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Invisible Woman: Growing Up Black in Germany (New Directions in German-American Studies) New Edition
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About the Author
The Author: Ika Hügel-Marshall has a degree in social pedagogics. She is teaching gender studies and psychological counseling at the Alice-Salomon-Fachhochschule für Sozialarbeit und Sozialpädagogik in Berlin. Trained as a counselor, she primarily works with intercultural teams and bi-national couples. Ika Hügel-Marshall has published various articles on anti-racist consciousness raising and is co-editor of Entfernte Verbindungen: Rassismus, Antisemitismus und Klassenunterdrückung (1993). In 1996, Ika Hügel-Marshall received the Audre Lorde Literary Award for the completion of Invisible Woman. She has given numerous readings in Germany, Austria, and the United States. An artist, she has designed book covers and exhibited her drawings and wood sculptures.
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I bought this book because unlike Hans Ika was born post World War 2 and grew up in post war Germany, a child who was born from a Black American father and German mother.
Unfortuantly, this book is seriously lacking. The story begins by Ika stating (P14) that she was sterilised (something that only took place during Nazi Germany she was born post war and makes no further mention of this actually being done) That Germany permits Blacks to be "Hunted and struck down" (P15) Harsh words indeed considering we are talking about again, post war Germany.
The book begins with young Ika growing up amongst her mothers family in a small German town, how her mother married a German man and gave birth to a second child Ika younger sister, the book continues to her being sent to a bording school for 'problem children' where she was certainly abused and mistreated to her graduating, finding work and eventually finding her place in society and even her own father.
The problem with the book is there appear to be too many gaps and contradicions to it. She suffers horribly by the nuns at the bording school there is no doubt about that and she is racially abused on numerous occasions but at no point does she mention any friends that she made over the years.
She mentions that she achieved an overwealming majority vote to be elected head of the student body in intermediate school (how could this happen if as Ika would have us believe "All whites are racist, yet do not wish to admit to their own racism" How could she have been put forward? Who were all these people who voted for her? We had been told for almost half the book that every white German she had met (and it was not until she was in her late 30s she met a Black German) was a racist who either did not wish her to exist or did not wish her recognise her existance as a person. This just makes no sense for these self same people to give such an overwealming vote of confidence to her.
She marries a white German yet seem to make no mention during the relationsip the tension she must have surely felt (considering her complete lack of trust of white people and the level of contempt she believed that they had for her)at the begining of the relationship. Rather, she believes it started to gradually fall through later on due to her husband becoming increasingly ashamed of his Black partner. Again the contradition of Ikas childhood to 'falling in love' and marrying this man just dont add up.
Ika goes on to finally meet fellow Afro Germans but again, while being happy to share her experiences with them seems distant and at times condencending towards them. Again she met these same people through white friends but still, she seems steadfast in her near contempt and hatered for white people regarding all without question as racist (now suely an educated woman in her late 30s would have come to a more sensible conclusion that that!)
While the meeting with her father is emotional much of the book rather than alowing the reader to feel sympathy or even share a common bond with her the reader becomes tired of her generalisations, her lack of understanding of others, her refusal to recognise that not everyone shares her history and that she is in fact using the same awful generalisations on others that bigots have used on her.
There are some interesting books out there written by people who have shared some of the emotional trials that Ika has suffered but have come through them a lot more positive than Ika.
I would recomend Cass by Cass Pennant and Destined to Witness. I would not however, recomend this book. Unfortunate as there is so little on Afro German history. I can only hope that more research is done on the subject and something of better quality and value is produced.
Ms. Marshall's harsh treatment at the hands of the staff at the home she was sent to as a child sheds light on the brutal and uncaring treatment many children, especially children of color, still experience today. Her writing is both personal and informative (she quotes several government documents of her childhood that "institutionalized" the racist treatment of Afro-Germans) and draws the reader into her story so that one cannot help but become caught up with her as she tells it. I found it difficult to put it down.
That she survived such a childhood and has become both a strong woman and outspoken opponent of racism in Germany, is a testement to her inner power and strength, as well as to the love she received from her mother before she was taken from her at the age of six years old.
Ms. Marshall is still fighting the demons of racism in a country that carries its nationalism in it's breast pocket, as it were. It's not that bad in the US of A...yet.