Difference is Key: Audre Lorde and Afro-Germans

By Amy Valencia

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
—Audre Lorde

It was the first day in Berlin, and I didn’t know what to expect. When I walked outside and listened to the sounds, I realized this is one of the few instances I have experienced not understanding what people are saying. In the United States, the two dominant languages are English and Spanish, both in which I am fluent. There are rare occasions where I have absolutely had no idea what someone is trying to communicate. When I looked around, I knew I wasn’t at home anymore, because at home, I am not in the minority. I come from a predominantly Latino community where I don’t feel othered. Here in Berlin, it is quite obvious that white people are the majority, and that people of color are few and far between. Still, I was ready to take it all in.

Audre Winterfeldmarkt j

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde began regularly visiting Berlin in 1984. She became an influential actor and mentor in the Afro-German movement. A form of resistance against Black Germans being defined by others, the term Afro-German serves as the community defining themselves (Oguntoye, xxii). Even in the early German women’s movement, racism was a form of oppression that was rarely discussed (Schultz, xxiv). This is why Audre Lorde’s relationship to various communities in Berlin is so important. In Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, producer and director Dagmar Schultz (one of Lorde’s closest friends in Berlin) recounts a portion of this influence. By watching The Berlin Years, we learn that Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to learn from one another, to learn from African-Americans, and to seek out the history they didn’t know. For example, in the film, Lorde is shown giving a speech to a crowd of women, during which she asks the white women to leave and asks the Afro-Germans who remain to connect with one another. She asked them to begin to build a network, a community in which they can unite and give voice to the issues they face.

Lorde also emphasizes the importance of difference. In a lot of her writing, she argues that is vital that Black women acknowledge and learn from one another’s differences and recognize that there are some shared goals. One of the goals is to eliminate the fear that results from oppression. For example, she once said to many of her fellow activists, “I value myself more than I value my terrorist.” Hence, the new sense of collective identity Lorde inspired in Berlin, based in large part on this sentiment, made it possible for Afro-German women to organize and be active to change a society that had relegated them to the margins. Their actions, then, would debunk the “myth that there are no Black people in Germany, and if there are any, they have nothing of importance to say” (Eggers, 3). Subsequently, their collective voice became stronger.

Eggers

Aishah Shahidah Simmons (2015 Course Associate), Dr. Maisha Eggers, and Heidi

Along these lines, in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging,” Dr. Maisha Eggers emphasizes that the beginning of the Afro-German women’s movement was focused on discussions about Blackness. Throughout these discussions, Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to feel like a part of a community, a community whose narratives needed to be told. In this way, it is important to write your own narrative and not let someone else write it for you. In “Troubling Categories, I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden discusses how the history we learn and/or write about is reflective of our own time, locations, and identities. For the Afro-German women whose history is still being written, it is important that their narrative isn’t lost due to others’ socialization to denigrate their experiences.

Throughout the rest of my stay in Berlin, I want to be conscious of the spaces and people we interact with and how their narratives have been and continue to be told. I want to always remember that we are in a privileged position to be outsiders within these communities and to be able to interact with marginalized communities in Berlin. Sitting by my window, I look out and think about narratives that are silenced and what has yet to be told.


ValenciaAmy Valencia is a senior at Colorado College from Waukegan, Illinois. She is majoring in Political Science with a minor in Feminist and Gender Studies. She focuses her studies on immigration policy and the effects of these policies on Latin American communities. Amy is excited to be studying abroad for the first time and ready to explore Berlin!

Breaking Down Barriers: A Discussion with Noah Sow

By Mackenzie Murphy

Anabolika_01Thursday morning started with us grabbing our morning coffees and settling into our classroom (sadly, for the last time). As we begin to close in on the end of week three, it is hard to believe that Berlin felt so foreign only two and a half weeks ago and now the barista at the coffee shop across the street from our classroom has become a familiar face. Our guest for the day was Noah Sow, an accomplished artist, musician, producer, author, and activist. During our discussion with her, she talked to us mostly about her involvement in the pop culture and music industry—more specifically how the structural racism in Germany played a role in her life as an artist. We got a first hand account of what Michael Schmidtke discusses in “Cultural Revolution or Cultural Shock? Student Radicalism and 1968 in Germany” regarding how racism in “culture, and in language itself [prevents society] from realizing that there might be alternative ways of living” (81).

