"The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all - not the car, not the TV, not the smartphone."
Ken Burns, 2016
In our Book Report series, we'd like to introduce ourselves via our bookshelf and share the books that most shape our diplomacy. Our fourth book is Black Heroes by Dr. Guy Kabengele and Kirsten Finkelstein-Kabengele (currently available only in German).
Polar Embassy is happy to have made Germany its home, and we appreciate the responsibility (and challenge!) of trying to understand it. We are delighted to share a book that celebrates Black Germans and their contributions to every dimension of life in Germany.
To begin, just a note about language: it changes, and that’s a good thing! We are supposed to engage with the words we use, and be mindful of contemporary understandings and descriptors of identities. “Afrodeutsch” was coined and popularized by the legendary May Ayim, Audre Lorde, and others in the 1980s, and may still be the perfect word for some people. According to Guy Kabengele, “Schwarz” has become a more preferred term today, and we choose to use it here to include Black identities that might not connect to the African continent.
More than 500,000 Germans are Black, and the Kabengeles, partners in life as well as writing, set out to interview and profile 20 stars among them to give role models for current and future generations of Black Germans. By highlighting Black excellence in religion, education, the arts, politics, journalism, sport, business, and medicine, they also show how much of Germany has been shaped and built by Black people. They also write briefly about themselves and their motivations for writing: “We hope the stories of the people in this book can be examples for many Black Germans, an eye-opener. And also show White people that in this country, there are successful Black people in every area.”
One common theme among the profiles was a discussion of knowing one’s own history, because history defines and orients where we are going. Many of the profiles remind us that our personal history is so important because we inherit not just a body, but a mind shaped by the ideas of the generations before us. This also connects with the book’s reflections on the idea of “homeland”. Kevin John Edusei, a conductor, had this to say: “my personal homeland is not a single place, but a construct enriched by the history of my African ancestors.”
In addition to joy and wisdom, the book also contains painful stories of alienation, insult, and discrimination. The illustrator , who created masterful portraits for each Hero, recounts a gross example: Klinge was born and raised in Berlin and attended Kita here in the early 2000s. When she brought chocolate kisses for her birthday, her teacher called them “N-kisses”. Klinge told her that was not an appropriate word for her to use, and her teacher replied that she should be happy to live in this country and that she, in her own country, can say what she wants. This was the beginning of a school system that separated “Deutsch” from “Ausländer” with the obvious consequence that separate is never equal.
We have a lot of work to do. And “change starts with examples”, as the Kabengeles remind us. This book and its cast of protagonists are leading Germany to a place where Black Germans aren’t just accepted, but celebrated.
Should any Black Hero (in the book or not) like to collaborate with us, we’d love to hear from you! Please reach out to us here.
If the Kabengeles were to write a second book, who in the world of Tarot would you nominate? Let us know via our Instagram.