Response to the Call For Action letter

Trojan Horse – Call for Action background image

Trojan Horse reflecting
the Call for Action Letter
January 2021

Dear organizers of the Call for Action letter,

We, the board of Trojan Horse, hope this response letter finds you well and healthy. The Call for Action letter reached us in the beginning of the autumn. It sparked many thoughts and gatherings for us, so thank you for sending it and for starting this valuable discussion.

Who has been taking part in Trojan Horse so far?

Trojan Horse is a small autonomous organization founded in 2015. We organize summer schools, reading circles, LARPs (Live Action Role-Plays) and other events in the fields of design, architecture, and art. The current working group consists of six people who live in Helsinki, Vantaa and Berlin. Our working group and board are multi-national, multi-lingual, white, and representative of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. We decided to respond to the Call for Action letter in English so that we could write it collaboratively.

What Trojan Horse is striving for

Until now Trojan Horse has mainly addressed small groups of academically trained researchers and artists from a western context. Here we acknowledge our privileged position and realise that it might be difficult to trace the blind spots that come with our own upbringings along with the structures we are embedded in. The Call for Action letter we received gave us a good roadmap to work with.

As an organization, we have not made specific anti-racist guidelines, protocols or strategies. Until now we have relied on organisational structures and trust that everyone involved has good intentions and is critical and vocal when making democratic and collective decisions. So far, we have included shared safer space guidelines in our summer schools. We have made an effort to invite mentors from different backgrounds, positions and geographical contexts. We have strived to make our events as affordable and accessible as possible. With all this said, we feel that we can do and learn more and make our goals and objectives more precise.

As an autonomous educational platform, we want to include and support a diversity of cultures, social backgrounds and ethnicities in our future initiatives. We also want to improve our communication methods in order to also reach those who are currently not in academic and critical professional circles. We are aiming to broaden the group who benefits from our work and promote an anti-racist and inclusive range of topics and thematics moving forward. These goals are with hope that our platform will serve a more diverse group of architects, designers and artists in Helsinki and abroad.

Our process of responding to the Call for Action letter

After receiving the Call for Action letter, we thought about how to approach the issue and how to respond to the questions. For us this letter became a useful tool for questioning and changing our thinking and ways of working so here we want to share how we approached the Call for Action letter.

To begin, we read through all the questions in the letter. In several online internal gatherings we discussed how we have all previously approached racism, sexism, ableism, classism in Trojan Horse and also in our individual practices. We spoke about different aspects and manifestations of racism and coloniality in Finland as well as in the countries where we originate from. We shared references, examples and insight from our lives and from what we have read, learned and discovered. From here, we made a selection of the questions that we felt were more relevant to us as a smaller organization.

After some time of consideration, we decided to ask for consultation from activists who have more experience in research and practice in this field. This was with the hope that we could get an outside perspective and discuss specific strategies and actions to employ in Trojan Horse. We decided to reach out to both Andrés Pinto Álvaro based in Berlin and Maryan Abdulkarim based in Helsinki to share their knowledge and experiences with us.

Andrés Pinto Álvaro researches racism and sexual identity. Currently, he is writing a PhD on everyday racisms around human and sexual rights at Humboldt University Berlin.

We met Andrés online on a Thursday evening in November. Andrés reminded us that we should look inwards and recognize points of privilege and realize that the way we live our own lives can be unjust or even violent. He also encouraged that it is important to be honest and realize that we are taking the very first steps in a life-long struggle. No one time declaration will change anything by itself. We should remem- ber that there are people coming after us who will base their actions on what we have done. Andrés also outlined that we might have much more power than we think. Additionally, if white people discuss racism with other white people more actively and consistently, then PoC will have allies in the struggle for equality and against racism and coloniality.

As a last note Andrés talked about situatedness, the everyday environments in which we live and the people with whom we interact. This resonated with our intentions to locate our activities and lives further from institutional and academic centers and towards the everyday struggles of marginalized groups and those in the peripheries.

In the following week we met with Maryan Abdulkarim online.

Abdulkarim is a social speaker, writer, and activist interested in themes relating to freedom. She participates actively in public discussion as a political commentator and a columnist.

Maryan opened with some of her views of racist and colonial histories of Finland, Europe and America. We discussed questions such as: For whom was our society designed for in the first place? Who is present and who is not in official writings and historical documentations? Who has a voice in the public debate? Who is free and has the possibility to belong to a nation or a profession?

Maryan also talked about how white fragility derives from the experience of growing up protected and safe in a world in which your identity is not questioned because it is the norm. Situations where white privilege is challenged, can lead to problematic defensiveness from white people. Maryan emphasised how important it is for topics that concern everyone (eg. climate change, precarization of work, etc.) be discussed by everyone. Urgent topics should not only be discussed only by privileged white people, but should engage with the perspectives of as many different communities and positions as possible. Maryan also shared how important it is to understand that there can be conflicting perspectives and how impossible it is to be neutral. Finally, she mentioned that any company or institution can declare themselves as anti-racist, and it is only later where it is possible to evaluate the change and impact that they have actually made.

Concluding thoughts and what we have learned in this process

To close this response letter. We, as an organization of individuals, are committed to continue working towards a more transparent and intersectional way of organising ourselves and our activities. Becoming aware of the problem of racism, of discrimination on the base of race, gender, social status, age, or other factors – of one’s own privilege and trying to think of ways to overcome it, is a lifelong process. This process requires ongoing open discussion, self-questioning and the readiness to be held accountable at any given time.

There are no easy statements that can resolve such structural problems and end this discussion. The process will be slow and ongoing, and throughout it is important that we, especially as white people, are vocal about racism and consider the struggle relevant for ourselves. The topic of anti-racism should not only raised by those who experience direct discrimination. We understand that dismantling whiteness is a shared goal because the problems that arise from it affect everyone. As white-identified/ white-passing individuals, we must do our part and vocalize whiteness.

Racism can materialize in many ways. It is present not only in invisible assumptions, communication or mental structures, but is reinforced in the way we consume and in the way we live in western societies. In Finland, racism and coloniality is not always overt, but works through the means of social, cultural and economic disenfranchisement. We have learned that we must keep many forms and manifestations of oppression and discrimination in our awareness and that whiteness is not reducible to only having white skin.

As a result of the discussions activated by the Call for Action Letter, we plan to further engage in questioning our methods, tools and framing as well as defining our core values to serve as positive guidelines that will help us select future topics, projects and participants relevant for overcoming all forms of racism and discrimination. This will also help us to become more inclusive, dissolve professional walls and reach out to people and communities that are currently outside our bubble. The projects and initiatives that we develop have the potential to become more interesting and relevant for people from non-academic communities. In this endeavour, we will continue to study existing concepts of progressive artistic practice and follow examples rooted in feminist pedagogies.

In our organization’s future, it will be important for us to continue to build safer spaces as places to address conflict and as places where people from minorities can feel heard and respected. When it comes to anti-racism, we can never be fully ready, however we must always be ready to receive feedback and critique. In moving forward from here, we are committed to challenging our own white privileges and internalized structural racism – not in order to feel guilty – but in order to discover our responsibilities for further action. It is as Andrés reminds us: feelings of guilt deactivate. Personal (and communal) responsibility activates.

Trojan Horse/ Danai, Jaroslav, Kaisa, Robynn, Siina, Tommi