Being Black: Still a multi-front struggle

Posted in Africa, Articles, Biography, Europe, History, Media Archive on 2017-12-05 01:19Z by Steven

Being Black: Still a multi-front struggle

DW
2017-04-07


Theodor Wonja Michael

A particular excerpt of the DW documentary “Afro.Germany” went viral: the touching testimony of one of the oldest Afro-Germans born in Berlin. Here’s what can be learned from social media users’ hundreds of reactions.

“I am an African – I didn’t even know Cameroon and Togo were German colonies,” said one social media user, reacting to an online video clip about the life and times of Theodor Wonja Michael, one of Germany’s oldest contemporary witnesses.

The clip is an excerpt from “Afro.Germany,” a documentary project by Deutsche Welle, which aims to chronicle the diversity of Black experiences in Germany and challenge the historical amnesia surrounding Germany’s colonial past.

The video narrates Michael’s extraordinary experiences as a Black person in Germany.

Born in Berlin in 1925, Michael was forced to act in “human zoos” during his childhood. He survived the Nazi era and later became an actor and author

A further challenge: fluid identities

However, subsequent analysis by researchers such as E. P. Johnson, has drawn attention to the more troubling implications of Black identity politics.

Black pride can inadvertently promote the problematic notion of Black authenticity – that is to say, it can construct an image of the the “real Blacks” and the “real” Black experience, to which the individuals must conform and relate. This line of thinking can hinder efforts geared towards separating identity from race.

For example, one commentator insisted on referring to Michael as “mixed-race” and denounced the acceptance of “trans-racial crap.”

Race does not define us, but it does influence our experience of the world. Needless to say, “Black” includes a spectrum of peoples whose experience of race varies depending on the interaction of other factors, such as class, culture, gender, nationality, etc. For many people, race is not a black and white issue, but a multi-front struggle for inclusion in their “own” communities.

“My mother was French, my father was American […] Being light skinned, I fought blacks because I wasn’t dark enough. I fought whites because I was colored. Fought Spanish, Puerto Ricans because they said I was a ‘wanna be’ and fake,” said one commentator…

Read the entire article here.

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Black German: An Afro-German Life in the Twentieth Century

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Europe, History, Media Archive, Monographs on 2017-03-07 18:32Z by Steven

Black German: An Afro-German Life in the Twentieth Century

Liverpool University Press
2017-03-01
216 Pages
210 x 147 mm
29 B&W illustrations
Paperback ISBN: 9781781383117

Theodor Michael

Translated by:

Eve Rosenhaft, Professor of German Historical Studies
University of Liverpool

This is the first English translation of an important document in the history of the black presence in Germany and Europe: the autobiography of Theodor Michael. Theodor Michael is the last surviving member of the first generation of ‘Afro-Germans’: Born in Germany in 1925 to a Cameroonian father and a German mother, he grew up in Berlin in the last days of the Weimar Republic. As a child and teenager he worked in circuses and films and experienced the tightening knot of racial discrimination under the Nazis in the years before the Second World War. He survived the war as a forced labourer, founding a family and making a career as a journalist and actor in post-war West Germany. Since the 1980s he has become an important spokesman for the black German consciousness movement, acting as a human link between the first black German community of the inter-war period, the pan-Africanism of the 1950s and 1960s, and new generations of Germans of African descent.

Theodor Michael’s life story is a classic account of coming to consciousness of a man who understands himself as both black and German; accordingly, it illuminates key aspects of modern German social history as well as of the post-war history of the African diaspora. The text has been translated by Eve Rosenhaft, Professor of German Historical Studies at the University of Liverpool and an internationally acknowledged expert in black German studies. It is accompanied by a translator’s preface, explanatory notes, a chronology of historical events and a guide to further reading, so that the book will be accessible and useful both for general readers and for undergraduate students.

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Black History Month in Germany

Posted in Articles, Europe, Media Archive on 2014-02-26 16:59Z by Steven

Black History Month in Germany

German Mission to the United States
2014-02-14

In the United States February has been celebrated as Black History Month for the past four decades or so, with schools, media, institutions and celebrities taking the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments and historical experiences of African Americans. In recent years, Germany has joined a number of other countries, namely Canada and the UK, with its own Black History Month events.

In Germany, people with a black African background use the term “Afrodeutsch” or “Schwarz” to identify themselves. Their ethnic backgrounds are varied: many are immigrants or children of immigrants from African countries, some with one white German parent; others are the children or descendants of black US soldiers who were stationed in Germany as far back as the 1950s. It is impossible to say how many black Germans there are, however; in 2008, Spiegel magazine used the number 500,000, though ethnicity is not officially counted.

The proportion to the overall German population is thus quite small, but with Black History Month events, a number or organizations are raising the profile of black people in Germany. Hamburg and Berlin, commonly recognized as the cities with the largest black communities, are the cities with the largest and most long-standing Black History Month celebrations. In both cities, the organization Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative of Black People in Germany) was instrumental in organizing the first celebrations in the early 90s…

Read the entire article here.

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Breath of Freedom

Posted in Europe, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States, Videos on 2014-02-15 21:24Z by Steven

Breath of Freedom

The Smithsonian Channel
Premieres Monday, 2014-02-17 20:00 EST

Narrated by Cuba Gooding Jr.

