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Dis/continuities of Racism and Whiteness from the 1950s until Today

By Kadesha Caradine

Figge I

L to R: Maja Figge, Thais Vera Utrilla, Blaise, Nicole, Ximena, Kaimara, Gabi Zekina (Frauenkreise), Kadesha, and Gabi Wurmitzer (Frauenkreise)

A couple days ago, after stuffing our faces with pizza, the FemGeniuses watched a black and white film entitled Toxi (1952). When the character Toxi was introduced, it was hard not to think, “Aww! What a cute little girl!” Then, as the movie continues, the viewers learn that her cuteness, extreme politeness, and thoughtfulness is exactly what wins over the hearts of the white family that takes her in and simultaneously cures their racism. This movie pretty much includes every stereotype held against Blacks in Germany in the 1950s when this film was released. When watching the film, I was of course predicting that Toxi would win the love her biggest critic, Uncle Theodor, which she did. However, I must admit that the Black face the white children in Toxi’s adoptive family wore at the end of the film confusedme a little. Additionally, Toxi’s face was painted white, which, I assume, was supposed to make everything “okay.” I hate to spoil the ending, but I must say that it’s hard to realize that this film was actually considered as breaking point for racial barriers in Germany during that time.

The next day, we met at Frauenkreise for a session with Maja Figge, a scholar who focuses on film and history, culture and media history, gender, race and media, critical whiteness studies, and postcolonial theory. She explained that Toxi was a film that encouraged her to enter into her current field of study, and theorized how race, racism, and even gender are constructed in the film. Towards the end of her presentation, we also discussed the ways in which the film industry inspires backlash against Black films by creating ones with Black people playing in inferior roles.

Figge II

L to R: Kadesha, Gabi, Beril, Stefani, Casey, Melissa, and Sharon Dodua Otoo

During this discussion, I started to think about how much the character Toxi reminded me of Annie, a story about a little girl who is rescued from an orphanage to give an extremely wealthy man a better image. What is interesting is that producers recently remade Annie, featuring Quvenzhané Wallis in the starring role. I wondered, “Why does Annie have to be a Black girl? Are there not enough helpless character roles already fulfilled by Black actors and actresses? Or is it a crime to see white people struggle every once in a while?” Maja theorized that one of the possible reasons the film industry rejects complex Black images in lieu of simplistic ones is due to “the fear of the loss of white privilege.”

Later, we moved on to what Maja described as a more “progressive” film entitled Alles Wird Gut or Everything Will Be Fine (1998). This film features two Black German women who fall in love. Despite the language barrier—we weren’t able to secure a copy of the film with English subtitles—this movie seemed very entertaining, and was a refreshing follow-up after discussing Toxi. We didn’t discuss this film much partly due to time constraints but also because we still had so much to say about the disturbing representations of Blackness in Toxi.

Figge III

L to R: Casey, Stefani, Melissa, Ximena, Kadesha, and Maja Figge

I find it interesting that this morning some random guy who was drinking a beer at 8 am decided to address me as “Mama Africa,” especially since I haven’t even visited the continent yet. His comment may be the result of poor judgment due to his drunkenness or it could be the result of his deeply rooted racialized thinking that I can’t possibly be from Germany because I am Black. The conversations we’ve been having have helped me to realize that for many German citizens, German means white, and our discussion today and throughout the course helps me to understand how that ideal has been reinforced over a long period of time.

This is my last blog which unfortunately means that my amazing time here in Berlin is coming to an end. It has been such a great opportunity to meet and converse with very pivotal figures in feminist and Afro-German communities here. Rarely are students given the opportunity to meet the authors of the books and articles that they read, but we were more than fortunate enough to meet basically every author we read for this course plus many more amazing activists. If I weren’t in this course, I would defiantly be jealous.

Ciao!

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KadeshaKadesha is entering her third year at Colorado College, majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and possibly minoring in Race and Ethnic Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track.

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