Noah grew up in “white Catholic Bavaria,” and was introduced to music at a very young age. She learned to play several instruments, and discovered a genuine passion for expression through art. Unfortunately, she was one of the only Black members of her community. She would often be invited to perform; however, she began to get the sense that those who attended and promoted her performances were more interested in exploiting her “exotic” Blackness to the predominantly white community than appreciating her talent as a musician. Because of this, she learned to dissociate her performances from her audience in order to push past these feelings and began to perform for herself. This coincides with Jasmin Eding’s idea that “self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives in a predominately white, Christian, patriarchal society” (131) from “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To.” Noah went on to speak to us about her continued experiences in Germany, with the majority of people conceptualizing “Germans as homogeneous and white.” This construction of German identity has othered the Black community, resulting in structural racism and white supremacy, which often manifests in the media, an area in which Noah also has a great deal of professional experience.

jeannedarkfinal_smallFor instance, she sang in a studio in the 1980s for the first time, and was involved in the Euro Dance scene in the 1990s. She also spent some of the 2000s in New York in the punk rock scene, including performing with her group Anarchists of Color. Noah faced various challenges in the music scene, especially with producers. Many producers in Germany were more interested in appealing to the white German public than allowing Noah to share her own identity and art. The attitudes and restrictions imposed by these producers caused Noah to experience many of the same feelings of exploitation that she had when she was younger. In response, Noah decided she would no longer submit to this type of suppression. She then created her own record label, Jeanne Dark Records, in 2005. As Simon Arms discusses in “The Heritage of Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Scene,” art “derives its power from being on the margins of society; only from the outside can (artists) address problems within” (17). Noah’s move to produce her own music allowed her to create a space of her own, where she could voice her own experiences and art, not as an other in Germany but as an Afro-Deutsche woman.

It was obvious listening to Noah that, from a very young age, she was able to recognize the barriers she would face as a Black woman in Germany. Noah paralleled the German popular culture industry with the exploitation of Afro-Deutsche people in human zoos, which is yet another disturbing reality of German history. The point being that Germany—especially due to white supremacy and patriarchy—still exploit the Black community by dehumanizing and objectifying them for public entertainment. This may not be visible in popular culture the same way as human zoos, but the implications are equally unacceptable. Noah is an example of a person who transcends the ideals imposed upon her by creating her own space, where she “narrates her own history.”


MackenzieMackenzie Murphy grew up in New Jersey, and although she loves living in Colorado, the east coast still has a strong hold on her heart. She has been fortunate enough to have traveled within the United States, as well as to some parts of Europe and most recently to Costa Rica. This is her first time in Germany, and she’s most excited about the opportunity to travel and learn about this wonderful place with her peers. She will be a senior this coming fall, and she studies Film & New Media Studies. She also holds strong interests in Philosophy and Feminist & Gender Studies. She is currently watching the TV series The Sopranos, and her favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche.

Stories of Blackness with Asoka Esuruoso and Noah Hofmann

By Breana Taylor

IMG_8973Often when we think of storytelling, images of bedtime stories or campfire stories come to mind. However, for Asoka Esuruoso, storytelling is how we relay the accounts of our lives and connect with people around us. For this reason, Esuruoso prefers not to refer to herself as an artist, though she performs spoken word, makes film, and is a writer. Instead, she calls herself a storyteller. Through her work—ranging from books she’s written and co-edited, her spoken word and films—Esuruoso shares the stories of those that are often silenced. Born in Boston, Esuruoso grew up in the U.S., and attended Columbia University for her undergraduate years. While living in the U.S., she noticed that racism was different from the racism she experienced in Berlin. Since she wanted to be an activist and use her degrees to help with her activism, she decided to move back to Berlin. In Berlin, she earned a Master’s of English from Freie Universität with an emphasis on Post-Colonial Literature and Post-Colonial Political Theatre. Her studies were not the only things keeping her busy; in addition to attending class, Esuruoso found Berlin’s social setting to be a second home. Activism, specifically, was something she knew would be a part of her life, having participated in activist works while in the U.S. In response to questions about how racism and activism are different in the U.S. and Berlin, Esuruoso spoke the more expensive cost-of-living in the U.S., and how as an African American Woman whose mother is African American and whose father is Nigerian, the activism she partook in too often privileged the experience of African Americans and was lacking in a Pan-Africanist approach.

