Black Knowledge Traditions – The Blank Space That Does Not Exist

The brutal murder of George Floyd caused a deep outcry all over the world. On Tuesday, June 2, many social media channels were filled with black squares to take a stand against racism and pause for a moment. I still can’t understand this awful crime and what is going on in the United States right now, what happened on that terrible day in Minneapolis. I still lack the words to verbalize my feelings between anger, dejection, powerlessness, and despair. The hashtag Black Lives Matter on Instagram let us see through the eyes of the many demonstrators and black activists and let us follow up the movement of resistance against a racist system. Here in Germany it feels as if this massive outcry has set something in motion. Racism in Germany is brought into focus, the social media channels are used as a tool for educational work on anti-racist thought and action. A development that I fully support find and at the same time it makes me curious. What about in two weeks, or three months? Will we still be talking about Germany’s ignored colonial history? Will we still continue to give black voices space to share their perspectives and will white people continue to inform themselves about black history and racism and loudly announce their allyship? I wish for sustainability in this movement. It takes a very, very long time to deconstruct a racist system that has been built up over centuries. We have to start in people’s minds, and we will succeed if we not only make black traditions of knowledge visible, but also anchor this knowledge in all our social institutions.

»Now is the time to make black knowledge traditions more visible than ever. To anchor them in Germany’s cultural memory, so we can set the course for coming closer to an anti-racist society.«

Black Knowledge Traditions in Germany

What do I mean by traditions of knowledge? Black history in Germany is as good as invisible, not inscribed in historiography. There’s a huge gap, which is actually not a gap if you look more closely. May Ayim, the political activist and Afro-German author with German-Ghanaian roots, already dealt with the existence of black people in Germany in the 1980s; in her diploma thesis she traced this existence back to the twelfth century. Many people don’t know that around 1700 a Ghanaian student at the University of Halle wrote his doctorate in law on the subject of the rights of Moors in Europe. Nor do they know how much insight Afro-German literature, which was predominantly influenced by Black women, offers into the Black German experience. After all, these treasures of cultural knowledge remain hidden for many because they are only addressed in very specific spaces, often in an academic or activist context. But I myself was denied this access for a long time until I intensively dealt with it in my master’s thesis. Why is it so important to anchor this knowledge in the general public and especially in all institutions? Because then we come to the step of perceiving racist experiences not as singular personal experiences but as a structural problem in our society. Why is the narrative of black history in school lessons either negatively connotated or simply nonexistent? Africa’s precolonial history hardly plays a role in history lessons. As a black female student of German Studies I could only learn about post-colonialism, Afro-German literature or similar topics in the supplementary curriculum. Should we really ignore these topics in all educational institutions and concentrate on a supposed national canon? The very concept of the national canon should be fundamentally questioned, because this does not reflect our social reality. We must finally fill this void and not only give back to black people in Germany their history, which exists, but also get a sense of what racism means. The black experience must finally be taken seriously in Germany, too.

The first step: Decolonize the mind

Now is the time to make black knowledge traditions more visible than ever. To anchor them in Germany’s cultural memory, so we can set the course for coming closer to an anti-racist society. Here are a few important works and initiatives that are a source of Black knowledge traditions in Germany:

Important literary works:

  • Katharina Oguntoye, May Opitz, and Dagmar Schultz (eds.): Farbe Bekennen. Afro-German women on the tracks of their history, 1986
  • May Ayim: Boundless and Outrageous, 1997
  • Patricia Mazón und Reinhild Rochester (eds.): Not so Plain as Black and White. Afro-German Culture and History, 1890 – 2000, 2005
  • Noah Show: Germany Black and white: everyday racism, 2008
  • Peggy Piesche (ed.): Your silence does not protect you. Audre Lorde and the Black Women’s Movement in Germany, 2013
  • Theodor Michael: Being German and being black. Memories of an Afro-German, 2013
  • Natasha A. Kelly Afroculture: the space between yesterday and tomorrow, 2016
  • Tupoka Ogette: exit RACISM: learning to think critically of racism, 2018
  • Natasha A. Kelly: Black Feminism. Basic texts, 2019
  • Alice Hasters: What white people don’t want to hear about racism but should know anyway, 2019


Important initiatives: