Imagining Ourselves: What Does it Mean to be Part of the African Diaspora?

Posted in Articles, Europe, Interviews, Media Archive on 2013-12-20 22:41Z by Steven

Imagining Ourselves: What Does it Mean to be Part of the African Diaspora?

Think Africa Press

Jean-Philippe Dedieu, Research Fellow
IRIS of the École des Hautes études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)

Tina Campt talks to Think Africa Press about black European subjectivities, the US’ dominance in diaspora studies, and how photographs tell us more than we might realise.

Tina Campt, Director of the Africana Studies Program at Barnard College, Columbia University, has been examining gender, race and diasporic formation in black communities in Germany and Europe more broadly for the last decade.

Her earliest works were insightful contributions to the growing scholarship on the overlooked history of African communities in imperial and post-colonial Europe. Her first book, Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender and Memory in the Third Reich, was an oral history acknowledging the participation of African minorities to the German history, from the Weimar Republic to the postwar period.

More recently, Campt has deepened her intellectual reflection by exploring the crucial issue of visual representation. In Image Matters: Archive, Photography and the African Diaspora in Europe, published last year by Duke University Press, she traces the emergence of a black (European) subject by analysing a rich photographic documentation that intertwines her own family albums with snapshots of black German families and studio portraits of West Indian migrants in England.

In an interview with Think Africa Press, Campt talked to the French scholar Jean-Philippe Dedieu about the intellectual discourses on diasporas across the Atlantic as well as the significance of photography for allowing black people to imagine themselves, freed from racial prejudice…

…How did you end working on Afro-Germans?

Serendipity. The first time I went to Germany, I went to Berlin to pass my language exams in graduate school. I was in Berlin before the wall fell, in ‘87, and it was an extraordinary experience because I had never been outside the United States and I had never experienced the particularly bizarre form of racism I encountered there. It was a concatenation of exoticism and ignorance that just did not fit with any of the forms of racism that I was familiar with as an African-American who grew up in Washington DC. When I went back a second time, I was studying in Bremen in a context with other African-Americans and Africans. That was incredibly revealing, and taught me more about how to understand some of the responses I was getting.

Toward the end of my stay I happened, literally happened, to meet an Afro-German man on the street and had a conversation with him about being black and German, and there was something that distinguished his experience from mine because, as he described it, he had no point of reference. I remember him saying, “I am only German. I don’t have a history of slavery. I don’t have a history of a community that has fought racism or that has battled discrimination. I’m at the point where I am trying to gather that, to martial that as a set of resources that I can draw on to create this thing that I call Blackness in Germany, or Afro-German. I’m doing that in the absence of what you have – your history as an African-American.”…

Read the entire interview here.

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