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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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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Exhibition brings black Germans’ stories to light

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Social Science on 2012-11-10 17:21Z by Steven

Exhibition brings black Germans’ stories to light

DW
2012-11-09

Helen Whittle

An exhibit gives voice to the histories of Africans, African-Americans and Afro-Germans from the past 300 years of German history. It presents a differentiated perspective on the lives and histories of blacks in Germany.

Asked what comes to mind when they think about Germany, many foreigners conjure up stereotypical images of Oktoberfest, the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall.

But these images of Teutonic culture and society do little to reflect the diversity of the contemporary, multiethnic Federal Republic of Germany where one fifth of the population has an ethnic minority background, according to an exhibition that opened Saturday (3.11.2012) at Cologne’s Alte Feuerwache.

Jonas Behre, director at the Initiative for Black People in Germany (ISD), helped organize the exhibit titled “Homestory Deutschland: Black Biographies from History and the Present” and which provides a collective self-portrait, giving voice to the complex and varied histories of Africans, African-Americans and Afro-Germans from the past three centuries of German history.

“Even though black people have lived in Germany for hundreds of years, it is not viewed as a reality of everyday life,” said Behre, who was born in Eritrea but has lived for virtually all of his life in Germany. “And that can be seen in the discrimination and exclusion in daily life, and that’s what we hope to tackle with this exhibition.”…

…Another of the biographies illuminated in the exhibition is that of Afro-German actor, journalist and activist Theodor Wonja Michael. Born in Hamburg in 1925, Michael is Germany’s oldest living Afro-German. His father moved from Cameroon—then a German colony—to Germany in 1904.

Denied access to higher education on the basis of skin color, he would have liked to have become an archeologist or an ethnologist. But as a young man, one of the few possibilities he had to earn a living wage was as an actor in colonial films or “Völkerschauen”—the ethnological expositions or “human zoos” popular in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

After the end of the Second World War, Michael found it hard to get work he managed to get work as an actor of the theater stage.

Michael remembers how his father always felt it was his natural right to live in Germany and how this attitude remains integral to own perspective on life as an Afro-German today.

“Afro-German means that one has two backgrounds, namely an African one and a German one,” Michael said. “I think it’s an advantage having an insight into two cultures. I see it as a very positive thing.”…

Read the entire article here.

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