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enar foundation for a racism-free europe

Interview with Nuran Yigit, of Award-winning Antidiskriminierungs-netzwerk Berlin des Türkischen Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg

Nuran Yigit is Project Manager at Antidiskriminierungsnetzwerk Berlin des Türkischen Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg, the winner of the ENAR Foundation Award for a racism-free Europe in the category ‘NGOs’. The anti-discrimination network of the Berlin-Brandenburg Turkish Association supports and counsels people of colour who experience discrimination.

Tell me a little about yourself please: where are you from, where did you grow up?

I am 37 years old and I was born in Turkey in central Anatolia. My parents came to Germany as guest workers when I was two years old and I grew up in the north of Germany, close to Denmark. I had a very typical guest-worker childhood.

And what did you study?

I studied Pedagogy and, as a student, I volunteered for an anti-discrimination office in Bielefeld and in this way I had my first professional experience in the field. So you could say that I started out as an activist and continued to work in the anti-discrimination field ever since. At ADNB we started the project in 2003, and since I was here from the beginning, I would say I am one of its creators. The TBB wrote the concept and secured financing, but my colleague Florencio Chicote and I brought the project to life.

Why did you decide to work at ADNB and what drives you to work in the anti-discrimination field?

For me, I would say that working for ADNB has been the ideal place where I could combine my ideals and motivation (in a word - my activism) with professional work against discrimination. In fact, I am very lucky and grateful to be in the position of having a paid job that allows me to work for my ideals because a lot of people don’t have that. Also, ADNB has always been a “People of Colour” organisation, and it gave me and my colleagues a lot of freedom and space for personal development. Specifically, it gave us the opportunity to develop our ideas and experiment with ways of making them work (I don’t believe this would necessarily happen in all-white organisations because there they already have their own concepts, structures and ways of doing things). I would also add that ADNB has been the ideal place for me because its work is based on the concept of empowerment, which has always been close to my heart and mind. In fact, the belief in the power of this concept was the key driving force both for my involvement in the project, and also for the project’s success. In this respect, I was very happy and grateful for receiving the prize because it came as a further confirmation of the fact that we are doing a good job. Our work is already successful and well-respected in the communities of colour, but we hope that the prize will also help us receive more recognition from mainstream structures which currently seem busier with other problems (especially blaming different migrant groups for their failure to integrate in society). We, however, decided to work on topics which we believe are more important for us, such as racism and discrimination, because these are present in our daily lives. We cannot switch off and pretend they are not there.

Since you see a lack of recognition on the part of mainstream society as an important difficulty you have to confront in your work, do you believe that the prize will make a difference in this respect?

I hope the recognition brought by this prize will help make the larger German society, and especially some decision makers, more interested in our project. The city government is already aware of the good job we are doing because it offers us its financial support every year, and we hope this prize will further demonstrate the worthiness of the investment. Moreover, we are hoping for a change in our status, in the sense that we would like to receive more funding than just project-based. We would like our organisation to become part of the main council structures, but this will be more difficult because it is a political decision. Hopefully in the next legislative period we will be able to achieve this and be recognised, and the prize will of course be a tool we will use in this process.

What is the basis of your work and what changes do you believe your trainings aimed at empowering people of colour will bring to the wider society?

I would say these changes are very gradual and slow. Our empowerment work is based on Paulo Freire’s concept of the “pedagogy of the oppressed”: there can be no freedom if those who are oppressed are not standing up and are not fighting for their rights. That is why we are concentrating on people of colour who are suffering because of racism and discrimination. They need to become aware of the structures in mainstream society that lead to discrimination, but also of the strategies and strength they have as individuals and groups. They can realise that they don’t have to accept the given position of victims; they have the power to change. In turn, this approach has two effects: the first is a multiplication of perspectives in society, not only those belonging to white people, but also those shared and proposed by people of colour. The second effect is that, hopefully, it makes people with power realise where their power comes from and how they can share it in order to make society more equal. Therefore, “empowerment” and “power sharing” are the most important concepts, and in reality this approach has palpable positive effects. For example, I can see the fruits of heightened awareness in discussions and conferences attended by people of colour. There is an appreciation for networking, a real sense of solidarity, and plenty of courage to come forth and seek help or advice - something difficult to imagine a decade or more ago. These are small changes and it’s a slow process, but this is how it should be because this is how you build a solid and healthy foundation for the future.

Let’s stay in this framework for a minute and ask you how do you convince people who have been discriminated against to come forth and share their experiences in these trainings? How do you make them feel “safe”?

The methodology we use is Augusto Boal’s “theatre of the oppressed”, where people replay their experiences through scenes which become instances of discrimination that are then debated in groups. In this way, everybody can discuss different strategies for reacting in the face of discrimination, but they do this in a safe space with people who have gone through similar experiences. Everybody finds different ways to speak up, but there is no “recipe”, it all depends on what makes each one feel comfortable with. Many feel comfortable just because they are in a space where they can sit down and share experiences with other people of colour. It creates a sense of solidarity and community which makes them feel at ease to talk about their problems. In fact, I would say that the creation of supporting networks and communities is a very special and important result of our work.

So based on this work and the lessons you have learned, what message would you send (1) to people who are being discriminated against, and (2) to the wider society?

To people of colour I would say “try to become aware of the structures we are living in and the power you have by standing up, seeking support and fighting back against discrimination. And always remember the importance of solidarity: we should never forget that we have a responsibility to stand beside and support our peers and other discriminated groups”. To the wider society I would emphasize the importance of reflecting on one’s own position and way of thinking about the world. This is because when you live in a “normal” world it is easy to lose sight of the fact that what seems normal to you may not be normal for others.

In other words, people should try to put themselves in the shoes of others?

I would rather say that people should try to become aware of what kind of shoes they are walking in. This is the first step. Expecting someone to easily understand what a refugee or an immigrant goes through is in my view a little too optimistic. People should first start asking themselves “what kind of structures have I grown up with, how is my ‘normality’ built, and how can I share the power that I have with the people who need it more?”

Interview conducted by Victor Popa

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