By Meredith Bower
After our morning with Stefanie-Lahya Aukongo, we stopped for a quick lunch then made our way to Humboldt University to hear from Dr. Maisha Eggers. We were all familiar with this name, as we read her articles “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany” and “Audre Lorde’s Germany.” Many of us agreed that “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging” was one of our favorite pieces to read, so we were very anxious and excited to hear her speak. I found Maisha Eggers to be a very inspiring, powerful woman. Her strong, confident demeanor kept us all very engaged. She began teaching in 2008, having been a Black feminist activist since 1993. As a professor, her intellectualism is rooted in Black scholarship, and she specializes in gender studies with a special interest in childhood development, focusing on how youth is constructed through societal norms.
The focus of her discussion with us was to help us conceptualize Black Studies and understand what it means to be a scholar within the field. The movement in Germany began to really take flight when Audre Lorde coined the term “Afro-German” in 1984. This “naming process” was, according to Eggers, “set out to embrace and acknowledge the position of subjects of African ancestry/heritage and German lineage/situatedness/identity” (3). In other words, a language was being created that would allow for the movement to have a legitimate space. The Black movement in Germany also works to recognize the presence of Black societal subjects before World War II (as well as after). As Lorde writes in a diary entry, “I asked one of my Black students, how she’d thought about herself growing up. ‘The nicest thing they ever called us was ‘war-baby,’ she said. But the existence of most black Germans has nothing to do with the Second World War, and in fact predates it by many decades” (2). Eggers also noted another significant woman who emerged early on in the movement, a poet named May Ayim. Her texts were revolutionary, significant especially in her acknowledgement of core themes in Black Studies, such as invisibility and power. She also played a role in expanding language in order to create a space more conducive to the movement. According to Eggers, Ayim “made a meaningful contribution to transforming the German language itself, pushing it to accommodate and adapt itself to subverted meanings, hybrid definitions, and articulations” (5). The seemingly simple act of naming a movement and naming its participants proved itself necessary and monumental in crystallizing its presence.
Regarding the Afro-German movement, Black Studies became its scholarly counterpart. However, Eggers stressed to us a major controversy within the academy: a recently Black Studies program comprised exclusively of white people. Another major issue for Black Studies is the lack of official recognition it gets within the university. Eggers described to us how Black Studies itself could receive no funding from Germany, but once they integrated projects with German cultural studies, they were immediately able to receive the funding they needed. Despite all this, Black Studies has been able to establish itself as a respected voice. A prominent example of this can be observed through Black European Studies (BEST). This network of scholars works to write Black history into Europe’s narrative in order to solidify the recognition of Black Europe. BEST provides a space for Black Europeans to conceptualize their experiences and address issues including gender, sexuality, and other aspects of identity.
Eggers’ profound thinking left us with much to think about, as she answered an interesting question on the relationship between activism and scholarship by explaining to us that she views activism as the force and the personal connection that is necessary for any movement. It creates a collective notion that scholarship does not necessarily have. But she does not deny the importance of scholarship as the theory and intellectual discourse necessary for establishing a strong base. She was also asked about her experience growing up in Kenya and then moving to Germany. Born ten years after Kenya’s independence, she received all of her schooling in Kenya before coming to Germany. She believes that had she received her schooling in Germany, she would have been “seeded out” very early on and would not be where she is now. A strong part of her identity lies in Kenya, and she is grateful for her time there. In this sense, listening to her speak after Aukongo’s talk was especially interesting. Aukongo did not grow up in her home in Namibia and she struggled to create an inner sense of home and identity throughout her early life. Notably, though, they both became powerful activists.
Eggers left an impending impression on me, and I think I also speak for the whole group when I say that. For me, she really helped me understand what Black German Studies entails and opened up a new world of thought. Her work is highly admirable, and I feel lucky to have had the chance to hear her speak.
Meredith Bower is a sophomore at Colorado College from Dallas, Texas. Though her major is undeclared, she loves to take courses in Feminist & Gender Studies and English. She is also planning to take prerequisite courses for Nursing School. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, and participates in a weekly ballroom dance adjunct. Her ideal meal would be pepperoni pizza with a Diet Coke followed by a big scoop of gelato. She loves sleeping in late and cuddling with her cat, Lola. Alongside Lola, she also has another cat named Izzy and a dog-named Molly. Fun fact, she is also a certified vinyasa yoga teacher. Meredith is extremely excited to be in Berlin and cannot wait to start exploring!