Remembering Afro-German Intellectual May Ayim

Posted in Articles, Biography, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2017-09-08 15:10Z by Steven

Remembering Afro-German Intellectual May Ayim

Black Perspectives
2017-09-06

Tiffany Florvil, Assistant Professor of History
University of New Mexico


May Ayim (Photo: Orlanda Frauenverlag)

It has been almost twenty-one years since Black German activist, educator, writer, and public intellectual May Ayim died on August 9, 1996 at the age of 36. After facing some personal setbacks and a recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Ayim committed suicide by jumping from her apartment building in Berlin-Kreuzberg. She also suffered from depression, which was often exacerbated by the psychological toil that everyday German racism had on her. Even though Ayim was born and raised by adoptive parents in Germany, some white Germans, including her adoptive parents, continued to harbor racist views that denied her humanity as a Black German citizen in a post-Holocaust society.

Her death shocked her colleagues and friends near and far. From South Africa to the United States, people sent their tributes, in which they recognized how much she inspired them through her writing and spoken word performances. Much like her mentor Caribbean-American poet Audre Lorde, Ayim, too, believed in the “subversive power of lyrical language.”1 As a talented and well-known writer at home and abroad, her poetry and prose served as a form of intellectual activism and as a medium to incite socio-political change. In fact, Ayim derived a key source of political and emotional energy from her writing, which was a constitutive element of her activism.

May Ayim was not unlike other Black diasporic women such as Claudia Jones or the Nardal sisters, producing materials that shaped diasporic culture and politics and that promoted Black intellectualism and internationalism. She integrated diverse styles, such as the Blues, that reflected her wide-ranging interests in and ties to the transnational Black diaspora. Ayim even incorporated West African Adinkra symbols in her first poetry volume blues in schwarz weiss (Blues in Black White) – representing her Ghanaian roots. In the volume, poems such as “afro-deutsch I,” “afro-deutsch II,” “autumn in germany,” “community,” and “soul sister” tackled the themes of identity, difference, community, and marginalization, reflecting her (and other Black Germans’) experiences in Germany.2 She also used her writing to negotiate her Black Germanness and to write herself into German society and the Black diaspora…

Read the entire article here.

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From ADEFRA to Black Lives Matter: Black Women’s Activism in Germany

Posted in Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Social Justice, Women on 2017-07-16 00:18Z by Steven

From ADEFRA to Black Lives Matter: Black Women’s Activism in Germany

Black Perspectives
2017-07-05

Tiffany Florvil, Assistant Professor of History
University of New Mexico


Black Lives Matter activists in Berlin in July 2016 (WOLFRAM KASTL/AFP/Getty)

On Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 4:30pm, a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest took place in Berlin, Germany with thousands of people expressing solidarity and promoting awareness of racial injustice. The event built from the momentum of two BLM marches that occurred last summer. Initially meeting at the 2016 BLM marches, Mic Oala, Shaheen Wacker, Nela Biedermann, Josephine Apraku, Jacqueline Mayen, and Kristin Lein remained in contact and eventually established a Berlin-based multicultural German feminist collective. With their new group and local connections, they planned the 2017 demonstration as a part of a month-long series of events, which included film screenings, poetry readings, workshops, exhibitions, and more.

Taken together, these events highlight the diversity of Black protest and activism within the German context. Using these events, especially the protest, the organizers publicly drew attention to instances of racism and oppression and attempted to gain visibility for Black people in Germany and beyond. The different events as well as the BLM Movement in Berlin represent the conscious efforts of these feminist and anti-racist activists to not only engage in practices of resistance, but to create and own spaces of resistance, solidarity, and recognition within a majority white society. In this way, they demand their “right to the city” and continue to make Germany a critical site for blackness and the African diaspora.


Ika Hügel-Marshall and Audre Lorde (Feminist Wire, Image Credit: Dagmar Schultz)

[Audre] Lorde was a visiting professor teaching courses at the Free University of Berlin (FUB) in 1984, which a few of these women attended. Black German women also cultivated connections to her outside of the classroom. Lorde emboldened Black German women to write their stories and produce and disseminate knowledge about their experiences as women of the African diaspora in Germany. Inspired, Oguntoye, Ayim, and Dagmar Schultz, a white German feminist, produced the volume Farbe bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte in 1986 (later published in 1992 as Showing our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out). The volume helped Black German women and men connect and socialize with one another and forge a dynamic diasporic community after years of isolation in predominantly white settings…

Read the entire article here.

