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Autobiogrphies of Afro Germans

S. Marina Jones

I am examining the autobiographies of two Afro-German authors from two different generations: Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans Jürgen Massaquoi and Daheim unterwegs. Ein deutsches Leben by Ika Hügel-Marshall. In analyzing the texts for indications of the authors’ quest for identity, their position in German society and the U.S.A.’s impact on that quest, Paul Gilroy’s concept of the “Black Atlantic” is pivotal as a heuristic term of transnational relations. Gilroy’s concept was criticized for emphasizing the U.S.A. and neglecting the role of Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

I am using the “Black Atlantic” precisely for this reason, since in the context of these Afro-German texts, the U.S.A. has a major impact because of historical reasons. After World War II, the U.S.A. helped shape Germany’s democracy, economy and society, and provided the basis for a rejection of fascism. In their search for an African Diaspora, the texts create an imagined community with the African-American community. In the autobiographies, however, “the Black Atlantic” is a site of misrecognition. The Afro-Germans in the texts create an imaginary community with the African-Americans. However, this community is as much of a lacanian symbolic order as the white German society. I argue that despite the similarities between Germany and the United States regarding democracy, economy and first-world status, there are no fundamental similarities between their black communities. Thus, any orientation of an Afro-German text towards an African-American community is bound to fail, positioning the Afro-German neither here nor there.
Questions for Workshop “Representing Black European History”

  1. Who is a Black European?

  2. Should Black European History be represented as a counter-history?

  3. Should Black European History take into account Martin Bernal’s criticism in the book Black Athena?

  4. Which terminology should be used to represent Black European History: Black European, African-European or Afro-European?

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