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"Race", Culture and Black Germanian Identity in the age of Global Media Communication

Robert Ajani

What became of the Black People of Sumer?,” the traveller asked the old man, “for ancient records show that the people of Summer were Black. What happened to them?” “Ah,” the old man sighed. “They lost their history, so they died.
A Sumer Legend

It has been shown that national cultures construct peoples identities, by producing the meaning of a “nation“, that people can identify with, but essentially these are “imagined communities“ (Anderson 1988). Thus, like all parts of the world, Western Europe does not have any nation that consists of a people, culture or ethnicity. Hence, “All modern nations are culturally hybrid“ (Hall 2000: 201ff.) The current knowledge in modern biology also makes genetical difference – the last refuge of the racist ideology - insufficient to differentiate people from one another (Appiah 1988) The term “Race“ in this paper therefore, is a discursive and not a biological category. Nonetheless, national cultures in which we are born belong in the modern world to the main source of our cultural identity, but these are not literally stamped in our genes. Still, some people will even want to kill and die in the name of national identity. Identity then becomes a way of “endowing ourselves with significance“. The thesis that claims that the dualistic concept of culture as simply natural remains a wishful-thinking. Contemporary social science establishes that: “Every human identity is constructed; every one has its share of false presuppositions , of the errors and inaccuracies that courtesy calls ´myth,` religion ´heresy,` and science ´magic.` Invented biologies, invented cultural affinities come with every identity; each is a kind of role that has to be scripted, structured by conceptions of narrative to which the world never quite manages to conform” (Appiah 1992: 174).

This is definitely not proposing genocide or the destruction of nations, but in the real world of practical politics, of everyday alliances and popular mobilisations, a rejections of “races” and nations in theory can be part of a programme of self empowerment, only if it could be shown that more than those usual old particularisms – of “race,” tribe or other modes of self-invention that the world has inherited – fit the common partern of relying on less than the literal truth. “Race” and national history are falsehoods at best at – at worst – dangerous ones, more so because it often seen by its members as natural, as “real.” Another set of stories could build identities through which more productive alliances could enable Blacks emancipation and self determination. And recognising the constructedness of the history of identities – though seem to many incompatible – will increase the possibility of Black visibility as an optically, if not numerically, powerful minority in Germany. This premise is the point of departure for this project.

Be that as it may, the century-long history of Black Germanians (use here as a theoretical construct) stands in sharp contrast to its political and academic negligence and their almost complete absence in the societal communication system. Yet a few individuals have achieved some renown, for instance Wilhelm Anton Amoo, 18th century professor of philosophy at the University of Halle (Martin P. 1993, S.313), nationally known entertainer even Roberto Blanco and football star Gerald Asmoah to mention a few. But the history of the majority of Black Germans like the Afro-Germans sterilized under National Socialism is completely forgotten (Oguntoye 1997) . Little attention is also paid to the contributions and achievements of Blacks and their descendants who started to show up in Germany after the Second World War nor is there any serious academic treatment of the so called 94.000 uneheliche ”Besatzungskinder” (Opitz 1992, S. 85ff). Little wonder that most Germans lack knowledge about their own indigenous Black minority, and more about Afro-Americans.

Still, with new migrations in the wake of increasing globalisation, more Black people than ever are at home in Germany since 1967 with a population of about 300.611 (Bpb 2003, Statistisches Bundesamt-Ausländer nach der Staatsangehörigkeit). But these new populations are neither taken into account in terms of their contributions, except of course their political and social consequences as scape goats for social problems like unemployment and crimes.

Since the various Black populations in Germany are increasingly subjected to the same conditions (and confront an ever more homogeneous image of a Europe which up to now has excluded its non-white residents), a critical study of this population is of crucial scholarly importance and urgently demands an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach. Having said this, Black peoples may be regarded as the least respected group of minority in the western hemisphere, but one cannot over look the fact that there is a certain improvement in the level of inclusiveness. Blacks are becoming more visible in the German audio-visual and print media as never before. Hardly an episode of the highest viewership (Einschaltquote) programme “Wetten Das” is completed without a black pop singer, footballer or actor appearing on the show. This is not surprising considering the remarkable contribution of this people to the modern culture of sports, music and entertainment, indeed to the civilisation. It is their contribution in particular that must not be allowed to go undocumented, in spite of the low level of most Black Germanians in this society.

In this century, no serious scientific theory or experiment will deny black humanity today. Though Blacks´ access to the mainstream is still very limited, still, there is a remarkable, though insignificant, dynamic in the German society towards the inclusion of Blacks. Remarkable here is the Black Media Congress that been sponsored since 2003 by the Federal department for political education (BpB), the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the various government sponsored exhibitions about black people and cultures. It is these various efforts of the blacks and the several societal forces that we will try to examine and document. Event the on-going process of establishing a Black Studies Programme at the University of Mainz attests to this fact. Twenty first century therefore provides a kind of opportunity for Black self rehabilitation of their history, contributions, achievement, empowerment and final emancipation. The issue of self empowerment and radical emancipation in the age of global media communication and postmodernism is the crust of this paper.

Possible Hypotheses

  • 1 Racism, though still ubiquitous, is not as blatant and brutal (d.h. die allgemeine Schwarze Phobie und Ablehnung in der Öffentlichkeit) as we used to know. The blacks have never had it so good with the general social possibilities of the time. Hence, one can say with some reservations that it is the black century in Germany.

  • 2 By deploying racism always as a ready explanation for all forms of social disadvantage for black people, incapacitate the blacks themselves as an agent of their perpetual history and future – there is various social agenda and trends that are gradually but surely eroding the significance of race.

  • Research Object

    Since the late 1990s, individual black Germans have earned positions higher within white society than any person black or white could have dreamed possible in the 1930s up to the middle of 1990s. The focus will be on Black people and the presentation of their daily lives in the media and in general public. This work also intends to expatiate and show the steady dynamics of media in the globalisation process and the possible new conditions for the empowerment of the Black Germanians. In the process the project shall try to provide a socially pragmatic concept of culture, identity and strategy for emancipation in the multicultural, media society of modern Germany.

    Research AIM

    The aim here is to recognise the signs of the time and to take advantage of a new climate, where racism is becoming less obvious, by developing and conducting a study based on empirical quantitative methods to investigate self-perceptions of Black people and stereotypes about Black populations in the country. This exploration is not to be restricted to questions of how Black population are seen by White people (stereotypes) and how Black people see themselves (self-perception) but also to investigate how Black people think they are seen by White people (meta-stereotypes). It is hoped that this project will be seen as a scholarly work that attempt to chronicle, organise, and analyse the relationship between Black Germanians and mainstream media in Germany. With the intention of exposing the new generation of media professionals to the importance of multicultural inclusion of Blacks in all aspects of public communication.

    Research Questions

    How far have Blacks come in overcoming discrimination or how far do they still have to go in their various efforts and struggles for justice and democratic equality in Germany?

    Empirical Study

    Basically the empirical research will be based on the self-other-perceptions of black populations in Germany. How do the Blacks see themselves and if progress has been made in the society in the areas that concern them most, namely discrimination and rejection or denial of admittance to societal participation. Adequate research instruments (like questionnaire, expert interview, and comparative content analysis of various media genres and contents) will be employed to examine samples of Black and White populations in Germany. Categories such as gender, age and class will also be considered.

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