On Constructing Black Cultural Citizenship in White Spaces.

Author:Garcia Mommertz, Marny


"Euphemistically, Brazilian ruling society demands that we, Blacks, be Brazilian and not African. This really means that Afro-Brazilians must acculturate or assimilate: in a word, become white, at least on the inside. Only as 'Blacks with white souls' can Afro-Brazilians be Brazilian, for the Brazilian soul is not African" (Abdias do Nascimento 2004, 37). In his statement, Nascimento addresses the topic of Brazilian citizenship by asserting that Afro-Brazilians do not have access to Brazilian citizenship unless they are aligned with whiteness, an issue relevant for many Black persons in white dominated societies. The phenomenon Nascimento expresses alludes to the struggle of Black people for identity and access to equal citizenship. Historically, notions of nationhood and citizenship that emerged in former colonies in the Americas were significantly shaped and coined by the French Revolution's tripartite idea of citizenship, which holds liberty, fraternity and equality as its foundation. These concepts and ideas, developed by and for white western people, in practice inherently exclude Black persons. One of the most evident historical examples of this is the Haitian revolution. The revolution began in 1771, during the French revolution; when former enslaved persons, who had liberated themselves from colonial rule, and therefore enslavement, demanded and claimed their right to liberty, fraternity, and equality. Despite the fact that, at that time, Haiti formed part of the French Empire, those founding principles did not apply to them, as Black French were not regarded as equal to white French (Cesaire 2005, 26).

The importance of citizenship is reflected when looking at the Black Panther Party in the USA (1970's). Due to constant oppression and discrimination, Black people found themselves in precarious financial situations, which denied them access to nutritional food and good school education. In recognition of this, the group formed its own survival programs. Through these, Black people were not only given legitimacy in their existence but they were also creating their own structures (Hillard 2008, xi). (1)

Contemporarily, there are persistent cases that highlight the unequal access of citizenship to people of the Black diaspora. In 2005 Oury Jalloh, a Black imprisoned asylum seeker in Germany, was found burned and dead while his hands and feet were tied to his mattress. For years, police and the jurisdiction claimed that Jalloh committed suicide; however, "Folker Bittmann, a state prosecutor who for many years defended the police's account of Jalloh's death, changed his mind in April, when he argued that a murder investigation should be opened" (Knight 2017). To this day, the German jurisdiction has not managed to find the perpetrators, which is evidently a denial of access to a fair legal process and hence equality (Knight 2017).

In 2017, in Paris, the police sodomized Theo, a young Black man, yet the officer claimed that his baton was slipped into the victim's anus by "accident" (Holley 2017). In the Netherlands, there is a tradition known as Black Piet, in which the country's predominantly white citizens dress in Black face. While Black Piet has been (inter)nationally criticized by Blacks and non-Blacks alike, the tradition is publicly endorsed by the white prime minister, underlining the consistent ignorance and silencing of Black voices by people in power (Un.org; Viral Videos Holland 2014). The list goes on. Discrimination, particularly by police, is rampant against Black people in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, home to the largest population of Black Brazilians in the country. The recent killing of Afro-Brazilian, queer activist and politician Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro is an example of how Black voices advocating for Black lives are attempted to be silenced by local governments (Aljazeera 2018). These examples demonstrate the transcontinental inability of Black persons in predominantly white, or better, white-ruled societies to enjoy their rightful liberty and equality (Caldwell et al. 2018).

However, what about fraternity? Fraternity is a concept that needs to be adopted to today's identity politics; its literal interpretation only emphasizes a bond between men; however, it should rather be understood as a shared bond between citizens (no matter their gender identification). A theory that encompasses equality, liberty and stresses on fraternity is the concept of cultural citizenship. It emphasizes the creation of a citizenship among groups of people who find themselves excluded from a specific national citizenship. This theory is particularly relevant in understanding the origins and patterns of Black resistance because, both historically and contemporarily, Black citizens, especially in diasporic communities, find themselves constantly navigating within and around oppressive white power structures.

