Becoming-Black: Patterns and Politics of West-German ‘Afro-Americanophilia’ in the Late 1960s
In the late 1960s, African American culture and politics provided ‘lines of flight’ (Deleuze and Guattari) from outdated modes of subjectivity for many ‘white’ Germans; appropriating culture politics, and experimenting with forms of symbolically ‘becoming black’ represented a major cultural theme of the time. These tendencies resonated with: radical, anti-imperialist politics; countercultural sensibilities, where African American culture provided a radically contemporary critique of European modernity; the racialized, erotically charged logics of primitivism and romanticism in which ‘the repressed’ was to be brought back to the surface; and with a consumer-based economy and pop culture that supported the incorporation, domestication and aestheticisation of difference, desire and conflict. This article sketches the patterns, forms and politics of the cultural theme of Afro-Americanophilia in Germany at the time, stressing the links between politics and corporeality. In doing so, it illustrates that questions of race and racism were crucial for the 1968 conjuncture in Germany and it critically reviews the assumptions and implications of a specific form of hedonistic anti-racism in which ‘white’ European protagonists claimed ‘chains of equivalence’ (Laclau and Mouffe) between their position and that of people oppressed by racism and white supremacy. Two case studies illustrate different forms and common patterns. The first concerns a West Berlin network of radical-left groups that called itself ‘The Blues’ and combined militant political action (partly modelled on the activities of the Black Panther Party, according to some of its participants) with a countercultural sensibility. This included a felt connection to African American culture and stylistic practices. The second case study reviews the reception of soul music in the German music press and in countercultural circles, contrasting different readings of the supposedly ‘authentic.’ Overall, the article reconstructs practices of Afro-Americanophilia as ambiguous phenomena that foreshadow later forms of fetishistic cultural appropriation, but where, in some cases, the selective, erotically charged exoticism also led to tangible solidarity and strong connections.
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