Hypersexuality and Headscarves: Race, Sex, and Citizenship in the New Germany

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In this compelling study, Damani J. Partridge explores citizenship and exclusion in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That event seemed to usher in a new era of universal freedom, but post-reunification transformations of German society have in fact produced noncitizens: non-white and "foreign" Germans who are simultaneously portrayed as part of the nation and excluded from full citizenship. Partridge considers the situation of Vietnamese guest workers "left behind" in the former East Germany; images of hypersexualized black bodies reproduced in popular culture and intimate relationships; and debates about the use of the headscarf by Muslim students and teachers. In these and other cases, which regularly provoke violence against those perceived to be different, he shows that German national and European projects are complicit in the production of distinctly European noncitizens.

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Prologue

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As the ’68 generation reaches retirement age, it becomes ever more apparent that Europe needs immigration to support its aging population, but unemployment rates are nearly 50 percent for so-called immigrant youth, many of whom were born in Europe. In this context, Germany and Berlin are not exceptional, but exemplary sites for an investigation of the future of Europe and the future of global noncitizens, particularly when one thinks of this future in relation to the aftermath of socialism and the post-9/11, intensified turn against Islam. In 1989, street protesters in East Germany made public claims that the state be held accountable to their desire, asserting Wir sind das Volk (We are the people). This call for democratic accountability, however, turned into nationalist fervor, expressed in the subsequent chant Wir sind ein Volk (We are one people); the emphasis shifted from democratization to the two Germanys’ “re”unification1 as the path toward social and economic prosperity. From the first moment of flag-waving, it was already clear who was to be included in that “we,” even if there continued to be hierarchical differentiations between West and East Germans and between Western and Eastern Europeans. Even so, just prior to the Wall’s fall, a pluralistic future seemed possible, at least from the perspective of anti-racist activists in West Berlin. Multiculturalism, even if a problematic concept, was not yet a tainted term.

 

Introduction: Becoming Noncitizens

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In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to symbolize the ushering in of a new era that would forthrightly introduce universalized bodies to “freedom.” The fact that so many people were “freely” dancing on the Wall apparently proved that human desire had willed this end. But this new freedom and the expectations that accompanied it also produced “noncitizens,” not only stateless people or war survivors who attempted to enter Europe’s borders, but also those who experienced the celebration and the fall firsthand, for whom this end meant an immediate loss of any certain claim to belonging.

At the center of a global political and economic shift, the fall of the Wall and the push toward East and West Germany’s unification emphasized “Germany for the Germans,” East Germans “not being treated like niggers any more,” more stringent regulation of the borders for those non-Europeans and non-Germans who were not already permanent residents, and the fulfillment of the right to consume. These occurrences together produced the conditions under which new incorporations of noncitizens (understood to include all those not seen as German) would be exceptional and conditional, and often rely on informal regulations and individual discretion. The regulation of citizenship and the production of noncitizens would be attached to both formal and everyday invocations of national sovereignty.

 

1. Ethno-patriarchal Returns: The Fall of the Wall, Closed Factories, and Leftover Bodies

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Although socialist ideology and its adherents would vehemently make claims to the contrary, under “actually existing socialism” (see Verdery 1996)—in spite of an international rhetoric that claimed understandings of universal rights and belonging—socialism in the national context revealed social differentiation as official policy. The production of noncitizen bodies in these cases was achieved through technologies including abortion and contraception, forced removal, and ghettoization. Socialism included national economies that differentiated labor power, as in the examples of temporary work and temporary workers in the postwar period in West Germany. What happened to East Germany’s foreign contract workers after the two Germanys’ unification is consistent with their status in other socialist, social democratic, and capitalist states. Indeed, as others have suggested, state capitalism may be the more helpful terminology for understanding the East German case and its noncitizen workers.

 

2. Travel as an Analytic of Exclusion: The Politics of Mobility after the Wall

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In the relatively homogeneous and closed society of the GDR, Blacks were presumed to be exotic, foreign, and different—patterns of attribution similar to those found in other countries. To be associated with such attributes in the GDR meant also to be regarded as part of “another” society, definitely not as part of the GDR proper, but as a foreigner whose stay is limited.

—Piesche 2003

Mobility within Europe is now considered as much of a basic right as citizenship, and civic affiliation is no longer purely a national matter.

—Göktürk et al., 2007

I’ve been arguing that ethnography (in the normative practices of twentieth-century anthropology) has privileged relations of dwelling over relations of travel.

—Clifford 1997

If consumption was the principal mode of envisioning post-Wall freedom, the ability to travel was the principal signifier of this possibility to consume. Part of the significance of the Wall and the Cold War discourse against it had to do precisely with the fact that it impeded travel, and thus impeded freedom. How do the symbolics of travel, though, work in relation to noncitizens? How did the fall of the Wall and its association with travel-as-freedom affect them? How did it configure their bodies?

