Monday, November 16, 2020, 3:30-5:00pm (Pacific)
Event Moderators: Emily Frazier-Rath, Gizem Arslan, Derek Price, Andrea Bryant.
Event Organizers and Notetakers: Patrick Ploschnitzki, Rosemarie Peña, David Gramling, Ervin Malakaj, Beverly Weber, Maria Stehle, Hannah Eldridge.
Contents of this Document
Context, Attendance, Protocol, Purpose, and Next Steps
Paradigm Problems & Conditions We Face Now
General Commitments and Principles shared among attendees
Scholarly Activism: The Black German Heritage and Research Association (BGHRA) and Black German Studies in the United States
By Rosemarie Peña (Black German Heritage and Research Association)
The following is a shortened version of the keynote address Rosemarie Peña delivered November 5, 2020, for the annual Women in German Studies in the UK and Ireland Conference.
My interest in transnational adoption and child migration is inspired by my life experience as a German born, transnational adoptee. It is informed by my early career in adolescent mental health treatment and my service as founding member and president of the Black German Heritage and Research Association (BGHRA). I am also honored to serve on the steering committee of Diversity, Decolonialization, and the German Curriculum (DDGC) scholarly collective, and as co-chair of the Executive Committee of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC). As noted on its website, "ASAC promotes understanding of the experience, institution, and cultural representation of domestic and transnational adoption and related practices such as fostering, assisted reproduction, LGBTQ+ families, and innovative kinship formation."
My research focuses on the epigenetic and intergenerational impacts of maternal separation trauma and the complex identity development of persons displaced as children away from their first families and countries of origin. Both my MA thesis and doctoral dissertation are analyses of visual representations of transnational adoption. I approach the multidisciplinary fields in which my work is rooted—Childhood Studies, Adoption Studies, and German Studies—from a social justice perspective. My training in computer networks and web development have proven to be an invaluable asset not only for online community development, but also for my research. I have been an administrator and participant observer in countless adoption-related bulletin boards and virtual forums long before Facebook. Family search resources and genealogy databases preceded the graphical interfaces of the operating systems that are on our computers today. We adoptees have been searching for our first families and origin stories for a very, very long time. In the process, we’ve come to know each other.
Many adoptees reacted viscerally when they learned about the children who were separated from their mothers at the US border. We mourn with the more than five hundred whom we anticipate may never be reunited with their families—at least not during their childhoods. The intensity of the trauma these children are experiencing is irrefutable, and adoptees understand well that no matter the outcome, their lives are forever changed. There will always be a life as it was before and now after separation. It is likely that these Black and Brown children will be funneled through a colorblind adoption process and they will grow up in white families. Adoption is an industry and transnational adoption is lucrative and highly political. The public will certainly demonize the Black and Brown parents and the white adopters will be heralded as saviors. When/if this happens, the children will grow up without racial and cultural mirrors. They will forget their mothers’ faces and voices over time. BUT—their bodies will always remember. When they have lost all cognitive memory of the traumatic separation event, and many will, their limbic systems will never forget.
If adopted, the children will become privileged migrants. They will be naturalized as American citizens and variably assimilate into their adopted families and communities. They will grow up with a rescue narrative rather than their mothers’ recollections of their births and early childhoods. They will learn to be grateful for their adoptive parents and the advantages afforded to them that would not have been possible had they had remained with their genetic kin. The children will adapt differently, depending on how and where they are nurtured in their new families, and in accordance with many other factors including each child’s age, temperament, and emotional constitution. In the best-case scenarios, resilient children will develop healthy attachments within their adoptive families, positive senses of self, and the coping skills necessary to manage the immanent existential shift and their unfathomable grief. They will come to terms with their complex losses. In the worst-case scenarios, the children will develop disorganized attachments. They may suffer physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse in their new families—or, they may simply never feel like they fit in. While the children’s futures have been collectively altered at this moment in history, each child’s experience and response will be unique. Individual cases will inevitably fall somewhere in between the best and worst-case scenarios.
In adolescence, adoptees negotiate their identities differently than their non-adopted peers and many will wrestle with the cognitive dissonance that adoption effectuates and struggle to find their place in the world. Many will long to see themselves reflected in the faces of others who physically resemble them. Though, statistically, adoptees are four times more likely than non-adopted persons to attempt suicide, most fare well by external markers, meaning they will do well in school, go on to live productive lives, and enjoy satisfying social relationships. In adulthood, many will embark on their reunification journeys by searching first for their mothers. When and if they ever reunite with their first families, or return to their countries of origin, they will no longer feel at home there and neither will their children. So much they will have lost is irretrievable.
Though we might quibble about material and contextual distinctions, I argue strongly that the trauma that the children separated from their mothers at the border are enduring is analogous to the Black German or any other adoption context in many important ways. Adoption is not a one-time event, rather it is an ongoing phenomenon with ubiquitous and lifelong implications for the adopted person and their bifurcated family constellations. Today’s adoptees and their families have important advantages over the postwar generation. We understand adoption much better now and contemporary families have the benefit of educational, clinical, and social support services that were unavailable to us and our African American parents during the postwar years. Black German adoptees were early pioneers of transnational adoption and many ideas about what was in children’s best interest in the postwar era are now understood to be harmful. In this regard, the Black German adoptee cohort has been significantly disadvantaged and we are not alone.
Much of the existing literature about transnational adoption, generally, focuses on the Asian contexts, primarily Korean. Kori Graves and Lucy Bland are among if not the first to write about our Black generational peers from the UK and Korea. It is probable that Black Germans have half-siblings in Korea, since the African American GIs were sometimes transferred from Germany to Korea just because they had fathered children. Younger generations of Black adoptees who grew up in the US and Europe, who come from various Asian, Caribbean, and African countries, are also beginning to share their experiences. There are many similarities, especially with respect to how it feels to be Black and adopted with family and cultural roots in other countries.
