Tag Archives: African American

What Murder Looks Like From A Distance

From the Black M.A.R.S. Project by James Young

What Murder Looks Like From A Distance

I had just woken up. The sun was shining through the cactus-coated windows just above my makeshift bed, a fold-out couch. It was another beautiful late summer day in Berlin. After picking up my cell phone, I started scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed to catch a glimpse of what was going on back in the United States. Perhaps it’s become a compulsion by now or at least, a meager attempt to maintain some connection to the country I’ve called home for the past 22 years. The article title my finger finally descended on escapes me now, but its content was all too familiar: another unarmed Black body murdered by the police. His name was Michael Brown.

Since I started learning about the history of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “The Other America,” I’ve never stopped feeling rage or some emotionally caustic concoction of anger, hopelessness, and desperate ambition to do something…anything, that might lessen centuries of pain inscribed in our collective memory. August 9th, 2014 was no different.

But let’s return to the beginning first. Why Germany? Last March, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation selected me as a 2014-15 Watson Fellow. The opportunity affords a fortunate cohort of students (approximately 40 each year) from the United States a stipend for one year to fund independent travel and pursuit of a creative research project. I chose to focus my project on art, activism, and Black masculinity in the African Diaspora. Without doubt, its scope is broad. However, it’s allowed me to connect with a wide range of Black artists and performers who are similarly trying to figure out a number of questions that interest me: How can art be used as a tool of resistance? What kind of art should we create to deal with the present spiritual, social, political, and economic turmoil we face? And how can we construct representations of ourselves that challenge and defy marginalizing narratives? So after researching the history of Black folks in Germany and considering the parallels between the treatment of African people there and the United States, I marked the country as the first stop on my year long journey.

The more articles I read about Michael Brown that late August morning, the deeper I felt moved to write something…anything that might lessen centuries of pain inscribed in our collective memory. Poetry has always been my outlet since the age of 12 when I first scribbled the contents of my heart onto a pad of notebook paper in sixth grade. August 9th 2014 was no different.

The Ballad of Michael Brown

When scorching hot suns
bake Black flesh of our sons
on asphalt pavements

When jack-boot thugs
called local police
play toy soldiers with
peaceful protestors

When white governors
tuck us in for curfew and
Black presidents say
time will heal our wounds

we are angry
we are sick and tired of being sick and tired
we are impatient…
dying to survive.

Yet our wearied footsteps
march in ancestral shoes
still seeking paths
leading to justice.

Since that day, I’ve spent time in England, France, and currently, write this piece from Brazil. In the circles I’ve found myself in—from the vaguely conscious to Pan-African folks who champion all Black everything—people know what’s going on in the United States. I think it’s important to repeat that. People around the world feel our pain. There have been solidarity protests in major cities of each European country I visited—Berlin, London, and Paris. And the relationship between Black folks and the police never fails to spring up as a topic of conversation. It’s also common to hear romanticized aspirations to visit the USA because they’ve seen so much of the sunny side. It leads one to consider what visions of our country are broadcasted. For as bright as things may be for some, the lives of far too many are still shaded by injustice. But there are only so many conversations about home one can have with folks from another country, of another culture and history before recognizing that the sense of urgency I feel watching what’s happened these past months is not, and perhaps cannot, be shared to the same extent.

When Thanksgiving arrived back in the United States, I found myself protesting on the streets of Saint-Denis in Northern Paris. Our cause was a different one. Outrage has been sparked across the African Diaspora by white South African artist Brett Bailey’s ‘artistic’ production, Exhibit B. If you don’t know, I suggest checking out any number of articles about his controversial artistic commentary on the 19th and 20th century histories of placing African people in human zoos…by placing African people in human zoos in the 21st. The protestors numbered upwards of 200. The assault-rifle armed police presence was significant as well. But I was excited to take part in resistance efforts despite my limited background in French after reading about the success of protests in London. So as we chanted on the streets outside Théâtre Gérard-Phillipe, it was humbling to stand in solidarity with sisters and brothers of the diaspora. Yet I also felt a growing sense of homesickness at the same time. For at that moment, folks in Ferguson, Missouri and at least 90 other cities across the United States were rising up, speaking out, organizing, and protesting against police brutality.