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What is the Black German Experience? A Review of the Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey 2nd Annual Convention

Posted in Articles, Europe, Live Events, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, United States on 2014-08-18 00:35Z by Steven

What is the Black German Experience? A Review of the Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey 2nd Annual Convention

MixedRaceStudies.org
2012-08-17

Steven F. Riley

All photographs ©2012, Steven F. Riley

I received more than a few raised eyebrows after describing the recent trip my wife and I took to attend the Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey’s Second Annual Convention at Barnard College in New York. If you are tempted to believe that being both Black and German is an oxymoron; think again. African and German interactions go back as far as at least 1600. A fact that is unknown to most, Germany played a significant role during the American Civil Rights Movement as described in Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke’s book Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany. Although Black Germans, or rather Afro-Germans, consist of less than 1% of the German population (exact numbers are difficult to determine because German demographics do not track race), they are a growing and vocal segment within Germany and beyond.

Panel Session I: Teaching the Black German Experience – Roundtable Discussion, (Professor Priscilla Layne, Professor Peggy Piesche, Noah Sow and Professor Sara Lennox.) (2012-08-10)

I had the opportunity to experience a bit of this Afro-German experience at the screening of Mo Asumang’s autobiographical film Roots Germania at the BGCSNJ inaugural convention last year here in Washington, D.C. What I saw made me want to learn more.

BGCSNJ President, Rosemarie Peña (2012-08-10) Professor and BGCSNJ Trustee Leroy T. Hopkins (2012-08-11)

This year’s convention ran from August 10 to August 11, 2012 in Barnard’s Diana Center with the exception of the spoken word performances held at the Geothe-Institut’s Wyoming Building in lower Manhattan. I attended most of the sessions which consisted of five panels; a keynote address by Yara Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria; live readings by authors Olumide Popoola and Philipp Kabo Köpsell; a movie screening of the films “Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story” and “Audre Lorde—The Berlin Years 1984-1992;” a dinner banquet; and finally a live performance by author, artist, media personality, musician, playwright, actress, scholar and human rights activist Noah Sow’s band, Noiseaux at the Blue Note.

Olumide Popoola and Professor Peggy Piesche pay close attention during Panel Session II: Historical and Popular Cultures of Blacks in Germany. (2012-08-11)

It is very important to note that the term “Afro-German” is a socio-political term that includes all Germans (or German identified) individuals of African descent. Although most Afro-Germans are what we in the United States might refer to as, “of mixed-parentage” (usually a “white” mother and “black” father), no distinction is made within the Afro-German diaspora between individuals of so-called “mixed” and “non-mixed” parentage. I heard the term “biracial/multiracial” no more than five times during the entire conference. I theorize that this social taxonomy is derived from the desire not to fragment an already tiny group within German society and also create internalized marginalization within an already marginalized group. A further defining of this group identity was made by Noah Sow, near the end of the first panel, “Teaching the Black German Experience,” when she emphasized that the most appropriate terminology, should be the German term, Afrodeutsche, rather than Afro- or Black- German. During her introduction of the keynote speaker, BGCSNJ president Rosemarie Peña obliged, by referring to herself as Afrodeutsche. Time will tell if this label will stick.

Witnessing Our Histories–Reclaiming the Black German Experience. From presentation by Professor Tina Campt. (2012-08-11)

The highlight of the conference was Yara Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria’s keynote address, “In their Best Interest… Afro-German Children in Postwar German Children’s Homes” which explored the plight of so-called “War/Brown/Occupation Babies”—the children born of the union between white German women and Black American GIs after World War II. She described the systematic removal of Afro-German children from their birth families into substandard orphanages or foster homes, where many faced emotional and physical abuse. Her keynote touched on the story of Ika Hügel-Marshall, who describes her saga in her autobiography, Invisible Woman: Growing Up Black in Germany.

Also of note were the two touching presentations by Vera Ingrid Grant, “Ruby Road: An Excerpt from Paper Girl,” and Debra Abell, “Sauerkraut and Black-Eyed Peas” within the panel “Telling Our Stories – Black German Life Writing” which both explored the life experiences of growing up in the United States as children of a white German mother and black American soldier. Lastly, Jamele Watkins’s, “Performing Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park in Germany” within the panel “ Historical and Popular Cultures of Blacks in Germany” explored the representation of blacks within theatrical presentations in Germany and discussed the controversial continued use of blackface by white German actors to represent black people.