Most transnational adoptees are social orphans. What this means is that the children had at least one living parent at the time of transfer and possibly siblings. The children were orphaned via juridical processes in the interim between relinquishment and adoption. I am the first to examine the psycho-social aspects of Black German adoption and transcultural reunification through the lens of adoption psychology. I echo Dr. Fatima el Tayeb’s sentiments, as she remarked in her keynote at the 2018 BGHRA Toronto conference that her work is primarily concerned with how it feels to be Black German. My standpoint, however, is that of a Black German American adoptee. So, keeping the postwar cohort’s concerns in mind, in the following I will share my thoughts on:
Why Black German Studies from an International Perspective is Important NOW
Black German Studies, as it emanates from the US, primarily focuses on the life experiences of Black people in Germany. Black German Americans benefit from this knowledge production, and even more so when the books are written by Black people in Germany and are translated into English. Nevertheless, I argue that the burgeoning discipline’s narrow scope is harmful as it perpetuates the myth that Black Germans are fewer in number in diaspora than we are, and it simultaneously erases those living outside of Germany from the discourse. The postwar war generation to which the adoptees belong, comprises not the first, but the largest cohort of dual-heritage children born in the wake of war to German women and Black men on German soil. Many grew up in adoptive families in Denmark, the US, and in the Caribbean. Many non-adopted Black Germans also grew up in the US after the War, and still others immigrated as adults. Black German American children are born every year and adoptees are reconnecting with their families all the time. The Black German diaspora is multicultural, and its members often lead transnational lives. There are Black Germans in the UK, for example, and Black persons with families and cultural roots in the UK who live in Germany. There are Black Germans living elsewhere in Europe, Canada, Africa, and in the Caribbean. We meet local community members at every BGHRA conference in the US, and we met Black Germans in Toronto.
Many people who are socially coded as Black and who are living in the US have recent ancestry and close relatives in Germany. We have no distinctive characteristics or physical attributes, so you may not even recognize those of us who are in your midst. In the US, we are multigenerational and have disparate family backgrounds and cultural roots. We also have children and grandchildren who have interest in their German heritage. Importantly, not all Black Germans living in the US are adopted; and not all of the adoptees were fathered by African American GIs. All Black German Lives Matter to the BGHRA and, for the adoptees, Black German Studies has a special meaning. The field documents a history we were never supposed to know—and one from which we have been effectively and deliberately erased. Yet, here we are, we’re still here. For more than two decades we are collectively in reunion with our first families and in discourse and actuality with Black Germans having a myriad of life experiences in many geographical contexts. The adoptive cohort emerged as a topic of scholarly interest concomitantly with and in response to the transnational community development initiated by Black Germans living in the US. A brief overview of my work thus far will be helpful to explicate further.
In my article published in the journal Genealogy I explain how before WIFI and Facebook William Gage’s archived newsletters offer early insight into the search and reunion activities of German born adoptees, Black and white. Leonie Boehmer, a search consultant and frequent contributor to Gage’s newsletter, warned Black Germans in advance that reunification would not be easy for them. The newsletter also featured stories by and about Black Germans who were adopted or fostered in Germany and who were searching for their fathers in the US.
Dr. Marion Kraft’s edited volume, Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration (2015), which was later translated into English as Children of the Liberation: Transatlantic Experiences and Perspectives of Black Germans of the Post-War Generation (2020), is the first and only transnational anthology devoted solely to the postwar generation. The life narratives coming from the US are few in Kraft’s text and these are neither exemplary nor representative of a collective experience. My chapter, “Stories Matter-Contextualizing Black German American Adoptee Experience(s),” contextualizes Black German adopted childhoods located in Civil Rights era and the Cold War years by contrasting the experiences of the adoptees who grew up on military campuses with those who grew up in civilian communities. My forthcoming essay, “Black Germans: Reunifying in Diaspora,” in Silke Hackenesch’s Making Families Across Race and Nation: The Histories and Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption, brings the discussion forward into the postwar generation’s present. My contribution to Hackenesch’s book chronicles the development of an international Black German counter-public over the past twenty years. It is noteworthy that this highly visible counter-public is virtually absent in the flourishing literary canon and is rarely mentioned in German Studies conferences outside of BGHRA. Non-adopted Black German Americans and those who were born in Germany and later migrated to the US are rendered invisible in the field. Nevertheless, many who teach Black German Studies or contribute to the literature have attended and/or presented at our BGHRA conferences. This is active erasure. The adoptive cohort and their generational peers are indeed living history and our reunification after more than half a century is worthy of acknowledgment.
My friend Maria’s story will help me to further illustrate the urgency with which I advocate for a more inclusive Black German Studies. Maria was born in Auerbach, Bayern, in 1948. Her mother died right after childbirth. Maria and her older brother Hermann were left in the care of their grandparents. Relatives convinced the elderly couple to relinquish Maria for transnational adoption. In 2012, I received an email from her cousin Brenda asking if I would help to locate Maria. Hermann missed his sister and wanted so badly to hear from her.
Brenda and I found Maria on her birthday, May 21, 2012, and it meant the world to her that her German brother was looking for her. She had no idea how to search, so she never tried. We became good friends and when Hermann wrote his first letter to Maria, in German, she asked me to help her translate. Maria’s failing health prevented her from attending our conferences, though she was anxious to meet and learn about other Black Germans. So, I sent her books and journal articles. When Hermann couldn’t wait any longer to see his younger sister, he sent her an airplane ticket. Maria had a bad heart and found navigating all the bureaucracy necessary to obtain a passport to be daunting, so she procrastinated. At the age of seventy-one, in June 2019, Maria passed away without ever meeting Hermann or her cousin Brenda. Brenda was the first to notify me of Maria’s death and according to her, Hermann was inconsolable. Though they had been legally dekinned for more than a half century, in Hermann’s heart Maria never stopped being his sister and Maria felt the same way about him. After she passed away, Maria’s granddaughter Tiffany called me to ask what I knew of Maria’s adoption journey. She is determined to write Maria’s biography, and Maria had already advised me that this was her wish before she died. Tiffany also wants to learn German and hopes to study abroad in graduate school someday. I promised I’d help Tiffany to the best of my ability. As Maria’s unrequited reunion and subsequent death explicitly reveals, time is of the essence; the postwar generation is aging. We and our children deserve to know and to be included in our German history during our lifetimes. We are eager to learn about our Black German siblings and the extended family and heritage we left behind.
