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Diaspora and Afro-German population

Herman L. Bennett

I am particularly interested in presenting some of my preliminary observations related to my research on diaspora and nation in relationship to the Afro-German population, though not at the exclusion of other ethnic, racial and cultural groupings. To begin I want to historicize the existing German literature on the Afro-German population since 1945. Following this survey, I intend to use census material, autobiographies, interviews and ethnographic techniques in order to map the Afro-German presence from 1945 to the present. But the post-1945 period did not represent uniformity in German racial formation or in the temporality of Afro-German subjectivity. Indeed disjuncture characterized the subjectivities embedded under the rubric ‘Afro-German.’

I am intent on examining the shifting
meaning of ‘black’ (Farbig) in Germany’s racial formation between 1945 and the present. How, for instance, did the limited nature of the de-nazification campaign shape attitudes towards the Afro-German presence at regional and local levels?

Building on the work of Maria Höhn, I explore how attitudes changed during the nineteen sixties leading up to German reunification. Turning toward the consciousness of Afro-Germans what attitudes prevailed among persons identified as “Farbig”? What attitudes were extended to Africans, Afro-Americans and other Afro-Europeans? But rather than privilege exteriority as the unit of analysis, I bring manifestations of interiority into the conversation of the domain of race relations. In doing so, I find it critical to identify myself as an Afro-German. In making this intervention I do so with the painful awareness that this presence has been denied in the nationalist narrative and remains deeply embedded in a politics of recovery. In naming myself, I am committed to disrupting the authority of the nationalist narrative to deny the Afro-German presence and render the social relations that produced us a national shame.

I am also interested in discerning how diasporic sites within the German nation enable an ambiguous consciousness. My intent is not simply to document the existence of segregated immigrant communities and diasporic consciousness. While labor markets and peculiar manifestations of racism shaped settlement patterns, the cultural institutions and ethnic consciousness emanating from this process cannot simply be seen as reactive to cultural chauvinism. In fact, my project questions the social theoretical assumption informing immigration studies and German history, the idea that cultural production among hyphenated Germans is merely reactive. A methodological willingness to look at cultural production and its innovativeness in a context framed by the local and the global is bound to elicit new understandings of diasporic cultural formation and ethnic consciousness.

Nassy Brown, a scholar of the black presence in Liverpool noted as much when cautioning against simply projecting ‘a feeling of displacement’ on diasporic communities. According to Brown “it is not…to suggest that migrants do not long for home or do not feel displaced. I want simply to point to the fact that, despite the growth of an exciting literature on diaspora in the last ten years or so, there is a steadfast reliance on a staid set of premises that constitute feelings of loss and displacement from one’s distant homeland and ancestral culture as the only kind of diasporic subjectivity and desire.”

For this endeavor and the aforementioned questions, source material—primary and secondary—exists in abundance. I have begun to delve into the various archives of the state of Hessen which overlapped with the US Army’s Vth Corp. Indeed Hessen (Frankfurt, Hanau, Wiesbaden, and their environs) which constitute the core of my project. From the 1960s until German re-unification, a large number of U.S. Army troops were located in the state of Hessen and their presence had serious social and cultural consequences critical for my project. Identifying and materializing the diasporic archives—themselves reservoirs of the “diasporic public spheres”—in Germany will be one of my primary conceptual and methodological contributions.


As a scholar of racial formations and diasporas in the Atlantic world, I bring historical methods to bear on this project. In exploring the complex relationship between nation and diaspora, my familiarity with borderlands, contact zones, movement cultures, cultural encounters, race, ethnicity, creolization, and hybridity positions me to contribute in a meaningful way to the scholarship of contemporary Germany and the New Europe. As a result, “Diaspora: Before and Beyond the Nation” will speak to many different disciplines and current problems in policy. Also my understanding of the German scholarly profession suggests that this project would be of great interest to a significant body of German academics working on immigrants, nationality, the nation-state, and history. For specialist this project will also have a lot to offer on culture formation, ethnicity and movement cultures in the context of the nation, nationalism and history writing. We need a more complex understanding of people so our policies in terms of schools and access to government programs are not predicated on older ideas of how ethnicity, race, and nation operate.

Simply put, diaspora introduces a more complex way for policy analyst to think about ethnicity and culture in relation to the contemporary German nation.

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