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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Seeing and Disrupting: Anti-Blackness, Public Culture, and the Place of Berlin

  • Author(s): Dayson, Misa
  • Advisor(s): Ortner, Sherry B
  • Cattelino, Jessica
  • et al.
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While it is generally accepted in Germany that migration, immigration, and integration are key social issues that must be addressed in the 21st century, the idea of adding racism to this litany is generally rejected. This omission prevents both recognition and analysis of the implicit ways the “logic” of race is inscribed onto conceptions and discussions of culture, nationality, and citizenship. Contemporary images of Black bodies seen in German art institutions and popular media, including the use of Blackface, most pointedly demonstrate this phenomenon. This dissertation, informed by 15 months of ethnographic research in Berlin, Germany, and Europe, intervenes into this silence about race by examining how Blackness is depicted in European public culture. Informed by the theoretical framings of Black Studies and Decolonial Studies, I argue that European public culture demonstrates how a normative, racialized white European subject is constructed through anti-Blackness. Understanding anti-Blackness as the fulcrum by which Western modernity emerged, and best understanding it as a structuring grammar of Western society that depends on a racialized hierarchical ordering of human beings—here understood as coloniality— I embark on an ethnography of racial formation. In so doing, I explore the analytical benefits of conceiving of Blackness as an object of knowledge, rather than a subject of fact. I then narrow my focus to non-mainstream art spaces in Berlin arguing that, and examining why, they are places that both perpetuate and challenge hierarchical ideas and practices of race. In such spaces of culture, I forward the idea that ethnography allows us to highlight “the shadows” of coloniality. I argue that this in turn provides a needed articulation of coloniality and anti-Black racism in German and European society in and of itself, and not explicated through theories of political economy, secularism, or nationalism.

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This item is under embargo until November 18, 2019.