By Breana Taylor
Often 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.
Germany 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.
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!