Wednesday, 22 May 2013

But Some of Us Are Brave: The Legacy of Black Female Activists in Germany

Deutsche Übersetzung (gekürzt) erschien in Missy Magazine (Printausgabe, Mai 2013) und wurde auf der Webseite der Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland veröffentlicht.

Change is coming to Germany.

This time last year, the Berlin-based Deutsches Theater had just decided to stop using Blackface in the Thalheimer production of Dea Loher’s Unschuld. This historic event followed weeks of campaigning by outraged critics, concerned theatre-goers as well as other Black, of color and white activist members of the then newly-formed anti-racist initiative Bühnenwatch. Now, just one year later, a similarly heated debate has broken out over the use of racist vocabulary in children’s literature. Emotions are running high and the terrain feels strangely familiar: angry blog posts, heated public debates, furious Facebook discussions and incensed Tweets. White media commentators speak of “censorship” and “political correctness” but in reality the battle is about power: who should have the final say about the representation of Black people and people of color in German culture? Until now, white Germans have claimed this right for themselves. Yet slowly but surely, this privilege is slipping through their fingers. For many this just doesn’t feel good.

“Without a vision, every social change feels like death”

Their concern is well rehearsed. Childhood books are to be treasured, not revised! Cultural traditions are to be preserved, not criticised! And the word “racism” should only be reserved to describe the most heinous of crimes – those involving Nazis or right-wing extremists! And yet, for increasing numbers of Black Germans and Germans of color, these “truths” are inadequate. The everyday lived experience of those of us who are often not recognised at first sight to be German is typically marked by exoticism, contempt or fear – and sometimes all three. The idea that one can tell who is not German simply by assessing the skin colour is ridiculous but pervasive. It allows some people to question others about where they come from, or to congratulate them on their accent-free language skills or to demand to see their identity papers. Audre Lorde, an African-American lesbian, feminist, poet, activist, scholar and mother who was instrumental in igniting the recent Black German political movement in the 1980s, identified the need for Black people in general and Black women in particular to support each other. It is Lorde who wrote: “without a vision, every social change feels like death.”[1] In order to create a vision of the future in Germany, it is necessary for us to revisit the past.