They fought to liberate Germany from Nazi rule, as racism reached unfathomable levels. Their fight would continue back home on American soil. This is the story of the one-million-plus African Americans who fought in World War II. Discover their encounters with hatred, from the enemy and from within their own ranks. Explore this paradoxical chapter in American history through interviews with war heroes, including Colin Powell, Tuskegee ace pilot Roscoe Brown, and Charles Evers, brother of Civil Rights activist and WWII veteran Medgar Evers. [The documentary also features Theodor Michael, author of Deutsch sein und schwarz dazu: Erinnerungen eines Afro-Deutschen [Being German and also Being Black: Memoirs of an Afro-German].]

Watch the exclusive premiere here.

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Editorial January 2014: On Reading Two Recent Memoirs by Afro-Germans

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive on 2014-01-18 04:08Z by Steven

Editorial January 2014: On Reading Two Recent Memoirs by Afro-Germans

The Collegium for African American Research (CAAR)
January 2014

Gundolf Graml, Associate Professor of German and Director of German Studies
Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia

Two recent memoirs by German authors with an African connection emphasize that German history cannot be written without including the histories and perspectives of black Germans (as well as that of many other non-white people).

In Deutsch sein und Schwarz dazu [Being German and also Being Black], published in 2013 with Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, author Theodor Michael takes a long and probing look back at his experiences as a black German. Born in 1925 to a white German mother from the Eastern Prussian provinces and a black Cameroonian father, Michael’s childhood and youth coincided with the decline of the democratic German Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism.

In a low key style Michael recollects his participation in the infamous Völkerschauen [colonial peoples exhibits] organized by circusses and zoos. He describes his attempts to get by as hotel page and as extra in some of the Third Reich’s anti-British colonial films. And he details the toll that life under the Nuremberg race laws took on his body and mind. While his siblings managed to get out of Germany, Theodor Michael stayed behind, spending the last years of the regime as a forced laborer in a factory outside of Berlin, where he survived the war. After liberation, he managed to get into the Western zone, where he then tried to rebuild his life…

…Jennifer Teege’s memoir, Amon: Mein Großvater hĂ€tte mich erschossen [Amon: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me], published in 2013 with Rowohlt Verlag, addresses the topic from the perspective of the second postwar generation of Germans. Teege, born in 1970 to a white German mother and a Nigerian father, grew up in an orphanage and later was adopted by a white middle-class German family. Decades later she finds out that her mother’s father, her grandfather, was Amon Göth, the concentration commander of Plaszow near Krakow, whose brutality and inhumanity are depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. For Teege, who has lived in Israel for several years and worked with Holocaust survivors, the sudden discovery of a biological connection to one of the most infamous Nazi perpetrators was surpassed only by the shock that the grandmother to whom she has been attached so closely was Göth’s girlfriend and one of his most ardent defenders…

Read the entire review of the books here.

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Deutsch sein und schwarz dazu: Erinnerungen eines Afro-Deutschen [Being German and also Being Black: Memoirs of an Afro-German]

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Europe, History, Media Archive, Monographs on 2014-01-17 17:46Z by Steven

Deutsch sein und schwarz dazu: Erinnerungen eines Afro-Deutschen [Being German and also Being Black: Memoirs of an Afro-German]

Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag
November 2013
200 pages
Hardback ISBN: ISBN 978-3-423-26005-3
ePub ISBN: 978-3-423-42033-4
eBook ISBN: 978-3-423-42034-1

Theodor Michael

Theodor Michaels Autobiografie ist so aberwitzig, dass sie erfunden sein könnte, wenn sie nicht allzu wahr wĂ€re. Er entfaltet in â€șDeutsch sein und schwarz dazuâ€č eine Welt, die man so nicht gekannt hat, beschrieben von einem Mann, den man fĂŒr seine Kraft, das alles zu bewĂ€ltigen, nur bewundern kann, und dafĂŒr, dass es ihm gelungen ist, die Menschlichkeit zu bewahren. Theodor Michael erzĂ€hlt ganz nĂŒchtern, aber die Ereignisse sprechen fĂŒr sich.

Der LebensrĂŒckblick des schwarzen deutschen Zeitzeugen Theodor Michael

Theodor Michael wurde 1925 in Berlin als Sohn einer Deutschen und eines Kameruners geboren wurde. Als sein Vater nach Deutschland kam, war Kamerun noch deutsches Schutzgebiet, sprich Kolonie. Afrikaner wurden in Deutschland ganz freundlich aufgenommen. Nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg waren die Kolonien verloren und das Klima wurde deutlich unfreundlicher. Man fand, die Schwarzen sollten den Deutschen keine ArbeitsplĂ€tze wegnehmen. Aber in den sehr beliebten Völkerschauen kamen sie noch unter, die “Artfremden” mit dem “negroiden Einschlag”. Sogar in der Nazi-Zeit, als Statisten in den Ă€ußerst beliebten Kolonialfilmen. Doch dann landeten sie im KZ oder in Zwangsarbeiterlagern. So erging es auch Theodor Michael: Nachdem seine Eltern starben, schlug er sich als Page, Portier und Komparse durch, bis er 1943, mit 18 Jahren, in einem Zwangsarbeiterlager interniert wurde.

Deutsch sein und schwarz dazuâ€č hat Theodor Michael in der Vergangenheit viele Probleme bereitet

Theodor Michael hat das alles ĂŒberstanden, um dann nach Kriegsende feststellen zu mĂŒssen, dass er der Kollaboration verdĂ€chtigt wurde, weil er ĂŒberlebt hatte. Damals hĂ€tte er es sich nicht trĂ€umen lassen, dass er einmal als Regierungsdirektor beim BND in den Ruhestand gehen wĂŒrde.

Seit seiner Pensionierung engagiert er sich fĂŒr die afro-deutsche Gemeinde und ist ein gefragter Ansprechpartner fĂŒr die Presse.

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