As the grandchild of immigrants born and raised in a large multicultural city, a great importance was placed on me knowing, understanding and respecting my ethnic history. Caribbean culture has been an important influence in shaping my values and of course more cultural avenues such as food, music, and community. The societal influence of the Caribbean is unfortunately diluted in academia. Higher education provides very little study of the Caribbean unless discussed in a wider context of Latin American Studies, African Studies, or even Gender studies.
Furthermore, with the lack of black/Caribbean educators to teach and access this material, the Caribbean is examined in post colonial streams with little mentioned of native islanders pre-slave trade. As I have recently discovered, the colonial empire shifted the ethnic make up of many Caribbean people, including myself. Germany to be specific, has now become just as important as my Caribbean roots.
A few years back, I chanced upon some research regarding my last name; which was not a usual ‘black surname’. Names such as Brown, Campbell and Williams are common among black people as they are typically regarded as slave names. I often wondered why my own surname, not only difficult to spell/pronounce was also highly uncommon. According to its etymology, I found out that my name is very popular among black German-Jamaicans. This has led me recently to discover the term ‘Afrodeutsche’, translated as Afro-German.
Circa 1830, European settlements were made in Jamaica due to the abolitionist movement resulting in a labour shortage. Although the German influence is not a great as say the Spanish or the French, many Germans did migrate to the island and stayed there for some decades. In that regard, Afrodeutsche or even schwarze-deutsche are all encompassing terms for people who are ultimately of African descent with German roots or nationality. Not entirely uncommon, the UK however, boasts very little public recognition of Afro-Europeans and consequently I find it near impossible to converse with a group of Afro-Germans who know that they are so.
This identity has been something I have battled with. I bear the weight of the coloniser as well as the colonised; how to reconcile the two, I’m unsure. To my advantage, the internet has been a great tool in discovering other Afro-Germans particularly in literature and politics; but even those avenues have been limited. With my intention to study an MA in Black Literature, I am curious to see if any study can be dedicated to the history of Afro-Germans.
European Studies and African studies as separate fields are adequate enough to a certain degree. Converging the two means accepting European’s colonial past as part of Africa’s history. It also means cross-examining the roots of European culture and where Africa sits in the middle of that. To some degree, it also hints at the question of reparations. Many Afrodeutsche are German citizens through and through, but do not reap the same benefits as white Germans, as is the case for other European countries. I find myself questioning if I am Caribbean enough or European enough and this disrupts my understanding of the culture I have grown up with.
In 2015, I went to Berlin, as any trendy young student would. Unfortunately, I did not visit family or my grandfather who lives in Hamburg, but I did feel a level of comfort with the city, culture and language that I imagine any other ausländer would not. Although small, there was a strong African presence, as I expect a large metropolitan city would bring in. In a strange way, Berlin felt familiar but in other ways, I could see how technology had intertwined with the city and there was little public reference to the African diaspora within; again strange- as the Reichstag and The Berlin Wall are clear indicators of Germany’s shame for its colonial and wartime past.
As a student of literature, I have tried to look into German texts and maybe discover something in the language that speaks to black Germans. A while back, I found an awesome short webseries called Polyglot, that looks at the life of an African woman and her relationship to languages due to colonial influence. Another wonderful webseries by schwarzrotgold, interviews black Germans in numerous sectors of society to discuss their experiences. 1 | 2 | 3 : these are my favourites.
As I delve further into my own history and look towards a future in Germany. (Brexit be damned), I hope to see a wider resource pool for African descending people with heavy European influences. With that, I shall leave you with May Ayim, an Afrodeutsch poet, educator and activist, who sadly took her own life, but not without leaving behind important and beautiful creative/critical pieces on black Germans.