We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe

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In this essay, I explore the micropolitics of citizenship and sovereignty via the emerging street bureaucratic status of "white" German women in relationships with "black" men in Germany and Berlin. In the midst of the fallen Berlin Wall and increasing Europe-wide restrictions on immigration and asylum, it examines further the extent to which a consistent "black" male hypersexual performance is necessary for legal recognition via "white" German women who, taking on an informal bureaucratic status, ultimately decide which "black" subjects to marry. A history of desiring "black" bodies, the essay argues, coincides with several important moments of sexual liberation (incl. post–World War II African American military occupation, 1970s West German feminism, and the fall of the Berlin Wall), which make these relationships both possible and public; however, the hypersexualized conditions under which "black" subjects get incorporated into contemporary German life are also ultimately exclusionary.


Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published numerous essays on race and gender, including, Deborah A. Thomas’s “Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica” (2002); Helen A. Regis’s “Second Lines, Minstrelsy, and the Contested Landscapes of New Orleans Afro-Creole Festivals” (1999); and Jacqueline Nassy Brown’s “Black Liverpool, Black America, and the Gendering of Diasporic Space” (1998).

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of essays on Germany. See for example, John Borneman and Stefan Senders’s “Politics without a Head: Is the "Love Parade" a New Form of Political Identification?” (2000); Dominic C. Boyer’s “On the Sedimentation and Accreditation of Social Knowledges of Difference: Mass Media, Journalism, and the Reproduction of East/West Alterities in Unified Germany” (2000); and John Borneman’s “State, Territory, and Identity Formation in the Postwar Berlins, 1945-1989” (1992).

About the Author

Damani Partridge is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Center for Afro American and African Studies.

Additional Works by the Author

“Wir sind das Anti-‘Volk’ Nichtweißsein und die Verkehrung von Mobilität nach dem Mauerfall,” In 1989 / Globale Geschichten. Susanne Stemmler, Valerie Smith and Bernd M. Scherer, eds.  Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2009.

“Travel as an Analytic of Exclusion: Becoming Non-Citizens after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” In Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 16(3), 2009, pps. 342-366.

“Citizenship and the Obama Moment in Berlin,” In The Journal of the International Institute (The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA), Fall 2008, pps. 4-5.Available at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=jii;view=text;rgn=main;idno=4750978.0016.102

“Hitlers Sturz und die Amerikanisierung Deutschlands – ‘Schwarze’ Besatzungskörper und Nachkriegs-Begehren,” In Zeitgeschichte, March/April 2008 v.35: no.2 (2008: Mar./April), pps. 89-102.



Related Reading

Fehrenbach, Heide. (1998) "Rehabilitating Fatherland: Race and German Remasculinization." Signs 24(1):107–127.

Fehrenbach, Heide. (2005) Race after Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Herzog, Dagmar. (2005) Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Massaquoi, Hans Jurgen. (1999) Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany. New York: William Morrow.

Piesche, Peggy. (2001) "Black and German? East German Adolescents before 1989: A Retrospective View of a “Non-Existent Issue” in the GDR." In The Cultural After-Life of East Germany: New Transnational Perspectives. Leslie A. Aldelson, ed. Pp. 37–59. Washington, DC: American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Senders, Stefan. (1996) "Laws of Belonging, Legal Dimensions of National Inclusion in Germany." New German Critique N67:147–176.

Editorial Overview

In the November 2008 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Damani Partridge details the “exclusionary incorporation” of black men into Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a complex interplay of race, sexuality, and citizenship. “We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe” examines the power of white German women to make noncitizens legal residents through their relationships, ultimately in marriage. In this “street level bureaucracy,” state power and formal law operate through personal discretion as white German women are able to make exceptions to the rule of exclusion. In a time where the possibilities for asylum in Germany have become more limited, “who gets to stay and how” becomes predicated on the hypersexual performance of black men.

Inverting Franz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks,” Partridge analyzes how the “realities of patriarchy, Nazi Genocide and German guilt, ‘African American’ military occupation, and the success of ‘African American’ popular culture have led to a situation in which ‘White’ German women openly desire black men.” Looking through popular culture and Berlin club scenes and particular, Partridge follows men from the Caribbean, Africa, and the US, tourists, refugees, students, and soldiers who find possibilities to stay in Germany longer than imagined.

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