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Traveling through “Black” Bodies and Finding the German Nation

Damani J. Partridge

In this paper, I will examine the ways in which idioms of “Blackness” circulate after Auschwitz, and how these idioms become instrumental to the process of the post-Wall German unification. I want to think through representations and appropriations of “Black” male and female bodies as vehicles for this unification. I will do this by analyzing the specific East and West German material and aesthetic appropriations of “Black” bodies and then move to the moment of unification itself with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent project of re-nationalization. Here, I take seriously the “African-American” military presence in West Germany as well as the socialist brotherhood/sisterhood in East Germany that actively pursued African laborers (among others) from places such as Angola and Mozambique.

In this paper, I want to think further through post-Wall asylum politics as a type of “Africanized” reframing, not exclusively, but in terms of an imagination that defines Germaness against “Blackness” and consequently suggests that asylum is one of the only ways in which “Africans” can legally enter into the new country. Notably, it is with unification and the fall of the Berlin Wall that possibilities of asylum are severely diminished both in Germany and in Europe.

While this paper begins with representations as a way of approaching “Blackness” in contemporary Germany (and Europe), in the end, I will link representations of “Black” bodies to their material manifestations and argue that one must go back and forth between the material and the aesthetic in order to really understand the processes of subject formation that produces “Black” subjects as non-German, but nevertheless necessary for German unification—either by demonstrating German generosity through its asylum policy (even if it is now more limited) or the relatively receptive response to African-American troops (particularly directly after World War II) when compared to the legal exclusion in the United States Jim crow south. In this paper, taking from my extensive ethnographic research in contemporary Germany, I will bring the voices of contemporary “Black” subjects to bear on the post-War and post-Unification scene I describe, either as “Black” people in Germany, or as “Black Germans.” Finally, in a reverse move, I will think European belonging through the lenses of “Black” desire.

The paper that I will write for the conference, if selected, is related to a larger project entitled “Becoming Non-Citizens: Technologies of Exclusion and Exclusionary Incorporation after Auschwitz,” in which I critically examines the links between the end of Auschwitz, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and contemporary modes of exclusion via discourses of "Freedom" and "Human Rights." In this work, I explicitly link national and supranational law to modes of the everyday regulation and production of bodily and social practices in places such as dance clubs (where "White" German women go to meet "Black" men), public schools (in which many of the students and some of the teachers are Muslim and wear headscarves), and asylum camps. The work centers on the experiences of former labor migrants (from Turkey, Vietnam, Mozambique and Angola) and other racialized subjects (such as “African-Germans”) just as the Wall was falling, and one began to imagine (and then carry out) unification between East and West Germany.

If selected, I would be particularly interested in adding to the framing and development of the workshop topic: “Empirical Research: Subjects and Objects.” Some of the additional questions I would raise are as follows: What is the relationship between European “Blackness” and European Otherness more broadly? What new types of interventions can be imagined in the re-politicization of “Blackness” in the contemporary European scene? How does this re-politicization work in relation to “Turkish,” “Asian” and other marginalized European subjects, particularly when they also imagine themselves as the “Blacks of Europe”? What spaces do new immigration policies in places like Germany open up for a re-thinking of European belonging? How are political and cultural groups in the contemporary era using this possibility?

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