Days Berlin, and when we were asked to speak at CIEE, a non-profit, international education institute located in Berlin. It was powerful to meet young Black and Brown people there. We listened to their stories, shared many experiences, and were able to offer them a new place of community that they can rely on in Berlin.
Have you noted a shift in how people react to this project in light of recent global unrest around anti-black violence and racism?
Yes, there is a shift, but honestly, so far, it feels temporary. Remember, as black and brown people ourselves, we know, discuss, and advocate for our and our community’s lived experiences every day. These conversations and the call for action has always been at the forefront of our work for social justice and civil rights. It would be great to see everyone keeping this energy moving forward. It’s vital that people do not abandon us once the hashtags have faded.
We thank the founders of Black Brown Berlin for their time to do this interview with us and look forward to future collaboration. Stay tuned for more!
*Since the beginning of Oct 2020, Co-founder Tristan Littlejohn has now moved on to work on other ventures.
*BIPOC stands for black, Indigenous, and people of color