Why Subjectivities and Positionalities Matter
Over the past two decades I have observed and facilitated many family reunions and have worked tirelessly to engage and reunify the Black diaspora that was ruptured in the postwar years by German racism via the juridical processes of transnational adoption. While the BGHRA encourages the ethical study of Black German life, history, and cultural production, we unequivocally privilege Black German voices as experts of our own life experiences. It matters significantly to us who is conveying our stories, and how we, our families, and our ancestors are being portrayed in them. In German studies, as it is also the case in adoption studies, tensions arise because too often those who shape the academic discourses that have the potential to influence public opinion are not the subjects themselves. In this regard, my work and the work of many other Black German scholars is necessarily political.
It is imperative to note here that three generations of dual-heritage Black German children were already the subjects of twentieth century state-sanctioned research projects that defined us as aberrant beings who are innately inferior to white Germans. The social anthropologists concluded that by virtue of our so-called tainted blood, we are genetically predisposed to mental illness, promiscuity, and criminality. We were depicted as a threat to German society and to ourselves. These ideas contributed to the German mindset that led to the sterilization of many after WWI, and later precipitated our adoptions. It makes perfect sense, then, that Black Germans are deeply concerned about the interpretations of our lives put forth by non-Black German scholars, journalists, and filmmakers—even those who may look like us but are not us. Too often, these well-intentioned efforts don’t correspond to what we are interested in learning about one another and only serve to rub salt into festering wounds and reify old stereotypes and stigma. In the end we are left questioning, “what’s really in all this for us?”
One of the primary reasons I pursued my doctorate was that without a PhD, I knew I would only be research subject. I would never be taken seriously as an expert within the academy. The best I could ever do would be to publish my memoir. But, if I had published what I wrote in the early 2000s, I would surely be ashamed and embarrassed today. If you’ve googled me before attending this talk, at least half of what you think you know about me is false. Much of my story challenges the existing narrative of Black German Adoption, and I reiterate with emphasis that each of our origin, adoption, and reunification stories is unique. There is no collective Black German adoption experience.
Adoptees are often emotionally vulnerable, especially when they are searching. Our knowledge about our early lives in Germany and our feelings about our adoptions are subject to change over time. I have considerable regret, for example, about sharing so much of my personal life publicly, and I am thankful that my families are as supportive as they are. Videos and interviews in which I have participated were sometimes edited in ways that distorted what I intended to convey, what I would really want the world to know—or want my grandchildren and nieces and nephews to read someday. But not everyone is able to earn a doctorate, nor has the time and inclination to write their memoirs. Yet many of us do want to share our stories and to hear those of our peers. This presents an ethical dilemma; one that prevents me from taking on an ethnographic project and also why I no longer speak to the press about my personal life. I ignore requests from anyone who writes to the BGHRA asking for referrals to subjects for their projects, because I firmly believe that my fellow adoptees should own their own stories and that we shouldn’t be collectivized.
Too often adoptees’ experiences are sensationalized for public consumption and only the most heart wrenching stories make the news. We call this adoption porn and the narratives often follow the typical orphan tropes. For example, reunion stories often have either a storybook ending or a tragic one. Family reunification is far more complicated than it is generally portrayed in journalism and media. Once a reporter from the Military Times asked me to help her find four or five interviewees from the postwar generation and I complied. I referred her to both adoptees and non-adoptees, who were delighted to share their positive life experiences. Maria was one of them and, at the time, she was in the honeymoon phase of her reunification. She had just received several albums with dozens of photos of her German family and was anticipating her trip to Germany to visit Hermann. The Military Times article was never published, and the journalist never responded to my requests for a status update after the interviews were completed. I’m sure the responses conflicted with the narrative she had in mind. You can’t begin to fathom the number of offensive requests I’ve received from journalists and scholars over the years, who clearly hadn’t read anything I’d written or much else authored by Black Germans, for that matter. In these requests the writers often refer to the adoptees in derogatory ways and their project proposals, in my estimation, would be more harmful than beneficial to Black Germans and our families. Some of the questions that come through our email simply make no sense at all. For example, I was recently contacted through the BGHRA website by a high school German teacher who wanted to feature Black Germans during their classroom celebration for German Unity Day. They thought it appropriate to ask me what Black Germans eat so they could prepare an authentic meal. Obviously, this person has not yet received a response.
As an accidental gatekeeper, and as an adoption scholar, I prefer to err on the side of over-protection when it comes to our adoptive cohort. My concern is not only for the adoptee, but also for the wellbeing of our cohort and international community. Many of us are family after all. My role models have always been the Black scholars and activists from Germany who precede me, not necessarily in age, but in their scholarly activism. When I was contemplating my dissertation proposal, for example, I mentioned to my friend Noah Sow that I was curious about Black German children’s identity development and was planning to apply for funding to do research in Hamburg. Noah asked me if I planned to move to Hamburg and work with the children, and if not, if I could explain to her exactly how the children in Hamburg would benefit from my study. From then on, my research interest has been pointedly focused on adoptees and Black Germans in the US, my own community within our diaspora.
