Others-From-Within From Without; Afro-German Subject Formation and the Challenge of a Counter-Discourse

Michelle Wright argues firstly that the treatment of Afro-Germans is entirely unique to the treatment of black peoples in other Western countries, and secondly that the fledgling Afro-German community is difficult to define, owing to the vast range of class, ethnic, and historical backgrounds with which its members associate. By examining May Ayim’s poetry, Wright reveals that Afro-Germans are considered by their white compatriots as “Others-from-Without,” although they are also indeed “Others-from-Within.” The racist “Other-from-Within” mentality is shared with Britain and the United States, which acknowledges that Blacks are born in these respective countries and are thus “physically part of the nation,” yet are strikingly different – and inferior – and are thus incapable of fully integrating into society. “Others-from-Without” suggests that black natives are “primitive savages who exist elsewhere and thus should be conquered and ‘civilized’ as part of the (white) nation’s manifest destiny.” Ayim captures this duality perfectly in her poem “Afro-German I.” The ventriloquist-like monologue, which allows for the real Afro-German character to be erased and thus be filled with a backwards racial myth, establishes that the white German character cannot comprehend that the illusory Afro-German is both Black and German. Thus, the speaker reduces the Afro-German identity to simply “African,” which implies an “Other-from-Without” mentality.

Also, Wright compellingly presented the uselessness of static, one-dimensional definitions of race that confine Afro-Germans to an African identity. I agree that it is ludicrous to not be able to understand that someone can be both Black and German, just as it is ridiculous to not recognize that someone can be both Black and Jewish. For this reason, it seems that rather than Afro-Germans’ African descent tying them to any uncivilized past, much of Germany “lives in the past,” relying on ancient knowledge and acceptances. However, I was unsure about the argument that the white German speaker in Ayim’s “Afro-German I” understands racial difference as biological and hierarchical. Hierarchical, yes, but biological? Referring to the instance where the interlocutor insists that the Afro-German mute is predestined to spend her life giving aide to her mother country, I see the racial hierarchy, namely with the insinuation of the “white man’s burden” to spread civility. The speaker sounds condescending, although many of the insults in the poem were masked as opinions from an alleged third party, yet I feel that the argument that their racial difference is biological is lacking. Save for the reference of Africa, of course.

Wright continues that the only way to homogenize the diverse Afro-German community is to consider it a Diaspora. Currently, the term “Afro-German” is falling out of use, being replaced by the more apt “Black German” or “Afro-European,” to include other non-white minorities, such as Turks and South Asians and those that have lived in other European countries besides Germany. I find that groups like ADERFA that connect with people over multiple “elective affinities,” such as race and gender, to be the most effective at uniting diverse communities. However, although I agree that the Afro-German community allows for members from vast economic and social standings, as well as from disparate geographical regions, I am not convinced that adopting a Diasporic identity is the best strategy at countering racism in Germany. I feel that this approach may threaten white Germany, and thus further alienate the Afro-German community. Perhaps the use of autobiography, “writing of oneself into the nation,” may be less threatening, and ultimately more effective at uniting the diverse population.

by Traci Fitzharris

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