– thoughts and takeaways –
I always knew my bubble was small, but I didn’t know that it was that small. Being secure about yourself and the world, about truths and lies is kind of easy: So being strongly irritated, exhausted and emotional were my key experience during the fellowship. There was some new shit going on in my mind. Through the process during the program, I become a better listener. And while listening I struggled a lot with myself. Being amazed by all the great speakers and personalities in the group, I had to learn to unlearn the competitive framework. A side effect was to get better in self-acceptance, also being comfortbale in feeling uncomfortable. Embracing anxiety and vulnerability without the feeling of weakness. First, I was skeptical about myself, the topics, and the program. I questioned my belonging. Now I feel part of this common experience: My small world is more than a bubble – sometimes it is part of the bigger picture. And not just co-existing bubbles.
I got a deeper understanding about US and EU issues. I questioned the western progressiveness and greatness…thinking of achievements and their social, cultural and political impact worldwide. Thinking about the confederate soldiers immortalized in Stone Mountain and the European Convention of Human Rights has a bitter connotation. Thinking about the systematical disenfranchising indigenous issues in the US and the Sinti and Roma-community in Europe and of the treatment of undocumented people, their border politics and detention centres, their geopoltical strategies and contribution to global inequalities. The willing to extract resources and labour force, but unwilling to let people cross the borders, with the significant exception of needed human capital. Building up borders – learning from the inhumanity of each other, letting families get separated, establishing a climate of fear and crises, targeting the people who are against their politics and actions. Pushing humanity away. Sometimes it is not possible to not speak up against injustice and violence. It is also more than the obvious…it also the erasure of knowledge, experiences and perspectives. I am really astounded by all the different types of oppressions and opressive strategies. Democracy is nice for people who can vote and people who sit on the table and decide. It’s easy to ignore the needs of the people, who don’t…the people you don’t know/you don’t care/don’t understand. It’s easy not to see/hear/feel the silenced and your own contribution to dehumanization.
I was kind of impressed with the precision and extent of supressing the voting rights of African-Americans in the US. The perspective of indigenous people made it clear for me: the mindset and thinking in the states is often left unquestioned. Claiming the stolen land, which was then made productive by slaves. Celebrating Columbus as discoverer rather than a psychopath. The constitution and state was built on rape, displacement, sterilizing, murdering, abuse and exploitation. This is not part the past, when we think of mass incarceration system, people who experience homelessness, gentrification and sex and labour trafficking not just in the US or in the EU – all around the world. It’s not just inhuman, it’s functional. This is why it’s important to dismantle the patterns, the structural and institional contribution and narratives to understand the dynamics of power structures more widely. Maintaining the status quo and the social order is crucial. Often victims are criminalized and perpetrators are protected. Making the colonial problem to the indiginous problem, making the EU border crises to the refugee crises – constructing the war on drugs to recode the control and racial profiling of African-American communities, making a criminal system into a legal one or fight against terrorism to mask the anti-muslim racism. This is how society is shaped. And it is not just ignorant, it’s functional.
Bodies suffer and die.
Privilege doesn’t allow you to see. Privilege doesn’t allow you to feel.
So, I really wondered: Is every perspective equally legitimate – even in privileged, recognized, and benefitting position compared to the disadvantaged, overseen, unvalued and silenced one? Can we say that everybody is human, when people get treated so diffrent? Independent from being the perpetrator or victim, what about those ancestors and white people who came in a croud of 10,000 together, to watch Black bodies hanging in a tree, shooting hundreds of bullets through their bodies, watching this event with popcorn and holding the victims’ fingers as souvenirs.
A black man got lynched for standing around in the neighborhood.
Privilege doesn’t allow you to see. Privilege doesn’t allow you to feel.
What kind of world is it, that surrounds us even in the present with the past?
Is it more complex than good or bad? Is it neither right nor wrong? But when lynching isn’t wrong, what is? On our first day of the fellowship I saw a white sheriff in the exhibition of the Civil and Human rights Center in Atlanta and all the media – how they speak about the „negro“ in the Jim Crow era, how convinced the people in the goverment were – doing the „right“ thing. And I felt pain. The pain and parallels to today’s media in the US and Europe, being pretty efficient in dehumanizing undocumented people as „unwanted“ people. I wondered if there is a hierachy in suffering, while prioritizing issues over others? Making the „right“ thing in the wrong system…is that wrong? Intersectionality, relatedness and complexity of the different issues made it clear for me, that everybody is somehow involved. Everybody is contributing in reproducing or irritating the status quo. Everybody is part – in benefitting or suffering through the system (and something in between) – even as one person.
