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German identities through films, newspapers, photographs and advertisements

Tiffany Nicole Florvil

I believe the BEST-Black European Studies Conference will provide me with the perfect opportunity to network with other scholars who work with African Diaspora in Europe and also participate in this emerging dialogue. From the voyages of discovery (fifteenth-century) to the present, an ethnic hierarchy, which influences the color/racial hierarchy in Germany, has existed. Under the Third Reich, German anti-Semitism manifested an extreme vision of its racial hierarchies. This racism also extended to Slavs, Poles, Gypsies and Africans, who were perceived as biologically, culturally, and intellectually inferior to Germans. Since Germany established a colonial presence in the nineteenth century, Africans and Germans of African descent in both the colonies and metropole have maintained low positions on the ethnic ladder in Germany.
Residuals and fragmented discourses from the Nazi era remained in Germany during the post World War II period, and occasionally, German national identity was often equated with notions of (Aryan) superiority and whiteness. The ethnic hierarchy contributes to the color/racial hierarchy and dictates the roles and lives of German minorities, which often includes Jews, Poles, and Slavs who are also ethnically white. Due to the lack of white homogeneity and unity in Germany, Jews, Poles and Slavs were able to displace their prejudices and oppression onto Africans and Afro-Germans and continue to abhor and exclude them. As a result, the conceptualization of whiteness in Germany became complicated by ethnicity, religion, and class.

Although the conceptualizations of race and nationality in Germany have shifted throughout the years, my current interest involves the racialized cultural manifestations of German identities through films, newspapers, photographs and advertisements, and how these cultural productions profoundly influenced Afro-German identities, especially during the post-World War II period. Through these productions, Germans constructed the identity of Afro-Germans, also referred to as the so-called Occupation Babies, and made them “outsiders within.” Despite the lack of a collective national German identity during the post-World War II period, such scholars as Uta Poiger and Heide Fehrenbach have written on how Germans on both sides in East and West Germany reconstructed new national identities in a number of ways, due in part to the presence of Allied soldiers, particularly African-American soldiers. After the defeat of the Third Reich, East and West Germans needed to reestablish new national identities, which could not be monolithically or collectively defined. In the process of creating these new German identities, Germans employed notions of race, class and gender, which demarcated lines of difference necessary for their racist agenda. The cultural production of differences allowed Germans to exclude and humiliate other German minorities. The cultural consumption of these images also helped to consolidate white German identity by naturalizing difference and enforcing their message of otherness to an extent.

By researching the production and reception of these images, I hope to understand the function of these cultural forms and to discover the dynamics of race and gender in the post-World War II period. Not only is it important to recognize how these culturally-produced images influenced the ways in which Germans perceived themselves in relation to Afro-Germans, but it is also necessary to highlight the ways that Afro-Germans responded to these images, recreating their identities in the process. Although there were no spokespeople or Afro-German organizations such as the Initative Schwarze Deutsche (ISD) until the mid eighties, Afro-Germans dealing with their hybrid identities used literature, music, and film to assert their presence in both Germanies. Writers such as Katharina Oguntoye and May Opitz articulated their complex and diverse experiences as Afro-Germans through poetry and utilized these forms to reassert their identities. Moreover, studying the post-war period will enable me to also reveal what transnational relationships established between the US and Germany, particularly the connections made with United States activists, and how they also contributed to the creation of German national identity.

This current project allows me to explore how representations of Afro-Germans contributed to their formation of ethnic and racial identities in the postwar period. It also enables me to explore other Afro-German experiences and perspectives. My dissertation will focus primarily on Afro-Germans in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. More specifically, it will revolve around Afro-German women, the development of the Afro-German or people of color feminist movement in Germany, and how the anti-racist movement evolved and became a part of feminist and cultural politics in German society. I am also interested in exploring the transnational relationships between Afro-Germans and Afro-American feminists, such as Audre Lorde, and how those movements compare and contrast with one another.

Workshop: Representing Black European History

  • *How do Black Europeans’ anti-racist movements become a part of cultural politics in European society or even in the international community?

  • *Do Black Europeans establish relationships to other ethnic minorities in Europe?

  • *What types of transnational relationships and connections have Black Europeans made with ethnic minorities from the United States?

  • *How do Black Europeans identify themselves because collective identities do not truly exist? Are Black Europeans trying to collectivize experiences?

  • *How do issues of religion, ethnicity, gender, class, nation or race complicate Black European subjectivities and identities?

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