With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Black Germans and New Forms of Resistance

In her book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, scholar Christina Sharpe described her concept of “wake work” as “a theory and a praxis of Black being in the diaspora.” Wake work, for Sharpe, is an act of resistance that recognizes the on-going valences of colonialism and enslavement in the present. Moreover, it requires one to care for the living and the dead, which privileges mourning at all levels (local, national, and global) in the quotidian. But wake work is also a form of cultural consciousness and provides new forms of resistance that are tied to Black diasporic expressive practices and traditions. 

Black Germans pursued wake work through their decolonial and antiracist diasporic activism from the 1980s through the present day. With their wake work, Black Germans became what I refer to as “quotidian intellectuals.” As quotidian intellectuals, they shared new forms of “blackened knowledge” that enabled them to survive and resist their erasure and subjugation in the German metropole and in its former colonies. Through the organization of antiracist demonstrations, international conferences, and consciousness-raising workshops, Black Germans embraced vernacular culture and aesthetics that privileged the everyday, opening up new modes of resistance. In the process, they reimagined a better world that decentered whiteness and anti-Blackness. 

Black Germans’ wake work has served as both a corrective and a disturbance, particularly in a nation that experiences what Ann Stoler refers to as “colonial aphasia.” For Stoler, colonial aphasia describes white Europeans’ dissociation with their colonial pasts. With aphasia, Europeans obscure knowledge and dismember the past, leading to incomprehension and unspeakableness. Indeed, Black Germans’ wake work sought to rectify the wrongs of the past and publicly called attention to the afterlives of German colonialism in the everyday lives of Germans and how it reaches far beyond Germany’s Black diaspora. 

The emergence of the modern Black German movement signaled the first public community-based effort at pursuing wake work as both a theory and a praxis. The movement resulted in the establishment of two grassroots cultural-political associations in the mid-1980s: the Initiative Schwarzer Deutscher (ISD)—or the Initiative of Black Germans, which has since been renamed the Initiative of Black People in Germany—and the feminist organization Afrodeutsche Frauen (ADEFRA)—aka Afro-German Women and now known as  Black Women in Germany. This moment signified a new stage in diasporic activism because Black German quotidian intellectuals decided to no longer live in silence and invisibility. Reclaiming their place within the nation, Black Germans created local ISD and ADEFRA chapters across the Germanies in cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leipzig and Dresden. These local chapters gave Black Germans opportunities to forge new kinships with one another and revive their diasporic consciousness through “thinking Black” and learning, reading, and discussing diverse Black histories. As quotidian intellectuals, they pushed their intersectional concerns about oppression, racism, and white supremacy to the fore by providing new terms and knowledge. They advanced new diasporic traditions such as anti-racist conferences, writing seminars, and/or Black hair workshops in a white European nation that had long both othered and ignored them. 

Read entire article at Black Perspectives