Perhaps the real question is not what murder looks like from a distance, but how to respond effectively to it. I had the opportunity to connect with Professor Donald Muldrow Griffith in Berlin. A retired professional dancer and teacher from the USA, he has made his home in Germany for the past 35 years. Professor Griffith heads an arts and cultural organization called Fountainead Tanz Theatre that hosts an annual festival called Black International Cinema as well as a monthly public access program. I asked him about the experience of being so long removed from the United States, but still being engaged in the work he does which promotes the sharing of African American history in Germany. His words resonate with me still: “Those who have escaped from the cauldron have a responsibility to those still trapped inside.”

Some days words never feel like enough. In the words of the London-based rapper, poet, and author, Akala, “Behind my painted smile and all the revolutionary noise/ is nothing but a lost little boy.” I’m still on my own journey of self-transformation—part of a greater effort to channel my abilities and privileges into something that makes a difference. Outside of financial stability, I’ve believe that the greatest blessing being a Watson Fellow have provided me are the luxuries of time and distance that so few possess. These past months have challenged me to see myself and my country through another set of eyes. And once you become aware of how the world operates, that knowledge can never be taken away from you. It is liberating and troubling at the same time. Some days words are all I have. I recently penned a poem called “Colorblinded Contradictions” to highlight the conflict between rhetoric and reality when it comes to Black folks. My conclusion:

As long as tear-eyed mothers
ride along with Black babies
in hearses
I’ll continue to cry out
for justice in all of my verses.

My friends in London inspired me to consider social transformation beyond the rhetoric during my first Kwanzaa celebration. Singer, spoken word artist and performer Oneness Sankara hosted a gathering of folks at her home on the day celebrating Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics). That evening, we came together to discuss what the day meant to each of us. It was then I realized that I was surrounded in that space by folks who have dedicated their lives to trying to create alternatives to our present situation. I was blessed to be hosted during my stay by KMT the Freedom Teacher, who transformed his home, May Project Gardens, into a model of what he refers to as “sustainable city living,” using permaculture practices to grow his own food. KMT has recently dropped his first EP, “Fear of a Green Planet,” integrating hip-hop, sustainable living, and eco-activism to encourage self-determinism.

I thought the collective the protests across the country represented the beginning of our generation’s Civil Rights Movement. As months of organizing fades from mainstream media spotlight, my hope has taken a new form. In my mind, we are called to action now more than ever. As the African proverb states, “Until lions have historians, the history of the hunt will forever glorify the hunter.” We must tell our stories. We must act with compassion, conviction, and courage. In the words of KMT the Freedom Teacher, we must begin “planting little seeds everyday” of internal transformation that will manifest outwards. So when the time to harvest comes, we’ll be “watching the world just change.”




Hello and feel warmly welcomed to my blog

Who am I? I am a Black German in his early 30’s living in Berlin. To be more exact: I am a light skinned queer but until now mostly straight performing feminist cis-man – and I am neurodiverse. Being neurodiverse means, that I am blessed with in my case even two mental dispositions that are unluckily marked as illnesses by society. I am a highly sensitive Asperger autist having an ADHD on the meantime. While both dispositions are not that strongly distinct, their presence in society creates an interesting and challenging intersectional reality I don’t want to exclude from future blog posts. Concerning my exterior: I don’t challenge the Eurocentric beauty ideal by having the privileges of being thin, tall and by trying to work out my body, but I do it by being Black and wearing my natural curly hair, which since winter 2011 has become quite a big kinky (I call it ) crown. By having a face, that rather matches Eurocentric beauty I often got asked in the past whether I have been in the tanner for very long since I have some tan, but people didn’t immediately associate my parents with East Africa, from which one of my two fathers is. But since I have my hair all questions concerning my tan seem to be answered.

Why do I describe myself this meticulously? Because I think every single feature makes a difference in the experiences one makes in (German) society.

I was born and raised in Switzerland in a privileged, complicated but very loving, all white upper middle-class German family; which is probably the main reason, why an actually more or less average (or slightly over the average) intelligent Black man with an ADHD and Aspergers autism is not dead, in jail or homeless but can reflect about racism and about being Black and neurodiverse in Germany.