The BGHRA Vision and Restorative Justice
The BGHRA conferences, therefore, intentionally create a space for multilayered conversations among Black Germans and with the scholars whose academic careers are built around analyzing our collective, individual, and often intimate life experiences. Since described as a watershed event, the inaugural BGHRA conference was attended by many who had been virtually acquainted for over decade on the various social networks. As reflected in the conference theme, “Strengthening Transatlantic Connections,” the event symbolically celebrated the rekinning of Black Germans in diaspora. Scholars Priscilla Layne and S. Marina Jones authored the conference report commemorating the auspicious occasion. The report, photographs, and videos of the keynote and presentations are since archived on the BGHRA website.
On the first morning of the three-day event, a delegation of Black Germans representing the US, Germany, Nigeria, and South Africa met with representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus. The multicultural delegation of persons having diverse relationships to Germany was invited to Capitol Hill by Congressman Alcee Hastings of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Policy Advisor Dr. Mischa Thompson facilitated a conversation about earlier interventions into anti-Black racism in Germany. I spoke to the group about the obstacles confronting those seeking original birth and adoption records. Adoptees were hoping for a centralized mechanism for finding families that would mediate for language, economic, and bureaucratic barriers. Though fully aware that this was not the appropriate forum through which we could realistically expect any direct intervention, I noted then that many adoptees had also expressed a desire for an unfettered path to dual citizenship—US and German—without any complicated legal procedures or economic penalties. We were determined to be acknowledged and wanted Germany to apologize, though I doubted that any of us actually planned on uprooting away from our families in the US and moving back to Germany. These first moments on Capitol Hill defined the political ethos within which the diaspora community officially made a unified public debut. Black German scholarship and activism emanating from Germany in the 1980s indeed paved the way for the adoptees’ voices to be included for the first time in such an important forum. The conversation among the delegates and officials affirmed that the social justice concerns of the Black community in Germany and those of the transnational adoptees are inextricably intertwined.
Predictably, my friend Noah Sow, who also happens to be a well-known activist and author, was our first keynote speaker. The title of her talk was Geteilte Geschichte. She explained to the adoptees in the audience that it is our shared history, which also divided us. Sow explained how the mass deportation of Black German children in the 1950s and 1960s contributed to the isolation of our siblings and peers who were challenged in the aftermath with negotiating a collective identity in a hostile white German society. She said:
You were expelled from your own country because Germans cannot be Black, and you just happened to be: Black Germans. Step by step, we are coming to understand that there is a reason, a link to why our older generations in Germany grew up isolated, alienated from other Black people—with the same pain and the key question that could not and cannot be safely enunciated, ‘You all do not identify with me. Where can I find somebody who does? And whom I can identify with?’ We are coming to understand why this has been so. Why most of the Black German kids in the 1970s and 1980s didn't have anybody to turn to. Because they had taken you away. You would have been our sisters, our mothers, our aunts. Our teachers, our deans, our doctors, our librarians, our social workers, our judges, our pilots, our nurses, our neighbors. We've been missing you a great deal.
Many of us still wonder what Germany would be like today had we not been sent away—if family preservation was prioritized and Germany could have imagined itself as a multicultural nation after the War.
Our most recent conference planned for April 2020 at my home institution, Rutgers University–Camden, was postponed due to the pandemic, but we hope to convene in person when it is safe to travel. It is essential for us to be together in person. Locally, many of our fathers retired from the military at Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base and purchased their homes in the surrounding area in Southern New Jersey. We were so looking forward to introducing our local community to our friends who always travel to be with us. Several of us adoptees attended high school here in New Jersey together, but the secrecy and shame surrounding our adoptions prevented us from sharing our stories when we were teenagers, when we were grappling with our identities. Today we are happily sharing our reunion experiences. I hope they will be present with their newly found siblings so they will be able to share their stories with us and learn more about our history and cultural production when we are again able to convene.
Our plan is also to honor Retired Sgt. 1st Class James Thompson, the 24th Infantry Regiment Association National President, Buffalo Soldiers, and his wife Maria Thompson. This week the couple are celebrating their sixty-fourth anniversary. Mr. Thompson has devoted his professional career to protecting and serving the people of the United States. A proud Buffalo Soldier, he has earned many honors including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his 21 years of military service. The Thompsons and my daughter’s godparents, Mr. and Mrs. Milton and Charlotte Johnson, were featured in Dag Freyer’s Documentary, Breath of Freedom, upon my introduction. These two met in Absam, Tyrol, Austria after the War, where Charlotte was born and raised. Sadly, Oma, as we affectionately call her, passed away shortly after the filming, and Opa is in poor health now, so it is doubtful that he will ever be able to attend our conference. However, we are also inviting Cathy Thompson to share her testimony about growing up Black German and the experience of participating with her family in Freyer’s film. We now look forward to honoring her for her service on the front lines as a nurse during Covid-19. As a dedicated public servant, she is following her father’s footsteps. In one segment in the documentary, the two families, the Thompsons and the Johnsons, appear together around the pool in Thompson’s back yard. Cathy and Patricia, the Johnson’s daughter, are present in the documentary but are never actually interviewed. They are only part of the mise-en-scène: clearly visible but ignored, like so many of us in German Studies. The BGHRA wants to change this.
We, who are institutionally based in the US, are fully aware that we are privileged to do this work in ways that our brothers and sisters in Germany are not and that Black German Studies in the US is yet problematic. The flourishing field is dominated by voices not our own that speak for us and about us. They decide which stories matter and which aspects of our lives are worthy of exploration. Our invisibility suggests that location, and the juridical processes of transnational adoption and migration have magically stripped away our Black German identities. Reclaiming our first families and our erased German heritage is just one of the ways in which US adoptees are now demanding restorative justice. There is much more to come—stay tuned. It is not we who are confused about our identities; it is they who are in denial, who refuse to acknowledge us for who we are, in all our cultural and experiential diversity.
