Friday, December 4, 2015

Robbie Aitken and Eve Rosenhaft's "Black Germany"

Robbie Aitken is a Senior Lecturer in Imperial History at Sheffield Hallam University. Eve Rosenhaft is Professor of German Historical Studies at the University of Liverpool.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their book, Black Germany: The Making and Unmaking of a Diaspora Community, 1884–1960, and reported the following:
The ‘test’ got it just right: page 99 of Black Germany introduces one of the many personal stories and micro-histories through which we recount ‘the making and unmaking of a diaspora community’ in Germany.

The German Empire acquired colonies in Africa in the 1880s, and lost those colonies after being defeated in World War I. During those decades, Africans (mainly young men) began to travel to Germany, and some of them settled there, marrying white Germans. Had Germany continued to be a colonial power after 1919, those settlers would probably have become the founder generation of a growing Afro-German population fed by new arrivals and building its own community institutions – as happened in twentieth-century France and Britain. In fact, the enforced end of Germany’s colonial empire closed off this possibility in two ways: Travel from Africa to Germany largely ceased, while German Africans and their children entered into a kind of political limbo – no longer colonial subjects but not citizens either. At the same time, the loss of colonies under the Versailles Treaty fuelled a politics of national resentment which culminated in the Nazi takeover of power. Under National Socialism, black people and their ‘mixed-race’ children were formally named as racial aliens. They were subject to various forms of exclusion and harassment; most traumatically, young men and women of the German-born generation became victims of forced sterilisation.

Black Germany traces this development by following the careers of a generation of travellers from the German colonies. We examine the conditions of their arrival, work and family life. We also explore their associational life and political activity, and the forms of personal and international solidarity with which they responded to the Nazi threat. Our focus is on the ways individuals and their experiences exemplify historical processes.
On page 99, we begin to tell the story of Johannes Kohl, an African who arrived as a child in 1904, and his efforts to gain custody of his son who had been abandoned by his white mother. Here, Kohl’s story helps to illustrate the problem of uncertain civic status and the ways in which questions of citizenship and race interacted at the point where Africans sought to build families in Germany. The story ends in a later chapter, with the death of Kohl’s (now teenage) son in care under the Nazi regime.
Learn more about Black Germany at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue