»A (virtual) network of friends that I haven't met yet« Move on up! – (Not) just an ordinary mailing list

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»A (virtual) network of friends that I haven't met yet« Move on up! – (Not) just an ordinary mailing list

by Jihan Jasmin S. Dean and Hanna Hoa Anh Mai

How everything started...
The Move on up! mailing list emerged from an event of the same title. In 2008, a forum called »Move on up! Empowerment Visionen in Bewegung« (Move on up! Empowerment Visions in Motion), took place in Berlin, representing the perspectives of people of color (PoC). It was targeted exclusively at people who are potentially confronted with racial discrimination within Germany. Participants exchanged experiences as PoC in Germany during workshops, readings, lectures and their free time, educated themselves and built networks.

In order to continue staying in contact, a mailing list was established, initially consisting of 30 people. Intended at first as a medium for information and organization, the mailing list quickly evolved into a virtual space for community and empowerment. At the beginning all members knew each other, but that was a shortlived setup.

At the outset of 2012 the mailing list consisted of 350 members. Most of them joined the list after having had in person contact with an existing member, some took part in empowerment workshops beforehand, met an existing member at an event or found the list by chance on the internet. For the latter, we as administrators introduce the mailing list and ask them to position themselves, so as to make sure the list remains a PoC space.

In response we get answers such as the following one:

»In short: I mutated from the environmental activist into the social ac-tivist, came out as woman of color and took the topic into conservative Munich (…). From the mailing list I expect a community with a similar outlook, I expect fruitful dialogue (as already mentioned I come from Munich and there the fewest have ever heard of the existence of the term 'people of color'!), and further empowerment.«

As administrators of the Move on up! mailing list we see ourselves just as technical supervisors. We don't act as moderators. On the contrary, all members are responsible for contents and the discussions. While writing this contribution, we don't speak in the name of Move on up!, but am to simply illustrate our personal perception.
Everyday networking and support

The mailing list is used in multifaceted ways. There is an exchange about everyday situations and actions against racism. People ask for advice and give advice, e.g. contact addresses of doctors who are PoC themselves or have been positively experienced by PoC, are exchanged. There are links to articles and discussions about articles, exchanges on current political events and their representation in the media, networking for common activities, job offers, event announcements, music, literature and film listings, calls for the formation of flat-shares, and announcements for rooms. Conferences are organized and members inform each other of other activities, demonstrations or events they are part of.

Move on up! is not an organization, has not got a structure of representation and no homogeneous position, but functions as a network – in our opinion this is also its strength. Individual members are active in a bunch of other contexts. Despite differences, members share not only the usage of the term PoC but also an emancipatory stance as their main political direction.

A virtual community

We believe, the Move-on-up! mailing list consists of everything that a community based on shared experience implies: solidarity, closeness, empowerment, discussions, but sometimes also conflict and misunderstanding. Differentiating political strategies become visible, e.g. in the question whether PoC should be involved in structures dominated by Whites, in which cases they should and in which not. Some discussions are controversial and long, sometimes there are about 20 mails a day. Some members leave the list, others join it. In spite of contrasting positions, over and over again it is possible to see common threads. Nevertheless we do not want to raise the expectation that the list is always a safe space for everybody. Besides the common usage of the term PoC, there are lots of differences between members, accompanied by different vulnerabilities with regard to legal status, gender, religion and so on. Instead we refer to the list as a PoC space.

The following quotes and the title of this contribution are responses given by list members to an inquiry carried out with the question questions: How do you use the mailing list and what does it mean to you?:

»It feels enormously good to know, that the topics I'm concerned with, are not just a side issue here. Although I don’t write much, it's empowering to read from other active PoC who don't give up. Even going through the mails of people who I don't know personally for the most part, empowers me. Here I can see at once how to get information about different fields and train myself. Many mails contain a lot of positive energy and power and insecure writers are supported and empowered. Move-On-Up is a safe space – not like facebook and co. you won't find insulting comments at the end of a contribution. The Move-On-Up mailing list provides the opportunity for me to read mails and comments without having to fear that I will shut down my notebook insulted and disappointed. Rather, I'm overwhelmed in a positive sense and think it's a pity that I can't always follow all discussions. This mailing list is in fact one part of my empowerment.«

»The mailing list is a kind of 'community' for me. I met a lot of people through move-on-up and have access to many PoC events, which I lacked before in Berlin. Otherwise I felt a bit lonely as a PoC in Berlin. The mailing list is very important in my life and I think it's important to take part in such spaces. Sometimes there are many mails in one day, but I can still 'manage'.«

»empowerment! solidarity! growth! LOVE! SHARING! unity! CREATIVITY! exchange! INSPIRATION! WARMTH! professionalism! and much more that words cannot express...«
Contrary to frequently expressed critique in identity politics, the everyday existence of the mailing list shows, that „people of color“ as a common term proves to be helpful to just be able to express shared experiences with racism, to enable exchange between people sharing those experiences, and for the further development of antiracist practice and analysis from PoC perspectives.

The networking and mutual support provided by the list can help individual members bring PoC perspectives to other contexts, such as political groups or their children's schools. Where racism seemed to be previously understood as an individual problem, the list can help members develop an approach to racism on a structural level, to express their critique and to fight racism, without getting stuck in essentialist categories.

Moreover, the mailing list enables an attitude of solidarity that goes beyond the borders of single communities. Many of the members also position themselves in other communities, e.g. migrant, Black or Roma communities. Some see themselves in the first instance as Queers of Color. Move on up! is an intersection of shared experiences as PoC made up of exchange and information.

As administrators we see our role as enabling this exchange and creating the necessary organizational conditions for it. We do not provide a »universally valid definition« of the PoC term, but see the list itself as a space for processes of negotiating just that. It may well be that it is precisely the differences between people of color, the ambiguities relating to belonging, the context-dependency of experiences, the processes of negotiation, which keep the term and our practices of resistance in motion and alive.

Hanna Hoa Anh May
has a degree in Education. She is currently writing her dissertation on the biographical and professional knowledge of pedagogues of Colour working in the field of migration pedagogy. Hanna's practical and theoretical work focuses on the topics of empowerment, racism and the pedagogy of migration.
Jihan Jasmin S. Dean: My route of migration took me from a small Swabian town to Tübingen and finally to Berlin. I am currently working on a dissertation on processes of self-positioning amongst racialised communities in post reunification Germany.