Vera Ingrid Grant, “Ruby Road: An Excerpt from Paper Girl” (2012-08-11) Debra Abell, “Sauerkraut and Black-Eyed Peas” (2012-08-11)

One slight disappointment was the poor sound, poor ventilation, poor visibility and poor lighting of the Goethe Institut’s Wyoming Building that was used as a venue for the artist performances (who traveled all the way from Europe). Were they trying to recreate a German U-boat aesthetic? Barnard’s Diana Center Event Oval on Lower Level 1—which was used for all of the panels—would have sufficed nicely. If a smaller venue was needed, the Glicker-Milstein Black Box Theatre on Lower Level 2 would have fit the bill also. I looked forward to what appeared to be an excellent documentary, “Audre Lorde—The Berlin Years 1984-1992,” on the life of American feminist scholar and poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992), who allegedly was the inspiration encouraging Black-German women to “call themselves ‘Afro-German’ and to record ‘their-story’.” Like Lorde, who’s life was sadly cut short due to cancer, the film screening was also sadly cut short about a third of the way in due to a defective DVD.

Philipp Kabo Köpsell ponders his forthcoming anthology while waiting for a turkey burger. (2012-08-11)

Like any excellent conference, the personal interactions can be as fulfilling as the sessions. The BGCSNJ Second Annual Convention was no exception. My Friday and Saturday morning chats at our hotel with Millersville University Professor of German Literature, Leroy T. Hopkins provided me with an insight into the joys and challenges of teaching German literature as a person of color and to students of color. With a declining interest in the German language by students nationwide (largely due to an increased interest in Chinese and Arabic languages), Hopkins is hopeful that Afro-German authors like Köpsell, Popoola and others will publish their works in German to provide more contemporary reading materials for university classrooms.

On an ironic note, I had the pleasure of having a one-on-one conversation over lunch on Saturday with author and spoken word author Philipp Kabo Köpsell about the necessity to write about the Afro-German experience in English. He and others are working on a book project tentatively titled, “Witnessed.”

This conference would not have been possible without the dedicated work of BGCSNJ president Rosemarie Peña and her fellow staff. Rosemarie is a woman who found out—through documentation in 1994 that she “wasn’t who she thought she was” and discovered that her biological father was black, possibly an African American soldier, and her mother was white and a German national. On Wednesday, she reported to me by phone that they are planning for the third annual convention next August.

If you are the least bit interested in the Afrodeutsche experience, I would highly encourage anyone to make plans to attend next year.

©2012, Steven F. Riley

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Meeting with Dagmar Schultz and Ria Cheatom

Posted in Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Women on 2014-06-12 14:20Z by Steven

Meeting with Dagmar Schultz and Ria Cheatom

FemGeniuses: Where feminism meets genius!
2014-05-29

Kaimara Herron

It is only the first week of our stay in Berlin, but it feels like an eternity since my plane took-off from O’Hare. But this is certainly not a complaint. We have had the opportunity to do such amazing things in only a few short days, and we have so much more to do.

This morning, we started the day in the classroom at Frauenkreise to talk with Dagmar Schultz and Ria Cheatom about their film Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, 1984 to 1992, which documents their lives as activists and their work in the Afro-German feminist movement. Melissa began our discussion by asking about Audre Lorde’s experiences living with cancer while continuing to work in Berlin. More specifically, Melissa was interested in Lorde’s use of holistic treatments in Berlin instead of conventional methods to treat her cancer. Dagmar’s response was that Lorde never wanted to stop working because it was, and continues to be, a necessary movement. Dagmar believes Berlin had become Lorde’s replacement for New York City, as her work in Berlin became central in her life…

…As the conversation moved along, we started talking about the first few meetings between Afro-German women and Audre Lorde. Ria offered an anecdote about how she had trouble accepting some of the women who attended these meetings as “real” Afro-Germans because of their really light skin and strong European facial features. The topic of color and skin tone was first brought to my attention while reading a section of May Ayim’s Blues in Black and White: A Collection of Essays, Poetry, and Conversations. In “White Stress/Black Nerves,” she briefly mentions how the benefits of privilege become more complicated when examining the experiences of Black and immigrant women based on skin tone…

Read the entire article here.

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Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey 2012 Annual Convention

Posted in Live Events, Media Archive, United States on 2012-08-07 18:18Z by Steven

Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey 2012 Annual Convention

What is the Black German Experience? History, Performance Popular & Visual Cultures
Barnard College, Columbia University
New York, New York
2012-08-10 through 2012-08-11

Building on the success of the inaugural 2011 conference, the second annual convention of the Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey (BGCSNJ) will be held at Barnard College in New York City on August 10-11, 2012.  This year’s convention will focus on the theme of “What Is the Black German Experience?”