Thus, through supportive studies and a series of interviews, this research analyzes the theory of Black cultural citizenship to understand the experiences and presence of Black female artists at the Vila Sul residency program at the Goethe-Institut in Salvador da Bahia (ICBA) (2). The Goethe-Institut, being the official cultural institution of the German federal state, operates independently under the ministry of foreign affairs. The latter also finances the institution. Leadership positions are dominantly occupied by western white people/non-POC (3) and the institution's aim is to promote the contemporary German culture and language across the globe, and is arguably, an embodiment of white privilege(s). In their own words, "[t]he Residency Program of the Goethe-Institut Salvador-Bahia, stands out in the general scope of the Goethe-Institut as the first residency in the 'South'. The city is central in the South-South dialogues in geographic terms - as [...] [it is] part of the Black Atlantic -, historic--as it was the first capital of Brazil--and cultural--due to its Afro-Brazilian formation" (Goethe-Institut Salvador n.d).

The Goethe-Institut in Salvador da Bahia draws some significant concerns regarding the German perception of Blackness. There is disconnect between the way Germany treats its Black citizens and the perceived celebration and promotion of Black citizens abroad in Salvador da Bahia.

For example, in the last two years, the Goethe-Institut in Salvador da Bahia's residency program received an influx of Black international participants and Black Brazilian artists who worked on different projects. Meanwhile, the German state and society have made little efforts to remember Black Holocaust victims or the colonial genocide primarily of the Ovahereros and Nama, but also of the Damara and San in Namibia (1904-1907) (Knight 2018). In fact, the Namibian genocide and German colonial history are disremembered in Germany, which manifests in the maintenance of unequal land ownerships and the refusal of the German government to pay reparations or to formally apologize (Moloi 2016; Zimmerer 2013, 9). Thus, it needs to be asked why in Salvador da Bahia Black women (can) occupy the space of a German institution when Germany is constantly disremembering its own brutal colonial past and silences the descendants of the Ovahereros and Nama in Namibia. Is it possible to understand this disconnect and the presence of Black women at the institute in Salvador da Bahia through the theory of Black cultural citizenship?

This paper proceeds by firstly presenting a literature review on (Black) cultural citizenship. Secondly, the research question, hypothesis and methodology will be explained. Thirdly, the interview participants will be introduced. Then the interviews will be contextualized within the theoretical framework of Black cultural citizenship. Lastly, conclusions will be drawn.

Discussion on Relevant Existing Literature

This section will review the existing academic literature that addresses Black Cultural Citizenship and the key theories connected to it: (cultural) citizenship, as understood by the French Revolution, and Negritude.

According to scholar Laurence Pawley, citizenship is "primarily conceptualized as an explicitly public membership of a political community, and with the institutions that ensure the rights and duties accruing to the status of citizen" (2008, 594). Citizenship has been further defined as consisting of political, civil and social rights that apply equally to all members of the "political community" (Pawley 2008, 594). In his study, Pawley outlines three different contexts of cultural citizenship: (1) Multicultural, (2) cultural products, and (3) communication, the first of which is of greatest importance to this research, as it refers and "responds to the reality of multicultural political communities, arguing for a differentiated citizenship that takes account of the particular status of distinct cultural groups" (Pawley 2008, 595). This outline is supported by social scientist Toby Miller (Miller 2001, 183-184). In multicultural political communities, citizenship and culture are viewed distinctively. Culture is an exclusive factor; because communities are "denied access to the full benefits of liberal citizenship, cultural groups seek to rework the status of citizen through the lens of their communal affiliations" (Pawley 2008, 597).

One of the key intellectuals on (multi)cultural citizenship, Renato Rosaldo, conceptualizes culture as "a way of life" and politics as the backbone of it (Pawley 2008). He theorizes that "Cultural citizenship operates in an uneven field of structural inequalities where the dominant claims of universal citizenship assume a propertied white male subject and usually blind themselves to exclusions and marginalizations of people who differ in gender, race, sexuality, and age. Cultural citizenship attends not only to dominant exclusions and marginalizations, but also to subordinate aspirations for and definitions of...

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