In Germany black people are also celebrating „their“ president-elect. But what does Obama’s triumph mean for Black Germans? Here are a few voices:
by Jeannine Kantara
The living room of Almaz‘ flat in Berlin is packed. The party guests are moving closer together greeting every new arrival with a song: “Yes we can! Yes we did!”. The television is running silently in the background. CNN is repeating over and over pictures of yesterday’s US presidential elections. Some of the party people obviously did not get any sleep the night before, as they hoped and feared with “their” candidate Barack Obama. It was a few weeks ago that Almaz decided to invite friends and family to her Afro-Obama-party. “We have to celebrate this event, even if he does not win.” But Barack Obama did win and accordingly, everyone is quite cheerful despite the exhaustion. On January 20, 2009 he will move into the White House as the first black president and with him the hopes and wishes of many black people around the world, in Germany and particularly, those who have gathered tonight at Almaz’ place. “We are president!“ is the unanimous verdict.
The Afro German musician and actor Tyron Ricketts agrees. „It was a very private moment for me. It took a while before I realised what was happing over there. Only when Obama took the stage in Chicago to give his acceptance speech it dawned me – the man really made it!” Afro German film maker and tv presenter Mo Asumang was already sure that „when I wake up in the morning, a gift would be waiting for me. It was just about time and it felt right and harmonous.“ Singer Joy Denalane emphasises the spirital meaning of Obama’s victory. “After centuries of slavery and oppression, the charma returns.” The artist, who dedicated the video to her song „Change“ to Obama, emphasises to historical impact of this election: „This will go beyond the four or eight years of his presidency and will have an impact on the whole black diaspora.“
With the election of Barack Obama confidence in politics seems to return. Musician and writer Noah Sow, who recently published her book „Deutschland Schwarz Weiss“ (Germany in Black and White) seems impressed with the pictures of election night. “I saw the blue collar worker next to the Wallstreet banker, the white grandmother next to a young black man. This was not about class, it was about reason. And indeed hope. This proves that it could make sense to participate. You cast your vote and you actually get what you want. This will shape a whole generation.“ Mo Asumang agrees and she adds: „The election has a positive effect on the adolescent generation and the idea of inner growth and justice. This can only be good for the whole community.“ For talkshow host Yared Dibaba, the positive effect lies also in the personality of the future US president. “Barack Obama gives America a different face. He is modern, earnest and he knows the duties that lie ahead of him. He is a role model and this is important for all black people.“
But what are the consequences of this election for black people in Germany? How come that at Almaz’ appartment in Berlin African Americans, Africans and Black Germans are celebrating together the victory of a politician, whom not all present could vote for. A politician who will not be president of the country they live in?
Tahir Della of the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD) sees Obama’s victory as „a historical moment that the whole African diaspora has been waiting for“. It is about time, “that the people who have experienced for hundreds of years oppression, exploitation and discrimination now find the political participation that seemed unthinkable for so long“. „Even more pleasant is the fact that with Barack Obama an African American has been elected who has a mixed-race background. His father was Kenyan and therefore, he is an American of the second generation“, says the Black German actor and journalist Theodor Wonja Michael.
For many Black Germans, Obama’s often quoted „exotic“ ancestry has many parallels to their own biographies. Growing up as the offspring of a black and white relationship in a white environment, often without the presence of the black parent, is part of the Afro German reality. Therefore, the hope is understandable that the election of a „world citizen“ whose roots split over three continents will also have a positive effect on black people in Germany. Yonis Ayeh of the ISD is convinced, „that we in Germany can also achieve a lot more. We have all the abilites and possibilities to finally come out of the exotic corner and actively and more directly shape our society. The doors are open! A black chancellor – male or female – should be our goal.“
Theodor Wonja Michael considers such euphoria as premature. The 83-year old actor survived the nazi regime by portraying the „blackamoor“ in German colonial movies such as „Münchhausen“, one of the first German colour movies, produced in 1943 under the appraising eyes of Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Wonja Michael does not believe in a German Obama. „In Germany, we still have a long way to go. Here we encounter a form of careless racism that is based on racial purity. A German has to „look „German and accordingly, he or she must be white. I do not know whether my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will already be able to reach such a position because here in Germany they will still be confronted with the question of origin.“ Such skepticism seems legitimate. Just one day after Obama’s triumph, a German newspaper tried to decipher “the mystery of skin colour” by using racist language to describe the president-elect: „Kinky, black hair, negroid lips and his dark complexion can be explained by his ancestry…” Change happens much slower in Germany.
In Almaz’ living room, the television shows pictures from Kenya. Barack Obama’s grandmother Sarah holds a press conference. She looks radiant and full of pride. People are singing and dancing in the streets. And in Berlin the party continues as well, more quietly and more modest, but with a new self-confidence. After all: We are President! And Formula 1 World Champion!