I also speak as someone coming from a specific group of Black Germans, sharing the circumstance, that many of our fathers are African academics or US GIs, who came to Germany, got together with white German women and often went back to Africa or the US afterwards for various reasons (I can only assume, that visas ran out, they didn’t find a job for racist reasons, couldn’t take the amount of racism in general, some probably didn’t plan to stay anyway and I’m sure some were simply scared from becoming a father). So many of us grew up without any Black parents in all white environments. In later blog posts I will get more detailed about this experience. Though Blacks like me are a significant percentage inside the tiny Black community in Germany I though don’t believe we’re the majority. But I can only guess, since I don’t even know how many of us, Black people in Germany, there are. This is because there are no statistics. Because of Germany’s colonial history Blacks were kept as silent and as invisible as possible for centuries, though some of us have been writing and creating art for centuries and blogging for decades.

As our existence was and partly still is denied so to is the language for our reality. We don’t even have a working word that is used like the English term ‘race’ in German, because the translation of ‘race’ is the same word for ‘breed’ in German. This is one of the reasons why many Black Germans including me reject the term mixed race or race in general: Nobody wants to be associated with a certain ‘breed’. I simply define myself as a Black person and in matters of shade I describe myself as (still) light skinned while recognizing the privileges connected with it. I also mostly speak and exchange with Black people from the US or the UK, so if I try to take a distance from Germany and reflect about things in the German context I will be mostly comparing the situations with the US or the UK, but I’m looking forward to get more especially non western perspectives!

This is roughly who I AM and how I’m positioned in the hierarchies of race, class , gender, disability and body. And what I WANT in this blog is to articulate my Black German reality, share my neurodiverse perspective while being another Black voice breaking the silence inside and outside of Germany. I want to continue the work of my predecessors analyzing racist realities, showing opportunities of empowerment and maybe even generating tiny pieces of knowledge

You’re most invited to join me on this journey!

Everyday Blackness

From traffic lights to elevator doors and door knobs what are the moments of everyday blackness in our lives? The question was sparked in a debate with a couple of friends on how Black culture and inventions in the future should no longer be seen as the exception but as part of the norm of modern societies when suddenly it occurred to me, ‘hold on, what are we talking about! Black culture is already part of the day-to-day norm of modern societies. The knowledge has simply been forgotten, whitewashed, or erased over time.’ In the spirit of uncovering moments of Everyday Blackness here is a list of common everyday objects from the clothes dryer, to the biscuite cutter and dust pan that you use on a daily basis and might never have known were invented by individuals from the global Black community.

– Asoka Esuruoso

Traffic-Light Traffic LightBorough_tube_station_lifts_01 Elevator Doors1271271096NDK17-1 Door Knob

