„Germany Black & White” by Noah Sow - Only a Family Affair?
Noah Sow

Only a Family Affair?

White Mothers and Black Children

Even if it is a little unfair: I want to lead into this important issue with a few thoughts on the keyword exotism, because the relationships that white mothers have with their Black kids don’t happen in a vacuum. Thankfully not all mothers are like Corinne Hofmann, who it is hoped will eventually be forgotten as the “white Masai.” But the fact that her books have become bestsellers makes you wonder. Let’s view her as a possible white-woman-and-mother prototype and let’s think about what this means for interpersonal relations in general and familial relations in particular.

Some Thoughts about the Keyword Exotism

The “white Masai” is a woman who wanted to go over the top with her drumming workshop by making the move to a strange land and living in a culture she didn’t have a clue about. It is her main profession to whine about things being like this and that “in Africa” in her story as well as on various talk shows. Putting aside the fact that the experiences of her massively naively induced marriage are about as prototypical for a whole continent as a stomach condition in Bavaria is for an observation of Europe’s civilization, we could all laugh a lot more about the funny story were it not for the fact that every single colonial racist cliché was savored in every way possible. The book sells because it serves all prejudices. Noble savages. Polygyny. Dust and drought and no way to shower (I have experienced this in Rumania, not in Africa – but it just fits so nicely), and many more.

Moreover, it is advertised by great realistic satire with the motto “Globalization and me”:

This is a report about my four years spent in the bush of Kenya [emphasis added]. I obsessively followed my life’s great love and experienced heaven and hell. It became my biggest fight for survival! It was a continuous adventure, one that took me to my physical and mental limits. (Translation of excerpt on http://www.massai.ch/ download on 11/30/2007.)

In advertising for Volume 2, we are allowed to partake in these nice thoughts:

After my archaic [emphasis added] life with the Masai, unforeseen trials also await me in my new beginning in the “world of the whites.” … The fascination for this continent remained. In March 2003 I step onto African soil again and experience emotions and adventures that bring me to a state of complete exhaustion. (ibid.)

This pseudo-Africa crap cannot be considered funny considering that the author poses with her daughter on her website and on her book covers. The girl serves as a trophy of her “African life,” instrumentalized ad nauseam.

In blog posts on the Internet and in book reviews, there are also scary indications of the fact that many white romanticists are encouraged by this mush to spread outrageous misinformation and shamelessly delve into antediluvian race considerations:

As I have an African boyfriend myself (mine is from Cameroon), I can understand Mrs. Hofmann really well in her rapture for Lketinga’s appearance. People with a different culture or origin really oftentimes carry a fascination that is hard to describe. (Personal Impressions of Readers, http://www.literaturschock.de/buecher/3927743364.htm, download on 12/02/2007.)

The way in which the desire to help is overshadowed by an unbearable feeling of superiority is clear in this comment:

I was especially fascinated by her ability to live in such simple ways as a white woman. One quickly wants to know whether she still has enough to eat, whether her shop is working, and whether her husband will go berserk out of jealousy. I repeatedly thought that she could have it much easier in Switzerland, and why doesn’t she simply move back to Switzerland? But she loves this Lketinga too much to be separated from him – something she describes in a believable way. Ever since I read this book I think differently about throwing away food and about fresh fragrant laundry … It has changed something in me, and I would like to send a bag of rice and water to Kenya!!! (ibid.)

And then this post in an online forum, which truly takes the cake:

:o) My ex-boyfriend is also from Gambia. He speaks Wolof, as your boyfriend probably does. They’re interesting people, but also very spirited most of the time. He has been compared with Rumpelstiltskin. But I wish you good luck with him. My current boyfriend is from Nigeria. He is quieter and more to my taste. And he is really dear and understanding. But everyone has a different taste. (Topic: Experiences with non-refugee Africans ??!!! http://f2.webmart.de/f.cfm?id=1268944&sr=26&r=threadview&t=2117699, downloaded 8/23/2007.)

That is the way a woman out of the middle of our society writes, who obviously considers Black men pets, sex toys, or stuffed animals. You don’t have to ask yourself where the attraction of such relations lies. What one should wonder about is whether white women are able to have honest and equitable relationships with Black men without critical self-reflection. Whatever the answer may be – all these women are potential (or actual) mothers.

