Anne Chebu: On Being Black and German
By Will Furtado
Why am I black and not brown? What does that even mean? And can I be black and German? These are some of the questions Anne Chebu answers in her book “Anleitung zum Schwarz sein”. Translating to “Introduction to being Black”, the book is a positive and empowering take on the black identity of the African diaspora in Germany. Exploring themes such as self-designation, exotism, hair and self-perception, the book also works as a guide offering practical advice on how to deal with police harassment and white (German) society in general. The book benefits parents, teachers and anyone unafraid of analytical discourses on race. The author and journalist is currently promoting the book, holding readings across Austria and Germany, where Will Furtado met her in Potsdam.
When did you decide to write this book?
From an early age I kept meeting young black [people] who had a very low self-esteem. Often they had grown up without any black caregivers and defined blackness with something negative. And I’ve been having such encounters up to this day. On top of that, the topic of my bachelor’s thesis was “Black people in the German media”. It offered a detailed introduction to the topic “What is racism actually?” and I thought it’d be a pity to just shelve the finished work. Moreover, at the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative for Black People in Germany) I very often met young black people who had many questions on what it actually means to be black. All these situations induced me to write a guide, so that these young black people would get their questions answered.
Is there a similar book in other countries?
I’m not so sure. In the USA there’s the book “How to be black” by Baratunde Thurston. It came out as I was almost finished with my book. I haven’t read it but I think it’s a bit more on the comedy side. There’s a lot of good literature that shows the history and prospects of black people in an impressive way. But if there is such an introductory book like mine, I don’t know.
Do you have plans to have the book translated?
Yes. I would like to bring out an English version this year. I hope it happens, it’s a question of funding. With the English version I could also offer lectures in English-speaking African countries or the United States. There are also many black people in Germany who would like to read it in English.
What is so special about being black in Germany?
A lot of things. Of course, one can think at first of the perception and reactions from white society: that they constantly remind blacks and people of colour that they don’t have white skin, that they’re don’t belong to the “norm”. But in my book, I try to show much more than the negative experiences. I want to strengthen my readers. I want to show them that there have been black Germans for over 300 years, that we also have a history here and fully belong in this country. For many people with a migration background Germany is their only home and my book is based upon that – an immersion into this homeland and its own story that connects black people with their homeland. The book will confirm to readers that their perceptions are right, and explain where these different racisms (from seemingly harmless situations) come from. The reader should be aware they have the right to decide how they want to be referred to. The “don’t be so sensitive” theme has to be wiped out and replaced with historical facts and a collective perception. And the white readers shall get an insight into the reality of an Afro-German life.
Dec 2016 – updated with video interview from Baobab TV: