Night Shift

Anne Potjans

The beginning of Black German political activism and community organization is often historically located in the mid-1980s, taking the founding of the two biggest organizations, ISD (Initiative for Black People in Germany) and ADEFRA (Black Woman in Germany), as a starting point. Yet, in recent years it has become more common to refer to this particular strand of Black German community organizing as the ‘new’ or ‘younger’ Black German movement, in an attempt to make visible Black presences in Germany before the mid-1980s, and to raise awareness for the continuous presence and activism of Black people in Germany, which dates back several hundreds of years. Certainly, this recent emphasis on the longstanding history of Blackness in Germany can be seen as a shift away from framing the diasporic experience in Germany as exceptional.

In “Night Shift – Queer Subcultural Spaces and the Black Diasporic Experience” I take seriously this shift in perspective and move even further away from thinking about the presence of Black people in Germany in waves or generational segments. Rather, my aim is to focus on expressions of Blackness in Germany outside of the framework of political organizing as we understand it today, by looking at the convergence of queerness and racial dynamics in the 1960s and 1980s. More specifically, my aim is to extrapolate a narrative that highlights queer subcultural spaces as sites where diasporic forms of arrival and belonging escape the framing of “generational narratives,” and disrupt the “understanding of migration as perpetually new.” (cf. TODO project description). I propose that racial and ethnic difference is an important aspect of how queer spaces are shaped, since discourses of racial and ethnic difference have always been intertwined with discourses of sexual object choice, fetishization, and non-normative sexual practices.

A text that has been paramount for my thinking about this project is a volume of autobiographical poetry, written by the Berlin-born Black German poet Nzingha Guy St. Louis and published in 1983 under the title Gedichte einer Schönen Frau (‘Poems of a beautiful woman’). By articulating the everydayness of Black life in Germany, between a day job as a nurse and queer subcultural nightlife, the poet opens up an interesting perspective on the connection between the lived realities of racial and sexual difference in Berlin in the early 1980s. I take St. Louis’s autobiographical poetry as a productive point of departure in order to explore the diasporic ordinary through similar auto-fictional texts, both from the German and the US American context. I hope to contribute to research on Black German culture by further exploring the connections of Blackness and queerness through comparative theoretical work, art, performance, and literature.

2023-03-10 | Posted by Alexis Mertens