Open Letter To Stadtkuratorin Hamburg:
“Silent University” very good at silencing its own target group
Subj,: “Open Letter to Stadtkuratorin Hamburg: on disregarding the actual target group of ‘Silent University’”
Dear Stadtkuratorin-Team Hamburg,
The Silent University is intended to be “an autonomous knowledge exchange platform by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. It is led by a group of lecturers, consultants and research fellows. Each group is contributing to the programme in different ways which include course development, specific research on key themes as well as personal reflections on what it means to be a refugee and asylum seeker.“, see http://thesilentuniversity.org .
We visited the event in Hamburg on February 10th, and heard the lectures of Nikita Dhawan, María do Mar Castro Varela and Abimbola Odugbesan. Although we very much appreciated the invitation and lectures of those excellent scholars, we were astonished about the setting. 95% of the attendants were white German middle class. This is in clear contrast to the target group which is especially underserved in Germany.
There was a TV camera team present which moved around freely, filming the audience, for undisclosed utilisation (we later found out that they were filming for public TV NDR), taking also portrait and close-up shots of Black members of the audience. The camera team was neither introduced nor announced beforehand, and there was no effort made to offer an area to audience members who would not want to be filmed.
Epistemic violence was reproduced by members of the audience towards the lecturer Abimbola Odugbesan by aggressively stating colonialism wasn’t a European venture and by objecting to the lectures’ topics, etc. The moderator answered these insertions by pointing out that Abimbola Odugbesan’s speech time was over and by simply moving on to the next lecturers and other topics. It was up to Nikita Dhawan and María do Mar Castro Varela to contextualise and counter the incidents.
Thus, various circumstances led to actual silencing of the intended target group.
We believe those circumstances should and could have been controlled better, as all of them were entirely foreseeable.
Therefore, a few questions arise:
- How exactly did you reach out to groups and organisations of those the Silent University is targeted at: Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Migrants?
- How is the target group involved and recompensed in the planning of the events?
- Did you collaborate with the autonomous refugee group “Lampedusa in Hamburg” who are undoubtedly one of the most prominent, important and noted political groups in Hamburg (and beyond), who have delivered outstanding political education and practice in the past years despite the fact that they are illegalised, discriminated against and structurally oppressed?
- How are you planning to correct the current asymmetry in delivering free education about oppression to predominantly privileged people? Which steps do you plan to take towards more precisely being able to cater to the marginalized, the Silent University’s target groups?
- Have you thought of policies and structures which help prevent public displays of verbal violence against the marginalized by members of the (non-target group) audience in the future?
- Are you planning to give more thought to the role of the moderator and their qualification and experience in handling discussions of charged topics such as bias, colonialism, racism etc., as well as to the signification of the moderator’s own societal position and positioning within the above context?
- The target group explicitly includes persons who are illegalized, subject to hypervisibility, objectification, exploitation through hierarchies-of-the-gaze as well as ongoing monitoring by an overall hostile societal environment, and therefore are in highly vulnerable positions. How do you plan to avoid in the future that the organiser’s interest in documenting/promoting the process by a camera team will be given more weight than the fact that such practice is detrimental to the safety as well as to the (protective) personal rights, privacy rights and moral rights of the visitors belonging to the target group?
der braune mob e.V.
KARFI – Schwarzes Kollektiv für rassismuskritische Bildung
Present_Tense Scholars Network: Black Perspectives and Studies Germany
NOTE: We are leading this correspondence publicly. Your answers may be published for educational reasons.