A few days ago I shocked a Black female friend. Not intentionally. I simply told her something that apparently was as clear to me as it was suspicious to her: that I wanted and intended to be happy. Happy while living in Germany, I should add. She reacted in a way that suggested this idea was unheard of and seemed quite naïve. She said that yes, some of us might be successful here, but who managed to be happy? She asked whether I could think of even only one Black person who was not only struggling or completely suppressing their problems in Germany. I did not come up with anyone in that moment, but maintained my position: it was and is my goal not only to make my contribution for a better world, but to have fun, joy and love along the way and to take care of my physical and emotional well-being.
Other fellow activists I have met seem to be consciously choosing a life of suffering. I have heard people say “we can have fun as soon as Africa is free” or “Black people in Germany don't have anything to smile about” and have been criticized for conducting some community meetings at (Black owned) restaurants which have then been called
“petty-bourgeois masquerade”. Some say, that they are not negative, but realistic, but even if that were true: what good would it do to be unhappy, would it enable you to change anything for the better?
While I acknowledge (and in many cases know) all the obstacles, the pain, the injustice that we as Black people are confronted with, I am convinced that we need to find sources of happiness in order to survive. And I believe that we all need spaces of comfort and that we should make it as easy as possible for new members to join us. bell hooks considers “choosing 'wellness' (...) an act of political resistance”1 since we, as Black people in white societies, are not supposed to lead happy lives. This is a very radical standpoint. It goes against set structures and also might lead more and more people into choosing to fight the powers, as its representatives are not looking and feeling miserable, but represent a different version of political life, one that is fully attractive.
In my own experience, those activists who stood out, were not those with grim faces and dead eyes, they were individuals who radiated light and had a contagious sense of humor. And I decided that I wanted to be one of those who stay positive. On my activist journey I had so many downfalls, so many situations where I desperately needed that source of happiness, the feeling that makes it all worthwhile, that I can get over the challenge and smile a real smile. And every time I find and make use of these sources, I know that I can go another step.
Many Black people in Europe are struggling. While the majority of the German sample of a 2007 empirical Study of Black European Identities2 has reported good physical health (70% no or slight problems, another 22% moderate problems), it was almost the other way around in the question of psychological well-being: only 38% reported no or only slight problems, about 38 % report moderate problems and about one quarter of the sample reports quite a lot of, or extremely frequent problems.
I know how discouraging it is for even the strongest of us, to hear that another member of our community has been brutalized by authorities, that another child has been devalued at school, that another person has experienced injustice in the labor market, while looking for an apartment or in their interpersonal and romantic relationships. Not only the personal experience of racism is demoralising, hearing about them from those who experience it, often serves the purpose of “putting us in our place”.
That I am very aware of the statistics, have experienced my share of violence and aggression, is why my Black female friend was so surprised by my statement. She was sure that I knew too much to be able to bear it. But becoming and remaining an activist for me is deeply linked with working on these traumatic experiences and striving for a realisation of happiness. I learned I had to confront my traumatic memories and experiences to get to a point where I could look for constructive solutions. And, yes, to be happy, as this is the only way for me to be effective in all my endeavors. To succeed in motivating and convincing people, to not swallow my words, but speak up and make my point.
Coming together with great energetic Black women who have chosen to resist, to have an impact, is not only a tremendous basis for political participation, it is also – and at times even more so – a source of empowerment on a very deep level. Healing powers become active. I was really pleased with the Vienna Declaration we issued together, especially Recommendation Number 3: “The Black European Women Congress recognizes mental health as a primary issue pertaining to Black communities dealing with racism. Government must provide financial and structural means to allow the establishment of autonomous institutions that provide mental health care for Black people dealing with the effects of racism.”
I am satisfied with the fact that we neither ignored, nor denied the psychological needs that arise by the situation we and our families are living in. That we acknowledged not being super-heroes not affected by anything.
Being part of the Black European Women's Council makes me not only proud, but also more confident to remain in the struggle against gendered racism and its destructive effects, and also to hold on to the conscious decision of being happy while doing so. Audre Lorde has let us know: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. (...) We are not perfect, but we are stronger and wiser than the sum of our errors. Black people have been here before us and survived. (...) To learn from their mistakes is not to lessen our debt to them, nor to the hard work of becoming ourselves, and effective.”3
So I'm learning from my predecessors and closing with a few words from the dedication of “Talking Home”, an anthology of women of color in Germany, which have kept me going many times:
“the road is so very long
but never mind
we are already walking”4
Victoria B. Robinson is trying to be shockingly happy in Germany as a writer, poet and activist. She has an M.A. in American Studies and Public Law from the University of Hamburg. She is a member of the Initiative for Black people in Germany, the Black Community Hamburg, a Black mediawatch organisation and an Advisory Board Member of the Black Women in Europe Social Media Group. She has also been blogging about issues affecting Black people for two years (http://BLACK-print.blogspot.com).
1hooks, bell, Sisters of the Yam: black women and self-recovery. Boston, MA: South End Press 1993, p. 14.
3 Lorde, Audre. „The Audre Lorde Compendium. Essays, Speeches and Journals“. London: Pandora, 1996. Sister Outsider, p.185.
4Popoola, Olumide/Sezen, Belden (eds.). Talking Home – Heimat aus unserer eigenen Feder. Frauen of Color in Deutschland. Amsterdam, blue moon press, 1999.
Donnerstag, September 11, 2008
Anlässlich des offiziellen Launchings des Black European Women's Councils in Brüssel erschien das Buch "Voices of Black European Women 1", das ab Oktober über folgende Website erhältlich ist: klick
Ich habe mich mit folgendem Text an der Veröffentlichung beteiligt, den ich BLACKprint-Lesern natürlich nicht vorenthalten möchte:
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