Showing Their Colors -- Afro-Germans Beginning to Carve a Place for Themselves in German Society

UB conference will address issues of race, identity and belonging

Release Date: September 21, 2000

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The existence of Afro-Germans is unknown to most Americans, although many of the 500,000 Afro-Germans in Germany today are of American G.I. parentage and distinguished African Americans like educator and writer W.E.B. DuBois and abolitionist Frederick Douglass had notable ties to Germany and Germans.

The social and cultural issues that Afro-Germans face today, and how their experiences can enrich our understanding of historical and contemporary racial issues, will be explored Oct. 12-13 at the University at Buffalo at a conference titled "Not So Plain as Black and White: A Multidisciplinary Examination of the Afro-German Experience."

The conference will be free and open to the public.

It will begin with "Everything Will Be Fine," an award-winning comedy about Afro-Germans today, which will be shown at 8 p.m. on Oct. 12 in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 2495 Main St.

A full day of presentations and films will follow from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 13 in Park Hall on the UB North Campus. To conclude the conference, "An Angel Strikes Back," a film about multiculturalism in Germany today, will be shown at 8 p.m. in Hallwalls.

Patricia Mazon, assistant professor of German history at UB, and Reinhild Steingrover-McRae, of the Humanities Department at the Eastman School of Music, are joint conference coordinators. It is sponsored by the UB Graduate Group for German and Austrian Studies, the SUNY Conferences in the Disciplines and the German Academic Exchange Service.

Mazon points out that thousands of Africans emigrated to Germany during the past 500 years, many of whom were brought to Germany as "living curiosities" or as slaves. The establishment of German colonies in Africa at the end of the 19th century increased the number of encounters between Africans and Germans, but prior to World War II, their numbers were small. Many of them fell victim to the Third Reich's racial theories and its resulting campaign of forced sterilization and murder.

With the American occupation of Germany after World War II, Afro-Germany was reborn from relationships between black American GIs and German women. Their ranks swelled further as many thousands of immigrant workers from Mozambique, Angola and Namibia were imported to deal with East Germany's chronic labor shortage. African students and refugees who settled in Germany have brought additional depth and breadth to the Afro-German cultural mix.

"One of the reasons that Afro-Germans have captured the interest of scholars across the humanities," Mazon says, "is because looking at their experiences allows us to see another dimension of the 19th- and early 20th-century ideas of race that led to the Holocaust."

She notes that a spate of autobiographical works by Afro-Germans have appeared recently. One that illuminates the Holocaust issue is "Destined to Witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany," written by Ebony magazine editor Hans J. Massaquoi, who was born in Germany to a German father and Liberian mother.

"The experiences of Afro-Germans in today's Germany offer insight into the transformation of that nation -- willing or not -- into a multicultural society," Mazon says. "Our discussion is especially timely in light of the wave of violence against foreigners and persons seen as such in Germany since its reunification in 1990."

She says this conference will bring the subject of Afro-Germans out of German studies and into a broader arena, where many areas of specialization can be brought to bear on the topic.

"German and non-German specialists have much to learn from each other in terms of how race and ethnicity are represented and lived in Germany, Africa and the United States," Mazon says, "and I think this meeting will lead to interesting connections and raise provocative questions."

Conference participants come from a broad spectrum of humanities disciplines -- German, African and American history; German and African literature; African and African-American Studies; film studies, and women's studies.

Speakers will include Anne Adams of the Cornell University Department of Africana Studies and the author of "Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out." She will present the keynote speech, "The Souls of Black Volk."

Additional speakers will include screenwriter and historian Fatima El-Tayeb of the University of Hamburg, Germany, and faculty members from UB, Emory University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Rochester and New Jersey's William Paterson University.

Conference information, including the program and a brief history of Afro-Germanism, can be found at the conference Web site at or by contacting Heidi Lechner at (716) 832-5966, or lechner@acsu.buffalo.edu.

The site is http://wings.buffalo.edu/cas/mll/lunz/gggaas/GGGAAASAfroConference.htm

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