Colonial legacy and violent structures still continue, transform and show up in different faces. But it is more than a tragic story of suffering. It is a story of resistance and empowerment of constant fighting for justice and self-determination. After the second world war, all over the world colonies demand freedom and pushed against empires in Brasil, Algeria, Vietnam, African states, the US and Europe. People put their bodies in the line, getting in the way, leading a march and protest. Being arrested, being well prepared for harm, even to die – for the maybe-future-possibility of having freedom. Inspired by the idea that another society is possible. I learned a lot from movements and history. Through the program I got to know several NGO’s, communities and institutions. The New Georgia Project, Housing Justice League, Freedom University, Stand Up, Atlanta Taskforce for homelessness, ViBe, strong leaders and hidden contributors from the LGBTQI-Communities, Professors fighting for indigenous communities, film makers, authors, activists and athletes, organizers and museums like the Legacy Museum or the Civil and Human Rights Center, places like Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Auburn Library showed me the multilayered areas of actions towards justice and people, who are constantly pushing for change.
We supported a voting campaign in a local election, watching inspiring girls of color in the theatre and valuing children’s and youth’s contributions to social justice in past and present, thinking as a collective of next Super Bowl in Atlanta for hindering potential customers to get involved in sex trafficking. I was inspired of all the questions and discussions, feeling the power of sharing stories and discovering my own – under my hood experience.
I became truly inspired by all the amazing people. I look up to them and I am deeply impressed by their work and passion – and also when looking next to me at the fellows gave me hope and encourages me.
Through the program I got to know several NGO’s, communities and institutions. The New Georgia Project, Housing Justice League, Freedom University, Stand Up, Atlanta Taskforce for homelessness, ViBe, strong leaders and hidden contributors from the LGBTQI-Communities, Professors fighting for indigenous communities, film makers, authors, activists and athletes, organizers and museums like the Legacy Museum or the Civil and Human Rights Center, places like Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Auburn Library showed me the multilayered areas of justice and different groups, organizations and people who are pushing for change.
I learned more about social change strategies and about the importance of creating alternative practices and long-term actions, the importance of collaborations and the many opportunities in addressing exclusional mechanisms. For example I saw new practices: Combining faith with fitness in church, adding lectures about healthy food and tackling the problem of food deserts serving the wider community on sunday. Judges who hug young defendants in the court. Activists answering hundreds of emails per day in fighting against death penalty and helping people who don’t have the resources for claiming their rights. Imprisoned persons, who are mobilizing in prison for labour rights and minimum wage. The educators and artists, who won’t stop just because funding doesn’t come through. It’s not about individuals and their success. It is about distributing responsibility and power. Everybody at any age can contribute, using different talents, issues and life experiences, using various alliances and professions, different fields and actions. It can be your neighbor, a lawyer, activists and campaigners, dreamer or busdrivers, overthinkers and action takers, comedians, singers, intellectuals, radicals, funding finders, mediators, allies, politicians or a friend.
We need all of us, because justice is never given.
So: First of all, I will focus on the collaborative children book project with families in accommodation centers for refugees. I want to deconstruct the narrative of passive victims and showing the exclusion and challenges that children face with focus on their agency and sharing their stories. And in the longterm, I want to change the practice of early childhood education and care in more inclusive ways. I also want to support young scholars and sharing knowledge and networks. I want to support fellows and hold contact to them, for example Jennifer makes policy supporting multilingual education and teaching the mother tongue of families in early education facilities in Denmark. I also will focus on postcolonial childhoods and also the role of children in social change and their impact on society in my field of childhood studies. I plan to visit the archive from the War Childhood Museum and visiting Sandra in Bosnia. I want to be part and support transnational synergies also with Mara (…she is amazing!). Not all ideas will be realized, but it’s good to keep each others in mind.
…so that was my stretched thought and take away from the fellowship. Now comes the action…
Hoa Mai Trần
Notes: all illustrations made by author.