What mobbying is about

This article is more than 7 years old.

Over the past few weeks, I've been faced with the not so gentle reminder that mobbing is not a tool of a particular person, group or gender, but rather a signal of malcontent, inexperience and most prevalent Überforderung[1], whether individual or mass.

I've seen this most prominently in my last four years of engagement on the battlefields of Anti-Colonialism, Anti-Racism and Feminism work in Berlin, but also within the non-activism employment context as well. Until recently, when I saw mobbing, I often called it a bad habit – a thing of choice that one does. As a choice, contrary to what every ‘Wahl-Berliner’ learns in formulating all critical comments; I did not believe that ‘So and so, was a really good or nice person.' I believed that ‘So and So’ was a horrible ‘unmensch’ that would be better placed lurking in a damp, stuffy cavern or wading through the undergrowth of the dark forest.

Logic versus Empathy

In all things related to mobbing, empathy to me, was an unused muscle.

Enter Empathy.

An amazingly brilliant woman, 6 feet tall, not afraid to rock heels and an empathy sage. Snap. Snap.

She made me aware that the sign of a truly participatory leader, required not only an awareness of the steps of mobbing, but a willingness to step back and see the mobbing as a sign of conflict. A conflict where all figures are active participants (which might not always seem fair, but it is) and once done, formulate a plan for how to guide and educate the conflict out of each individual.

One needs to gain a sense of each participant's capacity and skill level; take the time to develop a game plan for allowing everyone to engage at their own level of performance; maintain transparency; promote inclusion.

Mobbing is a human problem. One that time and time again grasps onto words, then guns, then bombs. It precedes the stereotypical satire, known by any -ism. It is the driving force behind the ‘anschwärzen[2]’ experienced by People of Color upon arrival into Germany whether by boat, by plane, by foot or by womb. It is in full effect with exclusion and it has the audacity, when stared straight in the eye, to say, 'you are being paranoid.'

Regardless of the experience and who started it; despite where it began or when; as this leader is teaching me, we all need to be ready to address it. And yes, there is no quick fix.

So what can we, as feminists and activists, do, to fix the current situation?

For those of you unaware of its parts, here is a short summary in bullet point.

  • Angela Merkel
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Horst Seehofer

Before we get started, you should understand something about me. If my parents could have gone back in time, they would have named me 'Trouble'. The hours they spent unsuccessfully trying to condition me for life as a Black woman in the US, only began to take hold when I moved to Germany. I'm one of these people that has to see things in over-exaggerated proportions (OEP) to believe it. And again, though this problem is not a German one, I have seen it here, in Germany, in OEP. These OEPs lead me to believe that people, here, are generally underprepared for things outside of their own personal experiences. So here’s my ‘trouble,’  once I start to see something, I not only say something, I start to pull it apart to understand it.

Let's start with Seehofer. I would say ‘let him go;’ as in out of politics. He’s overwhelmed, out of his element and does not seem to deal with ‘intercultural’ well. But I have to admit that without empathy, I wouldn’t have been able to see understand his endgame as a stalling tactic. Perhaps he is attempting to buy time that will help him 1. Regain control of the situation or 2. save face and leave his position (focusing on new friends in the East and a new haircut, reminds me of Schröder). 3. I could be wrong so, none of the above.

His and our Refugee Crisis is not a crisis[3]  at all. It’s an event happening in place and time. A massive event[4]. A massive migration of people doing something we in the west romanticise about.



The crisis is within ‘us’.

In this context, ‘us’ is the German ‘us’, meaning the stakeholders ­­– everyone living in this country, passport or not; that worry whether their livelihoods will be drastically affected by the sudden onset[5] of more people.

The conversations within different milieus of national and international circles that I have been privied to, are all pregged with uncertainty. Uncertainty is understandable, yet what often follows, should not be signs of failing emotional intelligence[6] in the form of defamation (anschwärzen), physical violence, and Ausgrenzung[7] an Außengrenzen. Final stage mobbing according to Hanz Leymann’s evolution of mobbing[8].

I can assure you that change is coming, I can assure you that change is nothing new. Yet, what form any change takes, depends on everyone of us.

Enter empathy learned.

Empathy means, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another[9]. We see this with strangers that need to rely on strangers to understand and navigate this new terrain. That we help, how we help and what our help looks like, will dictate in part how this change will influence our collective future.

As feminists, we understand the intersections of place, time and status. As feminists of Color, we understand those intersections against colonial ideologies of ’race’, nationality, language, education and religion, to name a few. And as life scholars, we have some awareness, if not understanding, of the intersections of gender and history.

Enter Merkel.

Over the past 4 years, I have watched Angela Merkel take ownership of a massive event that is not of her own doing. I believe she has done so, in order to contextualize and guide its reception. In October 2015, that which she influenced was thousands of hands helping, handing out, holding and clapping as yet again, thousands of people poured across the borders from the East. Merkel knew what idol and overwhelmed hands were capable of and tried her hardest to turn them into ‘Willkommenshände.’ She knew method of the past, could serve as coping mechanism in order to stall feelings of ‘Überforderung.’ But she’s not the only one who believes this.

While Merkel may have underestimated the work which is needed to get the most prominent and outspoken groups of people back from the brink of Überforderung (which I doubt); she did not underestimate the majority.

We are the majority, the doers, the thinkers and risk-takers, who are not afraid to learn and not afraid to lead.

We need to look around our communities, put our heads and hearts together to address the obstacles keeping us from positively embracing the benefits this massive event in human migration presents. We need to use the signs of malcontent, inexperience and ‘Überforderung’ to gauge our collective response to this so-called crisis, because our actions, our inactions and our words[10] determine whether or not we land on the right or the wrong side of history.

Exit Vicky.


[2] Einen anschwärzen, einen gehässigen Begriff von ihm bey andern machen. Adelung, Grammatisch-kritisches Wörterbuch der Hochdeutschen Mundart, Band 1. Leipzig 1793, S. 364-365.

[3] a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.: "the current economic crisis" "a family in crisis" "a crisis of semiliteracy among high school graduates". Synonyms: emergency, disaster, catastrophe, calamity. Google Docs Dictionary. 2016.

[4] a thing that happens, especially one of importance.: "one of the main political events of the late 20th century". Google Docs Dictionary. 2016.

[5] the beginning of something, especially something unpleasant.: "the onset of winter". Synonyms: start, beginning, commencement, arrival, (first) appearance, inception, emergence, day one, outbreak, dawn, genesis. Antonyms: end. Google Docs Dictionary. 2016.

[7] Exclusion, marginalization, sociol.isolation [social, political], ostracism, sociol. Outlawing, excluding

[8] Leymann, Hanz (1990), Mobbing and Psychological Terror at Workplace, in Violence and Victims, nr.5

[10] a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed. Synonyms: term, name, expression, designation, locution, vocable. Google Docs Dictionary. 2016.