Possible Issues in White-Mother–Black-Child Relationships

Having a Black child does not automatically mean being free of racism. White mothers in Germany grow up with the same cultural imprint as everyone else. If they have Black people in their circle of friends or in their family, or have a Black person as a partner, they might be more sensitized to the adversities and structures of a racist everyday life. As they themselves are part of the majority population, such experiences are merely touched upon, but – and this is the pivotal difference – they never directly affect these women.

A white woman being treated impudently as “a Black man’s lover,” for example, is completely different from being in the public sphere as a Black person. No matter how open their eyes and ears might be for racism, white women and mothers always have the choice: the choice not to intake the environment’s racism. No matter what they decide – the ability to choose is itself a privilege and means that they are in a situation different from that of their Black family members.

Everybody might be very happy about this (who would want their whole family being treated poorly?). But unfortunately many white mothers act exactly like the rest of society: ignorant and naive.

If I’m speaking about single-parent white mothers with Black kids here, it is because this constellation is very frequent and makes it harder for Black children to develop a healthy self-image. The mother is a white attachment figure while representing the societal norm at the same time. The mother’s power of interpretation and the view of a white woman become blurred. For example, we all initially learn from our parents what is “normal” and what is not. But if the mother (and as a single-parent the only and most important attachment figure) understands herself as “normal” and the child as “different,” the child no longer has a chance to perceive him- or herself as normal – a difficult situation, to put it mildly.

The educationist Maureen Maisha Eggers published her doctoral dissertation on the topic Racialization and Children’s Power Perception in 2005, and a new generation of Black academics is now working on this and related topics. And the reason they do this is certainly not out of boredom. What I am saying is: the way in which Black kids grow up in Germany has to be taken seriously.

There are certainly many traps that white mothers of Black children could fall into. Don’t think: “Everything is different in my case.” Ask yourself instead: “Have I ever thought or talked about that?”

I have heard so many stories of Afro-Germans and their mothers’ “blindness” that I actually can’t listen to any more of them. In the German Black community the behavior of white mothers is already a running gag. Humor helps, but I still want to shake this sad foundation.

I am certain that most white mothers don’t prepare enough for what it means to be Black in Germany. Many women in fact utter ideas like: “If I love my child enough, everything will be alright.” But thank God most are aware the whole thing is not going to be a walk in the park.

To many of them it is not at all clear where the mental cruelties of racism are in particular, or how far-reaching they are. Some simply ignore that their child is Black, thinking they create a racism-free zone by doing so. I can assure you: This doesn’t work.

Other mothers “jocularly” call their kids “Brownie,” “Chocolate,” “Chocolate Baby,” “My Chocolate Marshmallow,” even “My Monkey”(!!). And they don’t suspect that they are making a big mistake, one that our society also makes: to consider appearance as characteristic and define the person by his or her Blackness, this being the most important feature of the Black person. White kids are called “Baby,” “Sweety,” “Princess” and “My Sunshine,” never “Piggy” or “Cream Cheese,” and thereby rightly feel addressed themselves. In first grade at the latest the “jocular” expressions mothers endow on their children are the same ones that the outside world uses to classify the children and show them their place as “exotic” and “other.”

Kids are sensitive to hierarchies, roles, power messages, value perceptions, and class differences. The laws of society that we don’t dare to name are mercilessly perceived by children and – which is even worse – internalized, trained, and uttered. Everyone who remembers his or her childhood, or listens to children play is aware of that. And kids are truly interested in finding out their (future) status in society. This is why they play “Daddy, Mommy & Child,” “Princess,” “Chancellor” and “Football Star.” Very few adults can claim that unfair treatment and the assignment of false roles don’t touch them.

Many mothers trivialize the situation of Blacks in Germany, maybe because they don’t feel up to the reality of it themselves. But this doesn’t help anyone. If the mother is sure that everything will be great for her child later on, because he or she is “especially pretty” and “interesting,” then how will the kid be able to talk to her about the diffuse feelings of unease and the denial of the assigned exotic status? Experiences a child has with being falsely evaluated and bothered with stupid questions can leave emotional wounds as severe as those caused by physical assaults and need to be taken seriously. […]

provisional translation from
Noah Sow: Deutschland Schwarz Weiß

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