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Loyola University Chicago

Publication Date

Spring 2006

Program Name

Central Europe: Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Culture

Abstract

In April 2006, a 37-year old Ethiopian man was brutally attacked by two skinheads sending the country into a state of mourning. In the days to follow, the German press covered the attack extensively raising the question if whether or not race-based crimes had witnessed resurgence in Germany. For many people, the answer to such a question required a further analysis of the last few years in Germany. In 2005, Oury Jalloh, an immigrant from Sierra Leone burned to death while in a holding cell at the city jail in Dessau. The examiners labeled his death suicide although his hands and feet were handcuffed to the bed. Also in 2001, a Senegalese woman was shot to death by a police officer in Aschaffenburg. Similar attacks towards blacks have occurred in the past, yet they often go ignored by the general public.

Each year, the Black community continues to become more noticeable throughout Germany. It is comprised of mainly first and second generation Africans, African Americans and black Germans. However, to speak of a united black community would be inappropriate. Many Africans come to Germany seeking better economic opportunities for their families. Others applied for political asylum due to vicious dictators in their respective home countries. And despite what many historians and intellects report, Germany received its first wave of African Americans in the early years of the twentieth century. The second, larger wave of African Americans resulted then from the occupation of the allied troops after World War II. Black Germans, on the other hand, typically have a German mother and a black father either from Africa or America. This group holds perhaps the most precarious position since they are socialized as Germans, but not accepted by their white German compatriots.

“The Black Question” is an inquiry into the lives of blacks in Germany. For many years, black people have become a focal point for scholars, politicians and the like. As a result several questions have continuously been raised over the last century. When did the first blacks arrive in Germany? For what reasons did they come? What does it mean to be a black person in contemporary Germany? With no instruction on black history in German schools, many Germans grow up unaware of the history of blacks in Germany. Consequently, they perpetuate several of problems blacks in Germany experience today. “The Black Question” seeks to address some of the most pertinent questions concerning the black community in Germany.

My ultimate goal is to provide the average German reader with solid information regarding black people and their lives in Germany both present and past. In order to capture the experiences of blacks around Germany, I traveled to various cities and conducted interviews with people of African descent. Too often, the experiences of one or two blacks are portrayed as the typical life of blacks in Germany everywhere. This discrepancy—along with a few others—created the motivation to conduct this Independent Study Project.

“The Black Question” is divided into two parts with corroborating objectives. The first section titled “First Contact” elaborates why the first blacks migrated to Germany in the first place. Through a historical lens, I will attempt to chronologically narrate the history of blacks starting in the fifteenth century. This section becomes increasingly important when trying to understand the roots of problems faced by blacks in contemporary Germany. Since this project serves as an overview of all blacks in Germany, I tried to write about the various groups within the Black Community equally. However, this task itself proved to be a challenge at times. My main focus in the “First Contact” section lies in the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century. During this time, black migration in Germany increased steadily.

The second part of “The Black Question” focuses on the current plight of blacks in Germany. In this section, I attempt to outline some of the main problems faced by black people in Germany. Since the 1980’s, various organizations have been established to address these problems and unite blacks. Yet in 2006, many still question their effectiveness. My project also explores some of the internal problems by these organizations. Hopefully, the reader will develop a better understanding of life as a black person in Germany at the conclusion of this project.

Disciplines

Inequality and Stratification | Race and Ethnicity

 

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