The conference will feature a keynote address, “‘Operation Helping Hands’, African Americans and the Albert-Schweitzer Children’s Home for Mixed-Race Children,” by Yara Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria, screenings of the films “Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story” and “Audre Lorde—The Berlin Years 1984-1992,” and readings by Black German poet-performers Olumide Popoola and Philipp Kabo Köpsell.

Features

  • Teaching the Black German Experience.
  • Historical and Popular Cultures of Blacks in Germany.
  • Visualizing German Blackness.
  • Witnessing Our Histories—Reclaiming the Black German Experience.
  • Telling Our Stories—Black German Life Writing.

For more information, click here.

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Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey 2012 Annual Convention: Call for Papers

Posted in Articles, Europe, Forthcoming Media, United States, Wanted/Research Requests/Call for Papers on 2012-03-12 02:00Z by Steven

Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey 2012 Annual Convention: Call for Papers

Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey
2012-01-31

Building on the success of the inaugural 2011 conference, the second annual convention of the Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey (BGCSNJ) will be held at Barnard College in New York City on August 10-11, 2012.  This year’s convention will focus on the theme of “What Is the Black German Experience?” The conference will feature a keynote address by Yara Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria, screenings of the films “Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story” and “Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984-1992,” and readings by Black German poet-performers Olumide Popoola and Philipp Khabo Köpsell.

The BGCSNJ Review Committee invites proposals for papers that engage the multiplicity and diversity of the experiences of Blacks of German heritage and on Blackness in Germany. We welcome submissions for twenty-minute presentations on three academic panels and two sessions devoted to life writing, oral history and memoir. To participate please send a one-page abstract and a CV or short biographical statement to: bgcsinc@gmail.com. Deadline for proposals: March 15, 2012

For more information, click here.

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Berlin marks Black History Month but the struggle goes on

Posted in Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Social Science, Women on 2012-02-29 03:19Z by Steven

Berlin marks Black History Month but the struggle goes on

Deutsche Welle
2012-02-16

Anne Thomas

Berlin has become more diverse and the situation for Afro-Germans has improved, but it’s still hard to get a job or an apartment. Black History Month highlights the challenges faced by over 2 percent of the population.

A black Portuguese friend of mine once dated an African-American guy she had met in her favorite bar. “We were so surprised to see another black person, we instantly gravitated towards each other,” they told me, laughing. They were able to joke, but for many Afro-Germans, it has been a lonely struggle.

Although I live in Neukölln—reportedly Berlin’s most diverse district with inhabitants from 160 countries—I am always struck by how white the city seems compared to other European capitals. I have never seen a black doctor, civil servant, yoga teacher, ticket collector, bus driver, pharmacist, plumber, policewoman, librarian… Most of the black people I know are from the US, UK, Nigeria, Senegal, Brazil or Portugal.
 
As a white foreigner in Germany, I sometimes find it difficult here and am very aware of my differences. However, I cannot really imagine what it must be like to constantly be considered exotic, just because of a different skin color.

Remembering May Ayim

So this year’s Black History Month in Berlin has been especially fascinating. The Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD) introduced this annual event in 1990, the year of German reunification, which Afro-German poet and activist May Ayim described as a celebration “without immigrants, refugees, Jewish or black people.”

To date, many in Germany maintain the country has a very insignificant colonial history and racism is not an issue. Ayim (1960 – 1996), whose father was Ghanaian and mother German, suffered from this ignorance and co-founded the ISD to change attitudes and work towards a non-racist Germany…

…Introducing Afro-Germans

Micosse-Aikins also praised the fact that Berlin had changed for the better as a result of the work of May Ayim and her fellow panelist, the historian and activist Katharina Oguntoye, who was born in Zwickau to a white German mother and a black Nigerian father.

When Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde arrived in Berlin in 1984, she looked for other black women and found mainly isolated individuals, including Ayim and Oguntuye. She encouraged them to write a book.

“She said we should introduce ourselves to each other and to the world,” recalled Oguntoye, adding that this was an extremely daunting task for two women in their early 20s, but one they felt equipped to perform.

The result was “Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out,” a groundbreaking combination of historical analysis, interviews, personal testimonies and poetry that explored racism in Germany and was published in German in 1986…

Read the entire article here.

