AWA Finnaba, No.9, 1987 contains a rare interview with the Afro-German poet and activist May Ayim (then known as May Opitz) and the activist and film maker John Amoateng (Kantara). They discuss recently founded Black German organizations like the Initiative of Black People in Berlin and Initiative of Black Germans based around Frankfurt am Main. They also discuss common experiences of marginalization and ways to combat that, both by coming together in such groups and through historical research. They insist on the importance of drawing their fellow Germans’ attention to the lasting legacies of colonialism and to the persistence of racism, but also the importance of drawing Black Germans’ attention to histories of the diaspora. For Opitz and Amoateng, that includes exploring African roots and the diversity of Black experiences, which were otherwise unfamiliar for those Afro-Germans raised by single white German mothers. It also means uncovering histories of Black Germans in earlier eras, like Fasia Jansen‘s experiences under the Nazis or the writings of the early modern philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo.
The interview is left in its entirety, in its original language. The spelling of Ayim’s name is by choice of AWA editors.
Philipp Khabo Koepsell
Speak your Mind: A talk with Mai Opitz (26 years) and John Amoateng (22 years), two members of the Afro- German group “Initiative Schwarze in Berlin”
MAI: We are called ” Initiative Schwarze in Berlin”, all of us black Germans feel this isolation and would like to meet. When I was growing up with my white foster parents, I was the only black. At school and later at university in Bavaria, I was alone. Here in Berlin, I started meeting other black Germans like Nii and Martin (co-founders of the group) and the idea to organise ourselves crystallised . We advertised in the papers and invited people by word of mouth. About 30 people ranging between 14 and 28 years of age turned up. Amongst us are Afro-Germans (in the majority), Afro-British and even Afro-Russian. There’s another group in Frankfurt/ Wiesbaden of about 20 members between 30 – 40 years of age. Our ideas are similar, but they call themselves “Initiative Schwarze Deutsche”. They exist for two years now. There are a few people in Aachen, Koln and Stuttgart who are beginning to organise themselves.
JOHN: The reason why people have joined our group, is for me an emotional one, this feeling to get to know other black Germans. Up to now most of us have been living in isolation. What we have lacked is a disciplined and engaged group which will bring us together. As a group we can better react to racism, protect ourselves. We need to lobby to speak out our interests, so as to check racism.
MAI: We are all confronted with marginalisation in this society. I’m not sure whether everybody would call this racism. We want to do something against it. We are tired of being alone amongst white people and having always to explain your feelings. You see here in Germany there’s no real discussion about racism. They talk of Auslanderfeindlichkeit, but seldom call it racism. With this long word they try to hide the real intensity and structures of racism. People mention that foreigners are different from the Germans. How they look, their religious/cultural practice like the Turks. But in the situation of black Germans they can’t say this. They would like to see us as a problem. These poor Afro-Germans, they are mixed. They have a problem. We have no problem with our colour, but the society creates difficulties for us.
JOHN: There’s a certain image, a wrong image society has of us. Seen in a historic. view. This image was created during the time of German colonies in Africa. They saw blacks as colonial Subjects. today the society still has these images and we are trying to correct that.
MAI: Last December, there was a nationwide meeting of Afro-Germans in Frankfurt. Some of the points covered by the discussion groups were: “image of Blacks in the mass media”, “Problems of child education amongst. Afro-German couples”, “Everyday Racism in Germany”, “Feeling estranged”. I was with the group working on stereotype blacks in the media. This question has affected most of us. At school here they expect a black child to excel in sport, music and dancing. These expectations are forced on the child. It’s possible for one to overreact against this and have nothing to do with sports and music. Even if the black child loves reggae music.
JOHN: This depends also on how parents grow the child. Some parents welcomed our attempt and pledged support. Yet others are sceptical because they don’t know exactly what we are doing. Afro-German couples do not have it easy. Those of us who are raised by the mother alone, miss the link to Africa. Most of the single mothers have no experience with the continent and it is impossible for them make the child aware of its African roots.
MAI: I think this differs from generation to generation. Here in Berlin now one can see so many Afro-Germans. The generation before were referred to as Besatzungskinder (children of occupation forces) and had a stigma since people saw them as being born out of rape by the soldiers and not born out of. love. To come back to the question of images, I think we have to find out our own history. Most of us in the group cannot imagine that there were black Germans during fascism here. I have read about Faze Jansen, an Afro-German woman from Dortmund,.. who. during the war was forced to cook for the Jewish women in a concentration camp. Around 1700. a black student from Ghana at the University of Halle wrote his law thesis on “Rights of .the Moors in Europe”. And 200 years later ‘the -society still treats us as exotic, strange fruits. We have to inform each other, as our levels of knowledge is not the same.
JOHN: Marcus Garvey has Said: “A people without a knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots.”
MAI: Of course, it is important to know more about African history, progressive black movements, about the struggle in South Africa. It is one thing to explain that blacks had great civilisations, achievements and progress. But that alone will not change the status quo. We do not yet have the power to put our wishes across. When as a youngster I visited Kenya, I was surprised to find African people admiring me because of being near-white. Africans get the same wrong view exported there through colonialist films and advertisement. This affects the way they look at themselves. As a child, I was somehow made to wish that I were white. The African child is made to share this wish. Children’s books spreading the stereotype black and racist ideas are printed in Europe, translated and distributed to Third World countries. There is Money behind this. Racism crosses borders and oceans to spread cultural domination by Europe.
Source: “Speak Your Mind,” AWA-Finnaba (March 1987): PP. Each One Teach One (EOTO) Archive, Berlin. Special thanks to Philipp Khabo Koepsell and EOTO for generously providing access to their resources.
May Optiz and John Amoateng Talk about New Black German Groups (1987) by Philipp Khabo Koepsell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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