Additionally, while in Berlin, Esuroso claims racism was much more blatant and obvious—people approach her for drug and hyper-sexualize her body with their gazes and questions, like what is your price? Having read some of Esuruoso’s work, especially Arriving in the Future: Stories of Home and Exile (a collection she co-edited with Philipp Khabo Köpsell), prior to meeting her, I was particularly struck by the moment in her short story, “Chasing Stars,” in which she writes about her grandmother, “I had asked her about blackness and happiness…Was it possible to have both? I wanted, no, needed to know. Was it possible to be both?” (2). This passage resonates with me, because through Esuruoso’s work, she exposes and gives a voice to silenced communities, promoting the culture of Afro-Germans. As a result, she proves that the relationship between happiness and Blackness do exist.

IMG_8974Germany is a country like many others in that many of its citizens refuse to accept the structural racism that is perpetuated on an institutional level against marginalized people. Along these lines, Esuruoso spoke about how racism is embedded into the structure of the country on a legal level. For example, a landlord can legally refuse to rent property to a Black person and other people of color on the grounds of not being comfortable or wanting to keep peace amongst their tenants. Another way Berlin specifically refuses to come to face with their racist society can be seen in some of their museum exhibits. Along these lines, Noah Hofmann, who also joined our session, spoke about Black people in Germany and how their narratives have been absent from mainstream Germany history. Hofmann identifies as a Black German, and is a writer and activist. His work addresses Blackness in Berlin and exposes the history and issues of the Black community in this country. Fortunately, we had Hofmann correctly inform us that the history of Black people in Germany actually dates all the way back to 450 AD, despite the common conception that Black Germans did not have a presence until much later. Moreover, Black German history can also be traced to the Holocaust, during which they also spent time in concentration camps. Black people also migrated to Germany post WWII, during which Black soldiers (from France, the U.S., and other countries) were assigned to come to Germany. Subsequently, many of them had relationships with White German women from which children came about as a consequence. Hence, we know now that Black people have been in Berlin and were never not present.

Present in both Esuruoso and Hofmann’s discussion was the use of the word “Afro-German” and how important it is to the Black German community, because it created “a conscious endeavor to discard derogatory (German) terms connoting Blackness” (Eggers 3). As a result of the coining of the term, various movement began in order to contest “dominant myths such as the claim that there are no Black people in Germany, and if there are any, they have nothing of importance to say” (Eggers 3). Both Esuruoso and Hofmann spoke about the power of this term and how it was monumental to the Black German community finding a voice in a country where they were isolated and lacked a sense of community amongst themselves. Still as Hofmann heavily emphasized throughout his discussion, White Germans still feel all too comfortable with eradicating Black history from German history, hoping to also eradicate racism from German history. As Jasmin Eding claims in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want to,” “Self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives” (131). Through all of this very important work, I see that Afro-Germans are alive, as is their history.


Breana Kathleen Taylor

While studying at Colorado College, Breana Taylor realized that feminism is a passion of hers, which is convenient, because she recently decided to declare her major in Feminist & Gender Studies. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Breana is no stranger to traveling or to being around lots people. Having grown up in a large family and with a father in the military, she enjoys being exposed to new environments and the experiences that come with being in new places. During her down time, she enjoys reading, stand-up comedy, and listening to movie soundtracks. Feminism has brought nothing but good things to her life, such as new perspectives on women, race, and gender, and how to think critically about these things and more. Being a member of the FemGeniuses is such an honor, and she cannot wait for the opportunity to grow in her knowledge on feminism across the globe!

Understanding Black Studies in Germany

By Meredith Bower

Aishah Shahidah Simmons (Course Associate), Dr. Maisha Eggers, and Heidi

Aishah Shahidah Simmons (Course Associate), Dr. Maisha Eggers, and Heidi

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.

Dr. Maisha Eggers and the FemGeniuses in Berlin

Dr. Maisha Eggers and the FemGeniuses in Berlin

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.


MeredithMeredith 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!

I’m My Own Flower: Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo on Intersectionality, Resistance, and Belonging

By Jazlyn Andrews

Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

As we left the apartment this morning, it was clear to see that we were all still recovering from a long, jet-lagged journey. We struggled to keep our eyes open and our bodies upright on the U-Bahn,  but luckily the fight to stay awake ended once we got the opportunity to meet our Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo. Preferring to use her second first name—taken from a missionary’s wife who worked with her grandfather—Lahya’s bountiful energy was infectious, and soon we were so enthralled by her life story that we couldn’t help but to stay engaged. A self-identified artist and author of her autobiography, Kalungas Kind, Lahya uses her professional experience and creativity to find low-budget marketing options for African entrepreneurs. First introducing herself by telling us the meaning of her names, one thing became very clear: Lahya’s personal narrative is very political. At one point in the conversation, she questioned, “If I’m so intersectional, where do I belong?” Perhaps the meaning of her last name can lead us to the answer. Aukongo means “we’re all together,” a belief that is a driving force behind her personal and professional life.