Black Inventors and their Inventions List

air conditioning unit         Frederick M. Jones     July 12, 1949

auto cut-off switch           Granville T. Woods     January 1, 1839

automatic gear shift         Richard Spikes         February 28, 1932

rotating baby buggy                   W.H. Richardson        June 18, 1899

folding bicycle frame                 L.R. Johnson           October 10, 1899

biscuit cutter               A.P. Ashbourne         November 30, 1875

blood plasma bag             Charles Drew           Approx. 1945

chamber commode               T. Elkins               January 3, 1897

clothes dryer                 G. T. Sampson           June 6, 1862

curtain rod                   S. R. Scratton         November 30, 1889

curtain rod support           William S. Grant       August 4, 1896

door knob                     O. Dorsey               December 10, 1878

door stop                     O. Dorsey               December 10, 1878

dust pan                     Lawrence P. Ray        August 3, 1897

egg beater                   Willie Johnson         February 5, 1884

electric lampbulb             Lewis Latimer           March 21, 1882

automatic elevator door     Alexander Miles         October 11, 1867

eye protector                P. Johnson             November 2, 1880

fire escape ladder           J. W. Winters           May 7, 1878

fire extinguisher             T. Marshall             October 26, 1872

folding bed                   L. C. Bailey           July 18, 1899

folding chair                 Brody & Surgwar         June 11, 1889

fountain pen                 W. B. Purvis           January 7, 1890

furniture caster             O. A. Fisher           1878

gas mask                     Garrett Morgan         October 13, 1914

golf tee                     T. Grant               December 12, 1899

guitar                       Robert F. Flemming, Jr. March 3, 1886

deconstructable hair brush      Lydia O. Newman   November 15, 1800’s

horse shoe                   J. Ricks               March 30, 1885

ice cream scooper             A. L. Cralle           February 2, 1897

improv. sugar making         Norbet Rillieux         December 10, 1846

insect-destroyer gun         A. C. Richard           February 28, 1899

ironing board                 Sarah Boone             December 30, 1887

key chain                     F. J. Loudin           January 9, 1894

lawn mower                   L. A. Burr             May 19, 1889

lawn sprinkler               J. W. Smith             May 4, 1897

lemon squeezer               J. Thomas White         December 8, 1893

lock                         W. A. Martin           July 23, 18–

lubricating cup               Ellijah McCoy           November 15, 1895

lunch pail                   James Robinson         1887

mail box                     Paul L. Downing         October 27, 1891

mop                          Thomas W. Stewart       June 11, 1893

peanut butter                 George Washington Carver   1896

pencil sharpener             J. L. Love             November 23, 1897

phone transmitter             Granville T. Woods     December 2, 1884

record player arm             Joseph Hunger Dickenson January 8, 1819

refrigerator                 J. Standard             June 14, 1891

riding saddles               W. D. Davis             October 6, 1895

rolling pin                   John W. Reed           1864

shampoo headrest             C. O. Bailiff           October 11, 1898

spark plug                   Edmond Berger           February 2, 1839

stethoscope                   Imhotep                Ancient Egypt

stove                         T. A. Carrington       July 25, 1876

straightening comb           Madam C. J. Walker     Approx 1905

street sweeper               Charles B. Brooks       March 17, 1890

thermostat control          Frederick M. Jones     February 23, 1960

traffic light                 Garrett Morgan         November 20, 1923

tricycle                     M. A. Cherry           May 6, 1886

typewriter                   Burridge & Marshman     April 7, 1885

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Famous African Americans in Germany

Many influential African American theorists, scientists, musicians, singers, performers, and writers gravitated towards Berlin and other German metropolitan centers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, long before the outbreak of the Second World War. The long list of their names would include Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and Jesse Owens, and many more.

To give but two examples, as a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women, in 1896 Mary Church Terrell was one of the first African American women to earn a college degree in the United States of America. But her studies were not limited to American soil. Her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, includes many chapters on experiences studying at the Humboldt University in Berlin, including her participation in the International Women’s Congress in 1904, where she was not only the sole Black delegate but also the only participant to deliver her speech to the congress in three languages.

Any student of the African American community and its history is familiar with the African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Pan African Congress. As an American Du Bois protested against lynching, the Southern Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in whatever form it took. As a proponent of Pan-Africanism he supported solidarity within African and African-Diasporic communities in general, and African and Asian struggles against colonialism and imperialism in particular.

His paper The Philadelphia Negro (1899) would be the first sociological study of the African-American community in print. In his influential text The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois would take a forceful stance against Booker T. Washington and other’s who advocated a policy of accommodation in the face of oppression. Du Bois would call instead for, “ceaseless agitation and insistent demand for equality,” and the “use of force of every sort: moral suasion, propaganda, and where possible even physical resistance.”

As a brilliant writer, speaker, and activist Du Bois was the outstanding African-American intellectual of his time. Born in Massachusetts in 1868, (three short years after the end of the American Civil War, and just a few short months after Congress finally guaranteed black male suffrage through it would take a hundred more for it to become a reality) Du Bois would graduated from Fisk University and Harvard University. He became the first African American to receive the degree of doctor of philosophy from Harvard, and would spend two influential years studying in Berlin.

He studied in Berlin in the 1890’s with some of the nation’s most prominent social scientists, including Gustav von Schmoller, Adolph Wagner and Heinrich von Treitschke. The “Berlin Years,” as Du Bois came to call them, were highly influential and many consider them a coming of age moment for the young intellectual.

After returning to the United States, Du Bois went on to complete his graduate studies, becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. But like a moth drawn to the light of a former flame he would later return to Germany in the 1930s, and took note of the rising wave of German discrimination, racism, and anti-Semitism sweeping its way across the nation he had once known so well. Racism and anti-Semitism were by no means new to Germany, but the wave was taking on a new more violent form.