If you followed the German Studies conference season this year, in the US and the UK, which was mostly virtual, you might have noticed that there were several events about Black Germans and Black Germany in the time of Black Lives Matter. Many academic organizations in the US posted statements in support of Black Lives on websites. The BGHRA did not. We exist because Black Lives Matter, so for us it is implicit in our founding. We felt it more appropriate to hold weekly meetings to support Black Scholars in German Studies, whom we were concerned may be struggling after the heinous murder of George Floyd. We plan to reconvene these meetings soon. If you attended these German conferences, you might have also wondered why Black German scholars are so in the minority at these events. My response would be to ask if German Studies is or has ever been a safe intellectual space for us to thrive? We at the BGHRA hope one that day it will be, and that our young people, our children and grandchildren will feel like they belong in your classrooms—wherever you teach. We hope they will soon be learning about our Geteilte Geschichte, our shared and divided history. In closing, however, I implore those of you who do not identify as Black Germans and who are already publishing and teaching about us to thoughtfully consider whether your work is complementing or complicating our reunification in diaspora.
Bland, Lucy. Britain’s “Brown Babies”: The Stories of Children Born to Black GIs and White Women in the Second World War. Manchester University Press, 2019.
Campt, Tina M. “Converging Spectres of an Other within: Race and Gender in Prewar Afro-German History.” Callaloo, vol. 26, no. 2, 2003, pp. 322–41.
El-Tayeb, Fatima. Beyond the Black Paradigm? Afro-Diasporic Strategies in the Age of Neo-Nationalism. Black German Heritage and Research Association, University of Toronto.
Graves, Kori A. A War Born Family: African American Adoption in the Wake of the Korean War. NYU Press, 2020.
Kraft, Marion, editor. Children of the Liberation: Transatlantic Experiences and Perspectives of Black Germans of the Post-War Generation. Peter Lang, 2020.
---, editor. Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration. Unrast, 2015.
Lemke Muniz de Faria, Yara-Colette. “Black German ‘Occupation’ Children: Objects of Study in the Continuity of German Race Anthropology.” Children of World War II the Hidden Enemy Legacy, edited by Kjersti Ericsson and Eva Simonsen. Berg, 2005.
Lemke Muniz de Faria, Yara-Collette. Zwischen Fürsorge und Ausgrenzung: afrodeutsche “Besatzungskinder” im Nachkriegsdeutschland. Metropol, 2002.
Lemke Muniz deFaria, Yara-Colette Lemke Muniz de. “‘Germany’s “Brown Babies” Must Be Helped! Will You?’: U.S. Adoption Plans for Afro-German Children, 1950-1955.” Callaloo, vol. 26, no. 2, Apr. 2003, pp. 342–62.
Peña, Rosemarie. “Bedeutsame Geschichten: Kontextualisierung Der Erfahrung(En) Schwarzer Deutsch-Amerikanischer Adoptierter.” Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration, edited by Marion Kraft. Unrast Verlag, 2015, pp. 223–60.
---. “Black Germans, Reunification and Belonging in Diaspora.” Black Anthology: Adult Adoptees Claim Their Space, edited by Susan Harris O’Connor MSW et al. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
---. “Black Germans: Reunification and Belonging in Diaspora.” Adoption & Culture: The Interdisciplinary Journal of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture, vol. 6, no. 1, 2018, pp. 26–30.
---. “Black Germans: Reunifying in Diaspora.” Making Families Across Race and Nation: The Histories and Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption, edited by Silke Hackenesch. Ohio State University Press, 2021.
---. “From Both Sides of the Atlantic: Black German Adoptee Searches in William Gage’s Geborener Deutscher (Born German).” Genealogy, vol. 2, no. 4, Oct. 2018, pp. 13–20.
---. “Stories Matter- Contextualizing Black German American Adoptee Experience(s).” International Adoption in North American Literature and Culture, edited by Mark Shackleton. Palgrave, 2017.
Sow, Noah. Deutschland Schwarz Weiß. Der alltägliche Rassismus. C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 2008.
---. Geteilte Geschichte. Conference, Black German Heritage & Research Association, 21 Aug. 2011.
On October 4th, 2020 as part of the closing of the 44th annual conference of the German Studies Association, Lydia Tang and Patrizia McBride, hosted a roundtable discussion on The Future of German Studies. All panelists were invited to share brief initial remarks to kick-off the larger discussion. In an effort to extend this discussion beyond the conference and those able to participate live, we are sharing below the opening statements of each of the panelists in the order they were given.
We will not try to summarize the at large discussion of that day, but hope that publishing these statements here will initiate a continuation of the exchange, a further probing of the ideas presented below as well as create additional room to explore with a larger audience what the future of German Studies might hold and how we may achieve it.
Assistant Director of Programs, MLA (all views expressed here are my own)
Formerly Lecturer in German at Carleton College and Visiting Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University
In the ninety minutes allotted to our roundtable, we cannot hope to scratch the surface of the issues our discipline is facing this year, as well as those likely to arise in upcoming years. What we hope to accomplish is to create awareness of the different institutional frameworks in which the work of reimagining the discipline is situated. In doing so, this session builds on the 2019 conference “Re-Imagining the Discipline: German Studies, the Humanities, and the University,” organized by Patrizia McBride and Paul Fleming at Cornell University, which brought into sharp focus the extent to which our institutional affiliations shape our perspective on German studies. I am grateful to Patrizia and Paul for the opportunity to build on these conversations, and I am particularly indebted to Patrizia for her willingness to co-organize and co-moderate this GSA session with me.
In addition to the range of institutional perspectives that roundtable participants bring to this discussion, it is important to note that all currently serve or have served in leadership roles in professional organizations, such as GSA, WiG, DDGC, MLA, and ADFL. What can professional organizations do to support vulnerable faculty members and graduate students in this moment of crisis? How can established scholarly organizations collaborate with smaller forums to create lasting change?
