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…

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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 HĂĽgel-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…

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