Claiming Blackness: The Limits and Possibilities of Universalized Black Politics with Damani Partridge

A conversation and film screening about the limits and possibilities of a universalized Black politics, held on Thursday, December 1, 2022 from 6-8pm at Slought. The program features remarks by scholar Damani Partridge marking the release of his newest book, Blackness as a Universal Claim; film screenings of Riccardo Valsecchi’s Schwarzkopf BRD: Martin Luther King in Berlin! and Ibrahim Telly Balde’s Change the System; as well as a public conversation with Partridge, Riccardo Valsecchi, Ahmed Shah (Theater X, Berlin), and Ibrahim Telly, moderated by Deborah Thomas.

In Blackness as a Universal Claim, Damani J. Partridge examines the possibilities and limits of a universalized Black politics. He writes about young people in Germany of Turkish, Arab, and African descent who use claims of Blackness to hold states and other institutions accountable for their everyday struggle. Partridge tracks how these youth invoke the expressions of Black Power, acting out the medal-podium salute from the 1968 Olympics, proclaiming “I am Malcolm X,” expressing mutual struggle with Muhammad Ali and Spike Lee, and standing with raised and clenched fists next to Angela Davis. Partridge also documents the demands by public-school teachers, federal-program leaders, and politicians that young immigrants account for the global persistence of anti-Semitism as part of the German state’s commitment to antigenocidal education. He uses these stories to interrogate the relationships among European Enlightenment, Holocaust memory, and Black futures, showing how noncitizens work to reshape their everyday lives. In doing so, he demonstrates how the concept of Blackness energizes, inspires, and makes possible participation beyond national belonging for immigrants, refugees, Black people, and other People of Color.

Following Partridge’s remarks, there was a screening of the film Change the System, a short film by Ibrahim Telly Balde that deals directly with being an actor and being a Black noncitizen African immigrant in Berlin. It addresses the informal means in which this status is often dealt with and other ways of countering the constant threat of disavowal. The next portion of the event featured screenings of segments of Schwarzkopf BRD: Martin Luther King in Berlin!, a feature-length film by Riccardo Valsecchi that is linked to the primary theater, characters, and events of the book Blackness as a Universal Claim. It follows the central theater production, examining what it means to learn from and about Black panthers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Angela Davis and then articulate a noncitizen politics in everyday Berlin. It shows how the readings, workshops, and rehearsals and performances on stage lead those learning this politics how to navigate contemporary forms of racism whether or not one directly sees them as Black. It also addresses the politics of asylum and the constant threats of deportation, also experienced by members of the theater.

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