The Possibilities for and Limits of Transnational Allyship and Empathy

by Priscilla Layne

In my research, I am interested in how German solidarity with African American oppression is expressed in artworks created by Black and white German artists. This solidarity has its roots in the1960s, when many Germans became interested in the Civil Rights Movement as part of a larger attempt to join anti-racist, anti-colonial movements across the globe. Since the 60s, figures like Martin Luther King Jr. have stood for racial equality and tolerance in the German imaginary. White German artists tend to use an identification with African Americans to relieve guilt or shame and distance themselves from Germany’s fascist past. They do so without reflecting on their privilege within the structures of systemic racism. Black German artists both relate to African American struggles as part of a larger Black diasporic community and they criticize white Germans for their appropriation and misuse of African American icons. Some of the artworks I will consider by white Germans are Verena Stefan’s Häutungen (1975),Marcel Odenbach’s video installation, “Ach wie gut, dass niemand weiß” (1999)and Ulli Lust’s graphic novel Wie ich versuchte, ein guter Mensch zu sein (2017). The works I will analyze by Black Germans are several poems written by Black German poets, including May Ayim’s “die zeit danach”, which reflects on MLK’s legacy for Black and white Germans and poetry by Maroula Blades and Trisha P. Schultz. Finally I will also look at Olumide Popoola’s play Also By Mail which uses Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun as an intertext.