Throughout our conversation, we will return to the question of graduate program reform and our responsibilities toward doctoral students—quite literally, the future of German studies. In doing so, we hope to join other colleagues in making the case for the GSA conference as a space not only for research presentations but also for conversations about the profession. The emphasis on graduate education is not meant to suggest German undergraduate programs are unworthy of our attention; quite on the contrary, it recognizes most faculty positions in our field focus primarily, if not exclusively, on teaching undergraduate students, often while shouldering a substantial administrative load as the director of a small language program. The “prestige economy” of doctoral education privileges research and perpetuates the bifurcated curricular and governance models first critiqued thirteen years ago in Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World. As a result, their training leaves graduates ill prepared for the realities of teaching German outside the ivory tower—not to mention positions outside the academy.
As we embark on these conversations, I would like to end by pointing to the voices who are missing from our roundtable so that we can be aware of our own blind spots and prioritize questions from members of these groups: adjunct instructors, including part-time faculty members; language program directors and other colleagues whose work focuses primarily on language teaching and pedagogy; German PhDs who, like myself, have left the profession; and current graduate students.
 The conference website documents many of these contributions: https://futurehumanities.wixsite.com/re-imagining/contributors-essays. An expanded version of my own remarks can be found here: https://profession.mla.org/against-smallness-how-successful-language-programs-reimagine-the-humanities/.
 Cf. Leonard Cassuto, “Why We Need a Yelp for Doctoral Programs,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 18 December 2019. https://www.chronicle.com/article/why-we-need-a-yelp-for-doctoral-programs/
Frank and Roberta Furbush Scholar in German Studies
Associate Professor and Chair of German Studies at Grinnell College
A More Comprehensive Approach to German Studies
I cannot predict what the future holds for the interdisciplinary field of German Studies. I doubt we will return to the conditions I enjoyed when I received my undergraduate degree, attended graduate school, and then went on the job market and secured a tenure-track position. Rather than look to the future, I can say that many two- and four-year educational institutions in the United States are in the midst of an existential crisis right now, much earlier than anticipated. There was a drop in undergraduate enrollment across the board in September 2020, and it is particularly troubling that the enrollment of first-time students at two-year institutions dropped by 22.7% at the start of this academic term. This matters because two-year institutions are the pathway to opportunity for students from low-income and diverse backgrounds. Many people would not have earned a doctorate and enjoyed the benefits of increased employment stability, health insurance, and benefits if they hadn’t enrolled in a two-year college first. The wealthy institutions that can survive demographic shifts and the pandemic will probably be okay; those who serve students from more diverse families will have a much tougher time of it. What can the German Studies Association do in light of the dire circumstances today and such a bleak future?
I want to make a couple of simple suggestions: Every time we, as an Association, want to address issues primarily facing graduate education at research institutions, let us say or write “undergraduate and graduate education,” instead. When we frame discussions around research, let us make sure that we also include pedagogy scholarship and ethical mentorship in our deliberations. By shifting the conversation in this small way, the German Studies Association acknowledges our responsibility and investment in the success of all of the students at our institutions, that they thrive and complete their degrees and find meaningful ways of living inside and outside our field. I believe that looking outward and not only inward to our specializations and scholarship could help us go a long way to push for broader participation in higher education and advance racial and economic equality in the United States.
Most students do not enter our classrooms because they want to publish books about canonical writers, political movements, art, or philosophy. Many enroll because they want to speak a new language and only discover how transformational learning German can be in retrospect. It certainly changed my life’s trajectory. Students continue taking our classes because many of the members of the Association teach in smaller departments and foster a nurturing environment for intellectual and personal growth. We care about the whole student. We listen to what they are going through at college and help them navigate the challenges they face in higher education. Our members can be indispensable advocates for the people on our campuses who never enter our classrooms, too. We work to enhance student experience so that all the students on our campus—not just the ones who enroll in German—succeed. It is key in this shared endeavor that many members of the German Studies Association hold leadership roles at our institutions and, more broadly, in the profession. We should push to establish better administrative policy that mitigates bias in recruitment, hiring, and reviews. We should persuade others that supporting local K-12 teachers, as well as the recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students from all backgrounds matters a lot even if it doesn’t improve the numbers in our own campus units. We should ask about the conditions of staff and show perhaps as much concern for the communities that border our campuses as for those living thousands of miles away.
There are some changes I would love to see. Why hasn’t there been more space for scholarship on teaching and for other career pathways at German Studies Association meetings? Could we look to the American Historical Association, for example, as a model for how the German Studies Association might transform itself into a hub for teaching scholarship and practice, advocacy, career preparation, and public engagement? The AHA includes receptions and sessions for undergraduates, graduate students, two-year faculty, K-12 teachers, public historians, and invites back people who completed degrees in history to give talks on their careers at two-year institutions, non-profits, libraries and archives, in government, business, museum education, and higher education administration. The AHA holds sessions on pedagogical best practices, assessment, and experiential learning. How could such a change at future GSA conferences help sustain a conversation about career options for our undergraduates and graduate students so that our teaching and mentorship skills benefit the profession and society broadly? How can social practice and activism be a regular part of our professional conversations as well as undergraduate and graduate teaching and research, which is the case in Art History, Black Studies, or in American Studies?
I cannot predict whether there will be a German Studies Association in twenty-five or fifty years. What will our membership numbers look like if the demographic trends progress in the ways we are witnessing today? I know that we are already working in a field transformed. It is up to the members of the German Studies Association to address the needs of the entire community today.
Assistant Professor of German, Emory University
Co-chair of the MLA Committee on the Status of Grad Students in the Humanities
With three months left to go, it is safe to say that 2020 will be remembered as a time of unprecedented crisis. We are dealing with four pandemics simultaneously: 1) COVID-19; 2) anti-Black racism, police brutality, and white supremacist violence; 3) climate change; and 4) widespread unemployment and economic hardship. These have resulted in huge challenges within academia, from funding shortfalls to radical changes in modes of instruction and campus life, though the most urgent crises within academia, such as graduate education and the systemic exclusion of scholars of color, did not arise as a result of this year but have rather been further exacerbated. In this brief impulse statement, I would like to relay some of the issues of graduate education from my position as a recent graduate, recent job seeker, member of the steering committees of WiG and DDGC, and co-chair of the MLA Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities.
