(Ir)reconcilable differences?: the search for identity in Afro-German autobiography

Donaldson, Sonya Andrea Maria, Department of English, University of Virginia
Ross, Marlon, Department of English, University of Virginia
Lott, Eric, Department of English, University of Virginia
Chakravorty, Mrinalini, Department of English, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia

"(lr)reconcilable Differences?: The Search for Identity in Afro-German Autobiography" builds on exciting new scholarship on the African diaspora, and in particular, Black Europe. Focusing on autobiographical narratives by Afro-Germans written in the last twenty-five years, "(lr)reconcilable Differences" investigates the ways in which Black German autobiographies articulate a distinct history, culture, and experience that speak to African American notions and practices of identity formation.

Cultural critics such as Paul Gilroy and Audre Lorde have investigated the relationship between identity formations in the African diaspora, particularly, the ways in which emerging subjects speak to the African American tradition of self-naming. Other critics, such as Michelle Wright, Brent Hayes Edwards, and Jane 0. Ifekwunigwe have examined the paradox of emerging diasporic identities that trouble the routes/roots binary. "(lr)reconcilable Differences intervenes in those discourses by examining how Afro-Germans strategically engage African American cultural productions to assert their particular identity in Germany while they mark their distinctness from African Americans. Although the narratives engage African American literary tradition, they articulate experiences and notions of subjectivity that complicate a narrow reading of Afro-German identity and challenge the perceived impermeability of German national identity.

Chapter one looks at Doris McMillon's Mixed Blessing to investigate Afro-German subject fom1ation in the United States. Adopted under the Brown Baby Plan, McMillon articulates the complexities that the appearance of Afro-German children presented in the aftermath of World War II. This chapter argues that by constructing Black German children as a "problem" for both the United States and Germany, public discourse helped place African American activism in a broader international context. Chapter two focuses on Hans Massaquoi's Destined to Witness and Ika Hügel-Marshall's Invisible Woman, which reflect on the Black experience with German colonialism and two world wars. These Afro-German works call on African American foundational texts such as Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life and My Bondage and My Freedom and Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to articulate their experiences of oppression, struggle, and survival. In exploring how each author articulates a Black, German, African American, as well as a diasporic identity, I examine how gender operates as a marker of a particular kind of citizenship in multiple "home" spaces.

In chapters three and four I examine Afro-German subject formation in the years leading up to German reunification and the years after. Showing Our Colors, a volume of Afro-German history, autobiographical narratives, and poetry by Black German women published in 1986 was crucial in connecting Afro-German women to one other and to the diaspora. Chapter four examines the work of the music collective Brothers Keepers, a coalition of independent musicians (hip hop, reggae, and soul) fanned after Germany's reunification. The group organized in 2001 and came to prominence with the release of the song "Letzte warnung" (Final Warning). I read "Final Warning" as a collective autobiography that articulates the experiences of Black German men in post-reunification Germany and represents the paradoxical positioning of Afro-Germans as both "citizen" and "other."

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: