Black Switzerland Online Archive (BSOA)
We all identify with what we see and hear, and we all need role models and inspiration. What does this mean for children who read books, watch movies, and see images in which they cannot recognize themselves? The lack of representation that Black children face is sociopolitically problematic, because it excludes them. Because of this lack of representation, the existence of Black people is not considered as an active part of Switzerland. Many parents of Black children wonder what books and movies they can show their children to spark their imaginations, encourage them, or simply provide something or someone to relate to. The few books that do include Black characters mostly reproduce stereotypes and racism. Moreover, the few German-language works that give Black children leading roles are not easy to find.
Black adults also feel a great need to interact with each other. They regularly check their friends' bookshelves or media libraries for new works or look for tips or information on social media. Books by Black authors, for example, are rarely found in libraries and are not widely promoted. One such Black author and artist was Vincent O. Carter (1924-1983), who lived in the city of Bern from the mid-1950s and wrote a book about his experiences called “The Bern Book”. The question, however, is why he was not recognized and his works hardly noticed.
With the Black Lives Matter protests in Switzerland, it is becoming clearer to the general public that Switzerland is repressing the history of Black people. We live in a country that is only slowly beginning to become aware of its involvement in slavery and to address structural racism. At the same time, it has also become evident that both Black communities and growing segments of the population at large want to change this. There are exciting initiatives that make the past, present and future of Black people in Switzerland visible: for example, the book “I will Be Different Everytime” which makes the voices, biographies, ways of thinking, perspectives and lifeworlds of Black women in Biel visible; or the website "histnoire.ch", where historian Jovita dos Santos Pinto documents a piece of Black History, that of Black women in Switzerland.
However, there is no Swiss-wide platform to search for such cultural, media, or scholarly resources in Switzerland that offer a way to identify with and learn about Black lived realities.
We are not content to accept narratives of non-Black people as mainstream. We have the means to make ourselves visible and our narratives heard. This desire for participation, diversity, and self-representation is in line with the stated goals of the 2016-2020 Federal Cultural Embassy, which seeks the cultural participation of all people living in Switzerland. They aim to "promote the engagement with culture and the cultural activity of as many people as possible, as well as to remove obstacles to participation in cultural life" and to "strengthen the exchange of knowledge, networking and coordination of actors".
This is where the SSOA project comes in:
Empowering and sustaining a network of Black people.
Archiving Black works, knowledge bases, businesses and stories of Black people in Switzerland.
An online archive for all people who are interested in Black people and their work.
An unlearning process, normalizing and centering the works of Black people and their narratives.
Initial idea and goals:
SSOA is a community-based education and empowerment project in Switzerland. To this end, the project develops an online platform that archives and makes accessible Black voices and representation in children's books, school materials, media and films, as well as literary, artistic, and scientific works for and by Black people in Switzerland.
SSOA is the only online archive exclusively dedicated to documenting and communicating the lives, history and culture of Black people in Switzerland. Thus, the existing knowledge within communities of Black people is passed on and made accessible within our communities and for the broader population.
Other resources such as hair salons, restaurants, events and collectives, which also represent part of the public culture, will be documented. All in all, stories, experiences, images and resources of Black people for Black people as well as for an interested public will be made available.
SSOA welcomes anyone interested in learning more about Black people's cultural resources, lived realities, networks, and businesses.
Infrastructure: SSOA is essentially a database in which the works of Black people in the fields of politics, culture, literature and lifestyle are thematically covered, as well as biographies of Black people in Switzerland. This will be made accessible on the SSOA website and via social media.
Collection: An interdisciplinary core team is building the database and online presence.
Online Participation: At the same time, a community is being built which will actively participate in providing information about books, articles, films, businesses and networks. All Black people in Switzerland are welcome to make an entry about themselves, which will be published with a high-resolution photo. This information can be entered via a web form on the SSOA website.
Networking: Projects like histnoire.ch, Collectif Afro Suisse or the Institut Neue Schweiz (INES) tell a different story of Switzerland. SSOA networks with projects like these, and archives as many online resources as possible.
SSOA is supported by the association Schwarze Schweiz. The idea of a database in which the works of Black people in all areas, as well as resources by and for Black people are archived and made accessible, arose in March 2018 at a meeting "Black Switzerland: Building networks". The name Black Switzerland has emerged in the context of Black resistance movements in Switzerland in recent years. It stands for Black collectives that make structural racism in Switzerland visible and fight anti-Black racism. "Black" is capitalized and does not signal here the designation of a skin color, but a political self-identification of "Afro-Descendants" in the sense of the definition of the UN group of experts dealing with these issues.
After building the digital archive, the SSOA Collaborative Community will engage in further collecting, recording and sharing of resources. Further, relationships between Black communities will be strengthened through a SSOA Forum. From 2022 we imagine developing new projects (e.g. a media platform with own content) and to start a second fundraising campaign.
The project is led by an intergenerational team, most of whom are volunteers for the project.
The SSOA Collaborative Community