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Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story

Posted in Biography, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Videos, Women on 2012-02-28 20:57Z by Steven

Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story

Third World Newsreel
1997
28 minutes
Germany
German with English Subtitles

Maria Binder

A moving documentary about the life and untimely death of Ghanaian-German poet, academic and political personality May Ayim. Ayim was one of the founders of the Black German Movement, and her research on the history of Afro-Germans, but also her political poetry, made her known in Germany and other countries.

Ayim wrote in the tradition of oral poetry and felt a strong connection to other black poets of the diaspora. Poetry gave her an opportunity to confront the white German society with its own prejudices.

Interviews and poems reveal the search for identity, how and why the term Afro-German was introduced. An insightful look at how a young black woman experiences the German reunification.

In the foreword to Ayim’s Blues in Schwarz Weiß (Blues in Black and White), Maryse Conde wrote “… With the unmistakable sound of her voice her poems spoke to me of her, told of others that are like her and yet so unlike her in Germany, in Africa, in America. These poems held passion and irony … In May’s voice I found the echo of other voices from the diaspora.”

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Showing Her Colors: An Afro-German Writes the Blues in Black and White

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Women on 2011-11-22 04:29Z by Steven

Showing Her Colors: An Afro-German Writes the Blues in Black and White

Callaloo
Volume 26, Number 2, Spring 2003
pages 306-319
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2003.0045

Karein Kirsten Goertz, Lecturer of Germanic Language and Literature
University of Michigan

This essay undertakes a detailed analysis of May Ayim’s Blues in Schwarz Weiss and examines her development of what she terms Ayim’s “hybrid language”—an expressive poetic style in which African and German elements are not mutually exclusive but rather two interwoven strands that Ayim brings together to articulate the texture of her identity as a Black German. Goertz contends that Ayim’s use of complex forms of irony and displacement constitutes a sophisticated practice of “defamiliarization” that represents an important new signifying practice in German literary expression.

I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness as I discover you in myself.
Audre Lorde

That bird is wise, look. Its beak, back turned, picks for the present what is best from ancient eyes, then steps forward, on ahead to meet the future, undeterred.
—Kayper-Mensah

Through her poetry, essays and political activism. May Ayim sought to dissolve the socially and politically constructed borders that continued to exist after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. To her, the post-unification “new German solidarity” with its nationalistic rhetoric of Heimat (homeland), Volk (the people) and Vaterland (fatherland) signaled a redrawing of the line between those who were considered part of the German collective and those who were not; the previous ideological and geopolitical faultline between Fast and West was being replaced by a division along ethnic lines. Afro-Germans and other ethnic minorities living in Germany recognized that “the new ‘We’ in ‘this our country’ did and does not make room for everyone.” Rather than feeling summoned by this newly constructed collective identity, they understood it to be a place of confinement or delimitation and exclusion: “ein eingrenzender und ausgrenzender Ort” (Ayim, “Das Jahr” 214). Ayim’s spatial description of the pronoun signals that the repercussions of its limited parameters are real and practical, as well as psychological. Unable to identify with the new definition of the first-person possessive pronoun, she invariably finds herself cast into its second-person negative.

The title poem of Ayim’s first poetry volume, Blues in Schwarz Weiß (Blues in Black and White), published in 1995, traces the process of marginalization along color lines, with German unification as one of its more recent manifestations. To explain the age-old dynamic between black and white, she references the African-American tradition of the blues: during the celebration of German unity, some rejoiced in white, while others mourned on its fringes in black—together they danced to the rhythm of the blues. The blues were born out of the experience of oppression, but, as Angela Davis points out, blues also offers the key to transcending the racial and gender imbalance…

Read or purchase the article here.

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The Blues in Black and White: A Collection of Essays, Poetry, and Conversations

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Women on 2011-07-28 00:18Z by Steven

The Blues in Black and White: A Collection of Essays, Poetry, and Conversations

Africa World Press, Inc.
May 2003
179 pages
ISBN-10: 0865438900; ISBN-13: 978-0865438903

May Ayim (1960-1996)

Translated by Anne Adams, Professor Emeritus in the Africana Studies & Research Center
Cornell University

The ever-engaging work of the controversial activist/writer, May Ayim, covers a fascinating range of themes: biography, politics, love as well as the absurdities of everyday life. Her unique ability to passionately transform diverse subject matters into poetic language is revealed in this important collection of translated pieces. Her play with language is effective and at times transformative, as it expresses and exposes dangerous stereotypes and messages hidden in the everyday use of language and human behavior. Here, her readers will be surprised and frequently confronted with Ayim’s keen and powerful observations of the complexities of life and the compelling richness of humor and irony within them.

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