- Not so Plain as Black and White: Afro-German Culture and History, 1890–2000
Today’s Afro-German community in Germany numbers about five hundred thousand people, and even if this figure is much smaller in comparison to other minorities, it is the largest number of Afro-Germans ever recorded in the country. Not only the growth in numbers, but also the persistence of patterns of racial discrimination and violence has led to the emergence of self-confident Afro-German voices that comment on the living conditions of that community. Simultaneously, the field of Afro-German studies has expanded in various disciplines, ever since the path-breaking 1986 publication of Farbe bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, 1992). The anthology adds to this growing field of study by bringing together contributions from disciplines such as history, literature, film studies, women’s studies, and Africana studies.
The introduction by the editors briefly reviews the history of Afro-Germans as a specific group, both in Germany and its colonial territories, sketches the emergence of Afro-German studies, and discusses the contemporary situation. The individual essays are presented in two clusters. Part 1 provides a historical perspective and investigates racist and racializing policies and practices as they were introduced and carried out in the colonies and at home. Fatima El-Tayeb highlights the persistence of institutionalized biological racism that impedes the legal, social, and cultural acceptance of Afro-Germans as Germans. Krista Molloy O’Donnell discusses the historical context and impact of racial policy in German Southwest Africa, particularly with regard to the fate of Afro-German children. Tina M. Campt’s essay analyzes institutionalized racism and the public debate over the status of mixed-race black German citizens.
Part 2 explores cultural representations and self-representations of Afro- Germans. Three articles focus on German film: Tobias Nagl reviews the presence of the actors, such as Louis Brody, in German film before 1945; Heide Fehrenbach discusses the function of images of black Germans in 1950s West German films; [End Page 171] and Randall Halle acknowledges recent antiracist representational practices in film. Leroy Hopkins provides an overview of Afro-German literature since 1985, and Anne Adams explores various facets of the institutional organization and history of the Afro-German community over the past twenty years.
Selecting Russell A. Berman to write the foreword to this anthology strikes this reviewer as an unexpected choice; after all, Russell Berman has worked hard to gloss over the Enlightenment’s racist legacy. Not surprisingly, his contribution to the volume stands apart and is disconnected from the trajectory of the anthology.
Until recently, German Studies limited its analysis of racism primarily to the study of anti-Semitism, but over the past few years, a burst of publications has successfully enabled the interlinking of colonial, Nazi, and contemporary racializing practices, and the anthology under review successfully partakes in uncovering the long-standing mechanisms of racist discrimination. I would like to add only one caveat: the singular focus on race at times precludes the unearthing of additional racist and exclusionary parameters, such as cultural racism, civilizationism, modernizationism, and religiously based discrimination, which work in tandem with biological racism to effect the exclusion of Afro-Germans and Africans from mainstream German society. All in all, however, this anthology advances our understanding of exclusionary practices and the history of institutionalized biological racism in modern Germany. It also pays tribute to the growing corpus of complex and challenging texts and films produced by Afro-Germans and to the degree to which the community has become networked and vocal in significant ways. [End Page 172]