Book Report XV: Schwarz. Deutsch. Weiblich.

Hand holding Scwharz. Deutsch. Weiblich. book by Natasha Kelly in front of Odradek Bookstore in Berlin Schöneberg 

If you live in Germany, Schwarz Deutsch Weiblich is a must-read. Natasha Kelly gives a fantastic celebration of Black German women through history, along with primers on intersectionality within Germany's unique historical context.

Kelly grew up in Germany without examples of Black German women around her. With Schwarz. Deutsch. Weiblich, her first goal is to introduce Black women in the German-speaking world to their ancestors: the Black women who have been a part of German history for hundreds of years. Her second aim is to convince white audiences that gender can never be separated from race and class, so our feminisms can accomplish more than just gender equality for white people.

A note on my language, as I mirror Kelly’s style choices from the book: Black is capitalised, to clarify that we are speaking about a self-determined identity, not skin color. White is italicised to flag its socio-political status as the social norm.

It’s fundamental that white feminists in Germany understand the realities of intersectionality. Calling for “equal pay for equal work” doesn’t change the racist, patriarchal, and capitalist structures around that work. It’s always important for us to ask: will replacing a white man at the top for a white woman at the top do much for Black women? Or will the only people who benefit be white women?

The Book

I love history books that explain the zeitgeist through personal stories. This book is a balance of social commentary, personal memoir, and treatise on Black German Womanhood. Meticulously researched, Kelly profiles historical and contemporary figures, giving readers glimpses into the lives of extraordinary and ordinary people. It’s heavy thematically, but broken into shorter chapters that are easy to read (in German) and process slowly.

What is intersectionality?

The big idea of the book is intersectionality. Coined by American legal professor and leading scholar of critical race theory Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality explains how multiple aspects of identity combine into distinctly separate systems of oppression. Simply put, the sum is greater than its parts; a Black trans* woman faces oppressions and obstacles that are unique from those who are Black and cisgender, and from those who are not Black and trans*. There are many layers of socio-political identity; for example: race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, ability.

“Based on its own specific racist history, Germany can be described as a nation in search of a new culture. A culture that must be decolonialized.”

Stolpersteine Berlin Gaudystr. Ludwig M'bebe Mpessa und Erika Emilie Mpessa (geb. Diek)Stolpersteine for Ludwig M'bebe Mpessa und Erika Emilie Mpessa (geb. Diek) at Gaudystr. 5 in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg.

The book introduces characters from all over German-speaking Europe, but I particularly enjoyed learning so much about Berlin. Did you know that there are Stolpersteins to memorialise at least one Black family murdered by the National Socialists?

Many streets here in Berlin are named after leaders from colonial history, and derogatory names for Black people. Movements to change Mitte’s M*-Straße to honor Anton Wilhelm Amo, a philosopher, face over 30 legal objections to the name change! Luckily, community organisers have had other successes renaming streets to honor the leaders of independence movements in former German colonies and leaders of Black resistance in Germany: Lucy Lameck, Anna Mungunda, May Ayim, Audre Lorde. Cornelius Fredericks, and Rudolf Duala Manga Bell. To learn more about Berlin’s colonial history, I highly recommend a tour with Decolonial City Tours!

Further Reading

For those interested in learning more about Black identity and history in Germany, I highly recommend starting with the foundational collection of texts Farbe Bekennen from Orlanda Verlag (there is an English translation). If you read German, I also recommend Ein Niederbayer im Senegal, a memoir written by Charles Huber, an actor and one of Germany’s first Black members of the Bundestag. Black Heroes from Jacoby Stuart is also great for younger audiences (we reviewed it here).


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