 

3. We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Hypersexual Returns

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The production of noncitizens and their exclusionary incorporation take place in part via the emerging bureaucratic and sovereign status of White German women in club scenes and in their intimate relations with Black diasporic men.1 Intimacy, rights, and residency are negotiated via the (sometimes unwitting) expectation of hypersexual performances on the part of the men and, ultimately, the women’s decisions about whether or not to marry noncitizens. These encounters have been shaped by African American military occupation, West German feminism, and transnational eroticized fantasy and tourism.

The historical and contemporary currents that configure these relationships entangle hypersexual performances and rights with residency and consumption. Dance clubs act as key sites of production, as do bedrooms and other familiar spaces. “The state” and state power get reinscribed in these places. Relations of race and desire are shifting as well. In a noteworthy inversion of Fanon’s notion of the Black need for “White masks” in European contexts, black skin itself opens up new, though limited, possibilities for incorporation. Although White German women ardently and openly desire, even fetishize, Black men, the terms of Black male noncitizen incorporation remain exclusionary.

 

4. The Progeny of Guest Workers as Leftover Bodies: Post-Wall West German Schools and the Administration of Failure

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What does one do with these people? One has to force them to learn German . . . to speak German. . . . This is the critical basis for employment success. Lots of mistakes were made . . . because [the politicians] were thinking humanistically. In some Oriental ways of thinking this can’t be understood. People, we are now here! There are laws here! For the past two years, there’s been an attempt to catch up. Even [Otto] Schily [the minister of the interior at the time] is trying to catch up. It’s too late. One can’t get them there. The third generation speaks much worse German than the first and second generations. The school has to have space for different ways. It has to have the financial ability. . . . One has to build new schools that are more practice-oriented . . . ones that emphasize working with one’s head much less. Lots of these kids aren’t in the position to do cognitive work. They have to learn through practice.

Kreuzberg elementary school principal who had recently left his job for a school in a different neighborhood with a different student population

 

5. Why Can’t You Just Remove Your Headscarf So We Can See You? Reappropriating “Foreign” Bodies in the New Germany

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On one occasion, the principal at the secondary school in Berlin-Kreuzberg noted:

I think our city is much too tolerant. . . . For example, here is a situation in which . . . we allow students to wear headscarves during academic instruction.

[I say to the young Turkish male students,] “Your women are so beautiful and they have to walk around with veils. And you ugly guys, you’re allowed to walk around without anything.”

After a brief pause without laughter, the principal added: “It’s just a joke.”

Is the principal’s sentiment really “just a joke,” or is he indicating one of the principal tensions underlying debates about “integration” into Europe? Is accessibility to noncitizen bodies what is really at stake? Are headscarves, speaking Turkish, and other noncitizen articulations part of a noncitizen response to national and transnational technologies of exclusion? Are they part of the process through which noncitizen bodies get produced?

 

Conclusion: Intervening at the Sites of Exclusionary Production

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Jeder fremde Klang, jeder fremde Blick und jeder fremde Geschmack wirkten unangenehm auf den Körper, so lange, bis der Körper sich veränderte. . . .

Die meisten Wörter, die aus meinem Mund herauskamen, entsprachen nicht meinem Gefühl. Dabei stellte ich fest, daß es auch in meiner Muttersprache kein Wort gab, das meinem Gefühl entsprach.

Every foreign sound, every foreign look, and every foreign taste worked uncomfortably on the body until the body itself changed. . . .

Most of the words that came out of my mouth didn’t fit the way I felt. Thereby, it became clear to me that even in my mother tongue there was no word that precisely matched my emotion.
Tawada 1996

For I have reason to conclude, that he who would get me into his power without my consent, would use me as he pleased, when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it: for no body can desire to have me in his Absolute Power, unless it be to compel me by force to that, which is against the Right of my Freedom, i.e., make me a Slave.

 

Epilogue: Triangulated (Non)Citizenship: Memories and Futures of Racialized Production

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In 2009, I returned to Berlin with my family for a year of additional research on new projects and to complete this book. In that year, I began to notice a new state interest in a topic that had already emerged in my research: I had observed that students of non-German descent didn’t show up for a tour of a concentration camp, and that a history teacher had complained about her students’ lack of interest in the Second World War. It had come up indirectly when an anti-racism activist at a weekly meeting I regularly attended pointed out that the curriculum of German public schools still assumed the idealized, normal, White German student as its principal subject. It also came up in my emerging critique of the insistence on the perpetrator discourse, in which to be a German citizen also means accounting for one’s responsibility for the Nazi Holocaust. This is advanced as the only way to teach about that genocide, leading many teachers and politicians to speak about the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide as parts of a related perpetrator dynamic. The lack of apology and the lack of recognition for the Armenian genocide have become a central trope among American and European governments and also in the politics of Turkey’s accession talks, related to its admission into the European Union. My point is not that one shouldn’t speak of these mass murders, but what can one learn when one asks: Why is this emphasis occurring now?

 

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