Lahya's African Grandmother Magdalena

Lahya’s African Grandmother Magdalena

During the Namibian civil wars with South Africa, Lahya’s mother was so horribly injured during a bombing that killed between six hundred and one thousand people, that doctors flew her to Germany for critical medical attention. Born shortly thereafter on September 13, 1978 in Berlin, her delivery wasn’t without complications. Lahya suffered injuries while in the womb, and was unable to move one side of her body. Still thankful for the medical care she received at the German hospital, Lahya’s mother chose her first name to be Stefanie after one of the nurses who helped deliver her. Her third name, Ndeshipewa, means, “I appreciate others and others appreciate me.” Despite the short time for recuperation, Lahya’s mother was sent back to a refugee camp in Angola a mere sixteen months later. Lahya was taken in by a white German foster family that showered her with love, exclaiming, “It wouldn’t matter if you were purple! We’d still love you!” Still, she felt as though her Blackness offered her a wisdom that no one in her predominately white childhood could give her. Similarly Marion Kaplan’s, author of “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich,” writes, “Jewish children who attended Jewish schools lived a dual existence: safety in school and danger outside.” Lahya, too, lived a double life: one scrawled out in her journal and another on the streets of East Berlin. Afraid that any sign of her discomfort would be reason enough for her to be sent back to Namibia, Lahya would always be smiling, but could only find consolation when letting her voice flow through her artistic expressions. Only through her writing could she find the freedom she desired to express her intersectional experiences in such a homogenous setting.

Lahya's German Family

Lahya’s German Family

We spent much of the class discussing the ways in which her perceptions of Black identity were shaped by the white culture that engulfed her. Forced to view Namibia through the dominant white lens that constructed controlling images of Africans as primitive, Lahya had to navigate and create her own sense of belonging and home. While able to distance herself from the controlling images of her far-away relatives in Namibia, Lahya was unable to escape her markers of Blackness. She described to us the first time she realized that she was different from her white peers after having been suspected of stealing at her school. Even though she never stole anything, and even had witnesses vouch for her, her bag was searched every day after school from then on. As Sandrine Micosse-Aikins and Sharon Dodua Otoo argue in the introduction to The Little Book of Big Visions: How to be an Artist and Revolutionize the World,­­­ “In predominantly white contexts, Black artists need to take the dreams, needs and visions of our communities into account and, by doing so, we often develop strategies to disrupt dominant normalities inspired by racist, sexist, homo- and transphobic worldviews.” At the age of fourteen, her father in Namibia wrote to Lahya saying it was time for her to come “home.” Her return was welcomed with wide-open arms and joyful singing outside the airport doors. After meeting her family and experiencing her culture for the first time, Lahya decided to use the platform that writing gave her to resist such controlling images by sharing her story.

The FemGeniuses with Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

The FemGeniuses with Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

Her autobiography explores her nuanced, intersectional identity as a Black Queer disabled woman, forcing the reader to make connections they may never have had to consider and to see how they all come together. Autobiographical texts like this are imperative to subverting what Maureen Maisha Eggers describes in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging” as “oppressive and paternalistic connotations of Blackness” and opening up “a field for creative critical positionings.” Through her book, Aukongo is able to assert her sense of belonging to multiple positions, embracing her differences while affirming her identities.


Jazlyn

Jazlyn Andrews hails from Grinnell, IA, so she is a pro at navigating corn mazes, driving tractors, and tipping cows. When she isn’t out in the fields, she enjoys majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and minoring in Race & Ethnic Studies at Colorado College. On the weekends, she likes to binge watch House of Cards, obsess over her corgi, Biscuit, and be goofy with friends. When she’s less lazy, she likes to go for runs, have solo dance parties to “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae, and listen to music outside in the sun. Her future plans include finishing up her final two years at school, then hopefully either moving back out to Seattle, WA to pursue a writing career or attending graduate school to extend her studies.