Graduate education in the humanities has been in crisis ever since the annual number of doctorates granted began to greatly exceed the number of stable academic jobs. The financial collapse in 2008 created a vacuum of tenure track jobs that has never been recovered. It already seemed grim over the last few years when the market consisted of about 25 tenure track, 15-20 renewable non-tenure track, and 20-30 visiting positions. This year, as of early October, there is only one tenure track job in German, two tenure track jobs for which German is one of the possible areas of focus, and one limited term teaching position. Graduate students have long called for support to pivot to alt-ac or post-ac careers. While some programs offer extensive additional training and professionalization opportunities, students in other programs can only discuss their non-tenure track aspirations in hushed tones.
It is understandable that graduate faculty feel they are not equipped to support graduate students to pursue careers in which they themselves do not have training while also making sure the students reach benchmarks in their programs and academic professionalization. But graduate programs need not look far to provide opportunities for their students to gain important skills and experience to support their future career plans; connect students to opportunities at the university press, library, museum, writing center, center for teaching and learning, undergraduate advising office, study abroad office, or other relevant arenas. Invite alumni from your program to speak with students about how they pursued their career paths. Encourage students to attend (virtual) career fairs and partner with career services to run workshops for how to revise an academic CV into a resume. Draw on networked mentorship structures to assure that students have access to multiple sets of expertise on which to draw when applying to a range of positions.
Even programs that focus solely on training future academics are often outdated and plagued by magical thinking, urging students not to professionalize, despite the incredible expectations they will face on the academic job market. I vividly remember a conversation I had as a graduate student with a high-ranking administrator in the School of Arts and Sciences who told me that “graduate students shouldn’t be worrying about publishing or attending conferences” because a top-tier Ph.D. would be “enough” to obtain a tenure track position. We know that this is simply not true and that graduate students are under increasing pressure to prove their merit as mature academics before ever depositing their dissertations. Whenever possible, revise graduate curricula to allow students to reach benchmarks in the program while also meeting professional goals. For example, can the comprehensive exam requirement be fulfilled by students producing a polished article draft ready to submit for peer review, with the mentorship support to achieve that aim? Think creatively about how to make requirements work for the students rather than the other way around.
The problems sadly go far beyond job training and support. A recent report by the MLA Task Force on Ethics in Graduate Education revealed that graduate education is overwhelmingly characterized by “precarity and sexual harassment but also issues such as mental health challenges, lack of transparency, favoritism and bias, and emotional and material exploitation.” As graduate programs look to adapt to the new set of administrative austerity measures in a continuing and, eventually, a post-COVID landscape, they should make sure that their decisions are made transparently and that they are holding themselves accountable first and foremost to their current students and recent graduates. Furthermore, as our field adapts to this reality, we must boldly prioritize striving toward racial justice, decolonization, and ethical recruitment and hiring within our field.
Associate Professor of German and Chair of the Department of Languages & Literatures, University of North Carolina Asheville
Co-Founder of the Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum scholarly collective
I am arriving at the conversation as someone who 7 years ago was hired on a Visiting Assistant Position with the task to renew and revive the two-person German department at a Small Public Liberal Arts College and as someone who is since July of this year the tenured Department Chair. I am not sharing this as a success story, but working in a small German program has convinced me that the future of German Studies will depend on such small programs and how well we prepare our Graduate Students to work in them and how well we support these programs.
The Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum scholarly collective was born because Dr. Ervin Malakaj and I found ourselves in very similar situations at our first positions out of graduate school. And despite the strong graduate programs we both came from and the significant pedagogical training we received, we were not prepared to create a curriculum for the diverse student body we were seeking to attract to our departments. We were also not trained in how to teach Adjective endings at 9:30am, a special topics course at 3pm and a class for the general education requirement in between and how to continue to publish with a 4/4 teaching load and alongside the high-level of student mentoring expected in small programs. And we figured all this out not through the GSA, MLA, or AATG, but because of connections with colleagues and friends in similar positions.
Of course the future of German Studies will depend not only on addressing those issues, but on a large scale envisioning of our discipline and what our role in the academy at large should be. It will depend on our response to the contingency crisis in our field and how it impacts especially those of our colleagues already pushed to the margins.
Based on the participation I have seen at conferences and seminars on this subject, based on who is involved in the scholarly collective it seems that the envisioning of German Studies is not a shared interest across ranks and gender. The future of German Studies, however, will depend on those who hold significant institutional power to get on board or to get out of the way.
George M. Roth Professor of German, Georgetown University
Editor, Gegenwartsliteratur: A German Studies Yearbook
The role of PhD programs in German Studies, i.e., the education of the new generation of German studies scholars and teachers, goes to the heart of the Roundtable’s focus on “The Future of German Studies.” In my initial statement, I therefore addressed the significance of teacher education -- a dimension of graduate programs that despite many interventions from individuals and reports from our professional organizations often does not receive adequate attention and recognition.
Arguably, in the current precarious situation with so many open questions regarding higher education in general and the future of modern language programs in particular, reaffirming the central role of teacher education has become even more important. While it might seem obvious to directors of language programs and scholars of SLA (second language acquisition), I would call on all members of the profession, but especially on scholars of literature and culture, to think about teacher education as intricate part of the intellectual mission of graduate programs and not merely as a necessary ‘add-on’ to scholarly pursuits.
What does this mean on the ground? Close and consistent mentorship throughout a graduate student’s teaching career; exposure to relevant research in SLA in required coursework that goes beyond an introduction to teaching methods; and, perhaps most importantly, opportunities for graduate students to become familiar with thinking about individual courses as part of an articulated four-year undergraduate curriculum. In addition to excellent teaching abilities, the familiarity with curricular design is central for preparing PhD students for the job market as the majority of positions are likely to be located in small German programs that often require a rethinking of the undergraduate curriculum or parts thereof.
