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Guest Lecture series...

“The Erotics of African-American Endurance”

Presented by Professor Sabine Broeck
Sept. 27, 2006

Sabine Broeck, professor of literature and African American studies and American studies at the University of Bremen, Germany, spoke on “The Erotics of African-American Endurance, Or: On the Right Side of History? White (West) German Public Sentiment Between Pornotroping and Civil Rights Solidarity” on Sept. 27. She discussed the appropriation of African American blackness in the context of the Cold War decades and a reliance by German “liberalism” on its understanding of American abolitionism. In a critique of white hegemony, Broeck theorized her observations through the disciplines of both German studies and African American studies and concluded that German progressive intellectuals used their fascination with the black body as a basis for liberalism—a stance that failed to be either progressive or liberal and was, in fact, a kind of racism.

Broeck began by taking the audience back to 1974, a time when the Cold War was in full swing and hip hop had not arrived. She used that time period, which she acknowledged was productive politically despite the great need for social ferment, as a lens for focusing on how real change actually began coming about in the 1990s. For a mostly American audience, the discussion of a mostly German and European evolution in black history awareness presented a new facet of a well-known problem. What had been perceived by Europeans as an American evil was finally being understood as existing in Europe as well. Slavery and exploitation had a European context and connection too.

The change in recognition of the situation came about largely due to four factors: the internationalization of African American studies; the growing African diasporan immigrant community; the push for “post-colonial paradigms” and re-reading of the colonial past; and the visibility and articulateness of black Germans influenced by such African Americans as Audre Lorde.

Broeck outlined the appropriation of African American blackness in the context of the Cold War era and in terms of American abolitionism, especially as understood through the critical analysis of Hortense Spillers, the influence of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Max Frisch’s dubious essay on “Meeting Negroes.” She concluded that the issue of civil rights remains a crucial issue for Europe, along with the related issues of ethnic conflict, women’s rights, and religious freedom. Broeck’s final caveat was that while the adoption or approbation of the “abolitionist script” allowed white Germans to be “on the right side of history,” the question remains for critical research to answer how did the American Civil Rights Movement, in fact, work within and against the abolitionist script transnationally and transatlantically.

Working toward answering that and other questions of race is the Collegium on African American Research, which Broeck currently heads. European-based and with more than 250 members from 20 countries, CAAR’s mission is to promote excellence in African American research, especially internationally, and to promote interdisciplinary exchange in the various fields related to African American studies. She succeeded in interesting the audience and the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies in the urgency of CAAR’s work.

Broeck has published in the areas of gender studies, American literature and cultural studies, African American studies, and the black diaspora and transatlantic modernity. Her publications include The De-colonized Body—The Protagonist in the Narrative Tradition of African American Women Writers in the 1930s to the 1980s and White Amnesia—Black Memory? American Women’s Writing and History.