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  • Blackness as a Universal Claim: Holocaust Heritage, Noncitizen Futures and Black Power in Berlin by Damani J. Partridge
  • Jessica R. Greenberg
Damani J. Partridge. Blackness as a Universal Claim: Holocaust Heritage, Noncitizen Futures and Black Power in Berlin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2023. 238 pp.

What kind of belonging is possible outside liberal, democratic frameworks and the anti-Blackness, violent bordering practices, and migrant exclusion in which they are implicated? What does solidarity outside of citizenship look like, and how and where can people rehearse and enact it? And can Blackness provide repertoires for building spaces for alternative universality outside the enlightenment logics of the (European) nation-state? These are the questions that Damani Partridge takes up in his elegantly written and powerful new book Blackness as a Universal Claim: Holocaust Heritage, Noncitizen Futures, and Black Power in Berlin (2023).

Partridge draws on long-term research in Germany to analyze the limits of inclusion in the context of German memory politics, citizenship, democracy, and nation-state belonging. The research zeros in on the author's engagement with a migrant theater in Berlin, documentary film production, and the analysis of popular aesthetic culture in Germany to chart the possibilities for a Black universality, or the conditions for imagining alternative forms of collective belonging grounded in capacious anti-racist commitments to liberation. Partridge is careful to argue for a situational understanding of who and how one works within the framework of Black universality—a position that requires attention to the limits and hierarchies that can shape the language of solidarity (Chapter 7, Conclusion). If Black liberation offers an alternative to that of abstract, liberal enlightenment and another possibility for being (124), it ought not be easy to claim or [End Page 183] appropriate. Rather, "Centering Blackness…must be linked directly and consistently to the struggles of Black people" (124). Moral superiority, guilt, and pity are antithetical to such a politics (Chapters 4, 7). Rather, it is in the praxis and labor of social change that solidarity is possible.

The text is divided into three parts. Part I, Occupying Blackness deals with the history of the occupying American presence in post-war Germany. Partridge demonstrates the ways in which Germans channeled a post-war desire for democracy through the figure of the Black GI. Focusing on film and popular culture (Chapter 2), he argues that Blackness became a site of desire and identification, as Germans distanced themselves from the then-recent Nazi past. Twinned experiences of Black GI presence in popular culture and the access GIs mediated to American consumer power shaped new social imaginaries for Germans as an "occupying presence" (30). Partridge shows how this new imaginary became a site for claimsmaking in the post-war period—further deepening the links between Blackness and post-war ideals of freedom and social transformation (Chapter 3). These imaginaries coexisted with racism and exclusion. But they set the stage for the possibility of Blackness as a form of political identification open to those who might claim it through artistic and aesthetic experimentation. This was especially important for Turkish German artists and filmmakers who saw Blackness as a means of reformulating belonging in Germany beyond national and racialized nation-state categories.

Part II, Holocaust Memory and Exclusionary Democracy explores the linkages between memorialization and the building of a postwar German democratic state. Exclusionary democracy points to the ways in which post-war, liberal European democracy was tied to German accountability, even as it continued to reinforce constitutive exclusions along racialized lines. Drawing on earlier ethnographic work, Partridge shows how Holocaust memory practices became central to German democratization, while continuing to elide ongoing forms of (post)colonial and racial violence in the present. Focusing on the relationship between accountability and memorialization (Chapter 4), he argues that "setting the Shoah as standard for what should never happen again contributes to a monumentalization of an antiracist, anti-anti-semitic logic that solidifies the legitimacy of Europe and European nation-states while still excluding Others in practices" (70). Partridge, alongside other scholars of "multidirectional memory" (Rothberg 2009) and "touch" as a practice of empathy and being moved (Adelson 2005), argues for a more expansive approach to memory...