By Willa Rentel
After getting my kimchi fix at a tasty Korean lunch, we hopped on the U-Bahn and headed to our meeting with Jasmin Eding. As Eding began to share her story, her wisdom and years of lived experience struck me as particularly palpable. Eding is an activist and “founding mother” of ADEFRA, an organization based in Germany (formed in 1986) that, according to Eding’s “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” is focused on the “empowerment for black women.” As she began to share her story and describe her experiences growing up as an Afro-German woman in 1960s Germany, it became clear to me that Jasmin, along with her co-founders formed ADEFRA in order to create a space they desperately needed: a space for Black women in Germany to reconcile feelings of isolation, a space to facilitate and encourage connections and relationships between Black women, and a space for Black women to share their experiences.
Eding grew up in a small town outside of Munich during the 1960s. A child of a White mother and Black father, Eding grew up with her mother. As she reflected on her childhood, Eding noted that there was little discussion surrounding her blackness. As she went through years of schooling looking and feeling distinctly different, navigating an overtly racist society with a looming Nazi presence in her small town, Eding experienced feelings of isolation and unbelonging. In fact, Eding told us that as a very young girl, she was disinterested in connecting with Black people. She described the experience of meeting another Black person as “like looking in a mirror,” something she had no interest in doing. The prospect of being confronted with her Blackness, a part of herself that she was made to hide, ignore, or simply not discuss, was scary and isolating. With little discussion of Blackness happening around her, Eding began to grapple with the question of how to define herself. During our discussion, she referred to a teacher who gifted her Soul on Ice, a book that consists of a series of essays by Eldridge Cleaver, a writer, activist and member of the Black Panther Party. As Eding began to read work by and about other Black authors, she noted feeling increasingly connected to her blackness and increasingly comfortable being recognized for it.
Fast-forward to 1986 when Eding read Farbe Bekennen: Afro-Deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihere Geschichte, translated in English as Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, a book recounting the experience of Black women in Germany co-edited by Katharina Oguntoye, May (Opitz) Ayim, and Dagmar Schultz—featuring a “Foreword” by Audre Lorde. As she reflected on her experience of reading Farbe Bekennen, Eding remembers crying as she turned the pages. She described the experience of finally having access to the experiences of women like her, Afro-German women. This newfound connectedness conjured an emotional response; Eding felt instantly connected to fellow Afro-German women through their stories. As Audre Lorde writes in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” “Without community there is no liberation…but community does not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.” In reading Farbe Bekennen, Eding was exposed to a community of Afro-German women with whom she could identify, and as a result, could begin to grow and become empowered.
This community of Afro-German women was then solidified and developed into ADEFRA. In 1986, ADEFRA was founded and meetings began to take place in many cities and places in West Germany, including Berlin and Munich. ADEFRA organizes readings, workshops, discussions, and events for and by Black women and their families. As Karen Honeycutt writes in “Clara Zetkin: A Socialist Approach to the Problem of Woman’s Oppression,” “Women’s groups help women in a number of important ways to combat the crippling effects of female socialization by providing an atmosphere unencumbered by male prejudice” (137). In this way, ADEFRA provides the space for analyses of female oppression to become intersectional—a space for Black women to understand not only what it means to be a German woman, but a Black German woman.
Eding explained to us that ADEFRA means “Afro-Deutsch-Frauen” or “Afro-German-Women.” Self-identification is embedded deeply in this institution, beginning with its name. This self-proclamation acts as a force of empowerment, and solidifies the identity of a group that has been told incessantly that they must subdue themselves. As Maureen Maisha Eggers writes in “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” “Black women activists were at the core of the actions that led to the creation of initiatives and discussion groups on Blackness in Germany and eventually to the definition of Black Germanness.” Eggers contends that it is this act of definition that “can be more precisely described as a move towards claiming symbolic space” (3). Similarly, Eding claims that “self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives in a predominantly white, Christian, patriarchal society” (131). Through self-empowerment and self-determination, ADEFRA, a coalition of dynamic, empowered Black women, works to do just what Eggers references, to “claim symbolic space,” empower, and create connections between Black women. When asked how the formation of ADEFRA has changed her experience as an Afro-German woman, she responded by saying simply, “It changed everything…my whole life. I finally felt I belonged to something. Everyone needs to belong.”
Willa Rentel is from Croton, New York, and will be entering her second year at CC this coming fall. She is planning on majoring in Sociology and absolutely loves people and good conversation. The Sociology class she took 5th block of last year focused on the growing income gap in America revealed to her an interest in majoring in the field. An avid thrift shopper, Willa loves searching through racks of clothing to find great, quirky gems. Willa loves music and is constantly altering her playlists on Spotify. She prides herself on being open to most any genre, but currently loves listening to The Talking Heads, Al Green, FKA Twigs (and most everything in between). Willa really, really loves strawberries. She also loves lying in hammocks, the smell of lilac flowers and swimming (in the ocean and ponds particularly). Her favorite television show of the moment is Broad City, and she is currently making her way through season two with impressive speed. Willa has a strong passion for social justice and feminism and would like to use her degree to pursue her passion further.