Furthermore, approaching a four-year German studies curriculum as dynamic and ever evolving will enable a new generation of German studies scholars to not only envision thematic changes but to implement these changes in meaningful ways. This has gained special relevance with recent concerted efforts to diversify and de-colonize the curriculum in German programs.
Against this backdrop, I want to conclude with two examples of how course and curricular design can be integrated into a graduate program: As final task in the required course “Literacy and Foreign Language Teaching” at Georgetown University, graduate students redesign a course unit at the introductory or intermediate course level by focusing on the integration of language learning and content. For instance, a recent course unit designed by a PhD student focused on public spaces in German cities from a disabilities studies perspective. The second example is a dissertation by one of our PhD students who straddles SLA and cultural studies and who explores how to give adequate attention to the role of Black Germans in German society especially in teaching materials at the lower levels of the curriculum. Both projects exemplify the powerful synergy between SLA research, Cultural and Literary studies, and curriculum innovation.
Johannes von Moltke
President The German Studies Association
Vice President, American Friends of Marbach
This is a discussion that draws on many voices, including those of my co-panelists represented here, but also at GSA events such as the Forum on Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice, or the Queer and Trans German Studies roundtable; at the Cornell conference last year on “Re-imagining the Discipline;” or in op eds and articles, including Lydia Tang’s great piece “Against Smallness.” In adding my perspective, I speak from my experience both at Michigan but also as president of the GSA over the past two years. But bear in mind that a bird’s eye view can also obscure and gloss over important details of the landscape. I should also note that I do not speak on behalf of the GSA and that all opinions are my own.
This session’s title – the future of German Studies – obviously begs the question of our field’s past and present. I won’t go into the former, but I do think it behooves us to take stock of where we find ourselves today if we want our talk about tomorrow, let alone the future, to have any purchase.
By one measure at least, like many other fields, German Studies is presently defunct and has no future. If you look at the jobs wiki, you’ll look in vain for positions in German, Austrian, or even Central European history; under German Studies, as Didem Uca also noted in her remarks, you’ll find three positions, one of them with an “applicant beware” notice in the comments section. In fact, for all the warnings about comments sections, this one should be required reading, if only for the line that this year, you’d have better chances at winning the lottery than landing a job in German Studies. Coupled with the state of the world in every other respect, the feeling of rage that one panelist at the Queer and Trans German Studies roundtable expressed yesterday seems like a most rational response. Others I’ve heard include: worry, depression, anger, despair. These responses come from the people who are the future of the field, if it is to have one. And if we want to talk about that future, we must listen to them.
But what does it mean to listen, let alone to act upon what we’re hearing? Listening and hearing require fora for exchange, places and platforms where people can be heard – and not just comments sections on job wikis. We need institutions that facilitate such listening and that can act. Existing institutions such as the GSA are admittedly sluggish – there’s an inertia built into them, and often for good reasons that I’d be ready to defend (reasons having to do with the relationship between democracy and bureaucracy). That said, I see the GSA as a collaborative project that is invested in creating space for envisioning the future of the discipline not only through conference papers, but also through the interdisciplinary networks, through advocacy, through the creation of support structures such as our Community Fund, through town halls and forums and roundtables or collective blogs such as this one.
Curiously and somewhat counter-intuitively, then, when I look at the present of German Studies through the lens of the GSA, I hear not only rage, anxiety, or worry but also see innovation, collaboration, opportunity. And I see exhilarating, important work being done, as evidenced not only in the award winning books and articles, and the invigorating sessions even at a virtual GSA but also in our members’ public-facing work (for examples, think only of the important contributions on how BLM resonates across the Atlantic, but also on how and to what extent we should turn to the history of Fascism for understanding our global present). More generally speaking, I’ve always been struck by the fact that the GSA has remained stable, and has even grown, over the past few years and in the face of institutional shrinkage, economic pressures, and countervailing experiences in other scholarly associations.
If this picture sounds a bit too rosy against the backdrop of the current job situation and the neoliberal disinvestment from academic learning more generally, I would hope that we’re able to embrace this contradiction rather than whisk it away in favor of either doom and gloom or Panglossian optimism. For both can be true at once: the situation is dire and many of the initiatives I’m seeing are heartening. One doesn’t cancel out the other.
By the same token, I am deeply concerned by institutional responses that involve putting graduate programs on hold. This seems to me short-sighted, and it does the bidding of administrations and legislatures that treat higher education as a zero-sum game, pitting German departments against other language departments, the language departments against other humanities departments, the humanities against STEM fields, always with the unspoken assumption that I can only get my share of the pie if I take it away from you.
Now, I’m not naïve. I understand that we operate under material constraints. I also understand that advocating for maintaining our graduate programs requires a willingness to rethink them, and it requires clear communication with applicants and prospective students about what prospects these programs can and cannot offer.
But let me close by countering the zero-sum model of higher ed with an emphasis on collaboration. As anyone who has been involved in meaningful collaborative projects knows, these are processes in which the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. As such, they form an inherent challenge to any reductionist models of labor and institutional organization. So let’s champion and pursue collaboration, by which I mean some very concrete things: working together across generational lines (I very much hope that we’ll have a graduate caucus in the GSA again in the near future; and I could certainly imagine the same for contingent faculty). I also mean valuing collaborative work in hiring, tenuring, and promotion; creating new collaborative platforms, as modelled by the DDGC or the German Studies Collaboratory. I would include collaboration across tiers of institutions, and emphatically second Vance’s call for turning towards 2-year colleges. And I mean joining forces among existing groups. What I called “sluggish” institutions like the GSA (or the AATG) must constantly reinvent themselves by working together not just with the requisite governmental partners such as the DAAD or the ACF, but also with various and possibly more nimble groups such as our friends at WiG, DDGC, the BGHRA – and others, yet to be created.
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