The Afro-Germans: You Are Not Alone

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The past and current history of Germany's relationship with Africa and Afro-Germans in contemporary German society.
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Dred-Scott Keyes
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“THE AFRO-GERMANS: MOVING TOGETHER DIFFERENTLY”

OVERVIEW

        In 1985, during her days as a visiting professor at the Free University in Berlin, poet/activist Audre Lorde sparked a movement which continues to ripple through Germany today.

    It was during one of her lectures, that she asked the White women who had attended, to leave the room. She asked that the few Black women attending to stay and not leave until they had spoken to at least one other Black women in the room and  agreed to meet again.

    She challenged Black Germans- particularly women- to  not let others define their identity and to organize themselves. She also knew that most Afro-Germans were fractured and came from different parts of the African continent and

raised in different parts of Germany, which did not lend itself to organizing.

   Audre Lorde’s experience in both the Civil Rights and Women’s movement gave her insight to the struggle of Afro-Germans. She understood those differences and encouraged them. while at the same time, recognizing the commonality of

their overall German and African experience. “You are not alone”, she said.

   She also encouraged the women to work together, to make themselves visible, to raise their voices...each in their very own way.

   This resulted in the book “Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Wome Speak Out”, an anthology of multi-generational Afro-German women who tell the  story of their lives. It was in “Showing Our Colors” that the women first identified

themselves as Afro-German- an earlier concept introduced by Audre Lorde who said Black Germans were a ”hyphenated people......., sharing a double culture, a double life.”

    From the energy and contacts needed to complete such a work, the women began to organize even further.  First there was the ISD-the Initiative of Black Germans, which has sprung up chapters in every major German city. Then came a

sister organization, ADEFRA. This in turn sparked the publication of “Afrekete” a small newspaper which served as a vehicle to express the lives of Afro-Germans.

    The late Afro-German poet May Akim summed it up by saying, “ The book was the start of the Afro-German movement in a certain way. Since 1986, the Black German associations have developed”.

      As I delved more into the history of Afro-Germans, I began to understand the impact of Audre Lorde on the modern-day Afro-German movement and wanted the book’s title to include the essence of her  attitude that helped shaped that

movement. Hence the book’s subtitle “Moving Together Differently”.

The original title of this book “The Afro- Germans: The Untold Story” (1600-The Present) was not an affront to the many scholars, writers, artists and activists who have documented the presence of Afro-Germans or Afrodeutche since the 17th century.

      It is however, a conscious effort to make those who are ignorant, unaware or willfully ambivalent of the long history of Blacks living in Germany, cognizant of that presence-then and now.

      Compared to other minorities such as the Turks, who number close to 2 million of the 82 million white German population, Africans in Germany comprise less than 2 percent of the total population, estimated between 300,000 and 500,000 and are concentrated in big cities like Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt.

      The first German traders, missionaries and travelers went to Africa around 1600. The Brandenburg African Company-established in 1682- created small settlements in what are now the West African countries of Guinea and Ghana. The traders and others brought Africans back to Europe to work as aides for households or as laborers for businesses.

      During the early 18th century, Anton Wilhelm Amo, a Ghanian who had been sponsored by a German Duke, became the first African to attend and graduate from a European University and would later teach philosophy.

      Under the ”Iron and Blood” philosophy of Otto von Bismarck, the modern nation-state of Germany was forged in 1871, becoming a leading and influential power of the often warring European countries.

      Unlike many of the older European nations, Germany was a johnny-come-lately in establishing colonies.  The Berlin Conference of 1884 allowed Germany to participate in the European colonization of Africa and it eventually established African colonies in  Cameroon, Togo, Tanzania, Burundi, Namibia, parts of Botswana,Kenya and Mozambique.

      Germany also maintained colonies in New Guinea which included what are now the Marshall Islands, the Mariana, Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, the Bismarck Archipelago, parts of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville Island,  the Caroline Islands, Samoa and Nauru,

       Of course, this all ended with the defeat of Germany in World War I as it was forced to cede it’s territories to the victors and pay reparations, while being occupied by foreign troops which included France. These included Black troops from their West African colony of Senegal.

      Germany was highly resentful of these occupying Black soldiers, especially after they began co-habiting with German women and producing offspring who would later become known as “Rhineland Bastards”.

      By the Jazz era of the 1920s there were between 10,000 to 25,000 Afrodeutsche, most of them in Berlin or other metropolitan areas. Until the Nazis came to power, black musicians and other entertainers were a popular element of the nightlife scene in Berlin and other large cities. Black Germans also appeared as extras in German movies and  circus side shows.

      When Hitler came to power in 1932, the racist policies of the Nazis impacted other groups besides the Jews. The Nazis' racial purity laws also targeted gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, the mentally challenged, and Blacks. Precisely how many Afro-Germans died in Nazi concentration camps is not known, but estimates put the figure at between 25,000 and 50,000. Many were forcibly sterilized.

 

      The relatively low numbers of Blacks in Germany, their wide dispersal across the country, and the fact that  the Nazis concentrated on the Jews were some factors that made it possible for many Afro-Germans to survive the war.

      In the aftermath of the defeat of Germany in World War II, African-American soldiers were a part of the U.S occupation forces. Again, this produced children that became “the brown baby” phenomena. Many were forced unto adoption and faced legal limbo.

       Just by being born in Germany does not make you a German citizen. Unlike many other countries, German citizenship is based on the citizenship of your parents, and is passed on by blood-although this has changed in recent years.

      “Black Germany: The Untold Story (1688-The Present) doesn’t only look at Germany’s past history, but also takes a  contemporary look through the eyes and words of Black Germans from all walks of life, seeking to find their place in  German society.

 

Short Summary

     My name is Dred-Scott keyes and I have just returned from an extended stay in Germany where I interviewed and photographed many Afro-Germans. I became interested in Afro-Germans after doing  documentaries on singers Xavier Naidoo and Ayo, two Afro-German artists who have become very popular. 

     However, German friends said the two artists were not Germans although they were born there. As a journalist, this peaked my interest and led me on a journey to discover just who and where are the Afro-Germans.

     As explained in my introduction, there has been contact with Germans and Africans since the 17th century and is a history that is not taught in German schools. My mission is to create a book which is all inclusive of the history of Afro-Germans and their current status in German society.

     And while I spent the last two months on the road in Germany, it was an inadquate amount of time to finish the task. I want to interview Theodore Michael Wonja, Germany's oldest Black person who happens to be a journalist.

     I would also like to revisit Berlin and look at the impact that poet, writer Audre Lorde has had on contemporary Afro-German society by interviewing those who had direct contact with her. Audre Lorde, it can be said without hesitation, helped to kickstart the contemporary movement of Afro-Germans.

     Afro-German artists, writers and film makers are continuing to thrive under less than ideal conditions. The story of Afro-Germans is a largely untold story that must be written and institutionalized in the curriculum of German pedagogy. It is a story worth being told.

     I am an award-wining journalist who has created documentaries on a wide range of cultual and political subject matter. From Sam Cooke to Pete Seeger, from documentaries on poverty to documentaries on the histroy of sports in the Unitd States, from "Death Be Not Proud: The Execution of Troy Davis" to being named 2009 Zeitfunk Award by the Public Radio Exchange.

     I will use your contribution for travel and living expenses for another extended stay in Germany.

 

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