Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Network at the CAAR Conference in Bremen, March 2009

Panel 6: Black Diaspora and Germany - A Young Scholars Network


Silke Hackenesch (JFK Institut, FU Berlin)
Christina Oppel, (Englisches Seminar, WWU Münster)

This workshop presents some of the theoretical premises the interdisciplinary and transnational Young Scholars Network “Black Diaspora and Germany” (English Seminar, University of Münster) intends to contribute to the field of German centered Black Diaspora Studies. Merging Afro-German and African American-German perspectives, this interdisciplinary network intends to initiate a fruitful dialogue between postcolonial discourses which have so far been lead separately in intersecting disciplines. The first workshop offers a discussion forum for present and future members of this network under construction. In the second workshop (Papers 2-4 are going to take place on the Friday session), three network participants will present their work inside the network at the intersections of Black Diaspora and (German) Critical Whiteness Studies. In the former panel, key questions and problems will be addressed which the network faces in the contested space of the Black diaspora: issues of representation, the participants’ positionality and the power and authority to define. As the network works against tendencies toward an Americanist “hegemony” in Black diaspora studies institutional and content –related ways will be sought to counterbalance this recent tendency in order to establish a more fruitful dialogue among scholars of Afro German and African American Studies. In order to establish a setting in which to address these pertinent questions and to stimulate an exchange of ongoing projects from a variety of perspectives, we seek to establish a diverse, interdisciplinary group of scholars.

Paper 1: YSN Black Diaspora and Germany - A Forum for Discussion

In recent years, scholarly work on Germany’s colonial past and its continuing consequences has stressed the relevance of notions of Blackness and whiteness to German national identity formation. Afro German feminists conducted pioneering work in exploring the various histories and experiences of People of Color in Germany. The increasing recognition and analysis of the Black presence in Germany has provoked a critical examination of whiteness as a hitherto largely unexamined category. This field of study often overlaps with the self-organization and knowledge productions of People of Color. In this contested space, issues of representation, one’s own positionality and the power and authority to define have to be addressed. Building on already existing work in these fields, what conceptual tools can help continue the ongoing, yet often disparate debates? Within the field, are there tendencies toward an Americanist “hegemony” that should be counterbalanced? Can there be a more fruitful dialogue among scholars of Afro German and African American Studies? Do deconstructivist analyses of race run the risk of obscuring persistent effects of racialization/racism? In order to establish a setting in which to address these pertinent questions and to stimulate an exchange of ongoing projects from a variety of perspectives, we invited Dr. Eske Wollrad and S. Marina Jones for a discussion of the challenges the network faces and our own experiences in the field.

Paper 2: Dr. Eske Wollrad (Frauen- und Geschlechterstudien, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg), „Changing Concepts in Constructing Race: Black Diaspora, “Critical Whiteness Studies” and the Black Atlantic: Dis(re)membering terror – White Amnesia in US-American Critical Whiteness Studies and German Research on Weißsein”

On which historiographic frames of reference are US-American Critical Whiteness Studies and German research on Weißsein based and how do both fields of research relate to the fundamental historic eras of slavery and colonialism? Although critical explorations of both Whiteness and Weißsein assume an antiracist stance, their propensity to reproduce and revitalize White amnesia regarding White terror of slavery and colonialism cannot be ignored. Using the Black Atlantic as hermeneutical key, Eske Wollrad will delineate hegemonic aspects of Whiteness studies and their implications, that is, the negation of Black diasporic knowledge productions.

Paper 3: Christina Oppel (Englisches Seminar, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, “African Americans, Germany and the Black German Diaspora.”

Investigating African American accounts of Germany, and German Blackness, of the first half of the twentieth century this paper questions the character and quality of these rare comparative explorations of race and color prejudice in Europe and the US. Deeply rooted in the systematics of American racial patterns and, despite their international orientation, clearly embedded in the American context, these singular African American accounts represent African American culture as the dominant point of reference and implicitly established hierarchies between different Black communities that have since undergone fundamental transformation, yet still influence the present Black Diaspora discourse. It is these argumentative gaps, discrepancies and temporal as well as social differences and (ir)regularities that emerge in the process of translation of ideas, events and their meanings into different contexts that my paper focuses on. In particular, I look at moments of decalage (Edwards, Senghor) and processes of adaptation, negotiation and transformation of ideas that are particular to African Americans who were reporting, analyzing, transforming and appropriating ideas and news of Nazi Germany. Analysing these early African American documentations of the Black German diaspora with the aid of paradigms of German Critical Whiteness Studies (Kritische Weissseinsforschung), this paper critically assesses African American accounts of Black and White Germany and questions their meaning for conceptionalisations of diaspora for the first half of the twentieth century.

Paper 4: Frank Mehring (John F. Kennedy Institute, Abt. Kultur, Freie Universität Berlin), “Blackness’ and ‘Whiteness’ in 20th Century German Popular Culture: Authenticity and Performance”

Frank Mehring will focus on questions of authenticity and performance by addressing transcultural confrontations between the Afro-German experience and imagined constructions of African American performance culture. Musical theater and HipHop have established heterotopic spaces in the sense of Michel Foucault to negotiate blackness as a symbol of vitality and primitivist modernity. Blackface minstrelsy has largely been associated with American Vaudeville and Hollywood films. German avant-garde composers of the Weimar Republic, however, turned to jazz and blackface as a means to break with 19th century conventions in high musical art. Today, German HipHop artists appropriate American and German elements of minstrelsy to gain recognition while debating different conceptions of German national identity. In order to understand the attraction of “becoming black” or exaggerating stereotypes of blackness in a German cultural context, the aesthetic dimension of visual and acoustic media have largely been overlooked by contemporary media studies. In this context, aesthetics is not so much understood as a philosophy of art or as a theory of aesthetic judgement. Rather, by following Winfried Fluck’s suggestion to re-interpret aesthetics as aesthetic experience, the attraction of black popular culture in German cultural contexts is not limited to the discourse on authenticity. The act of self-fashioning as the black cultural outsider triggers a process of recognition through difference (Tzvetan Todorov) which appeals both to the artist and the audience.

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