YOUR BLACK AZZ HISTORY MATTERS!
Looking for Langston (1989) makes me cry every time I watch it. My first time seeing it was in the Lincoln Centre in New York City– privately–on a 35-mm reel via a projector. As it clicked and fluttered away in the darkness, spitting out visual poetry of black and white silhouettes of dark men in their most regal of forms on the wall; I saw them loving one another with no shame as if every breath and waltz was their last. I knew I had a place in time at that moment. Now that Langston is a permanent installation in the British Tate, I felt that the movie would finally reach those who never could grasp where modern queer cinema’s turning point actually took place. It was a new visual language crafted by Isaac Julien in order to express his retelling of a Queer Harlem Renaissance and the life of Langston Hughes in order to connect blacks throughout the diaspora. It also was the fire that illuminated my reflection in my own Black American history and led be down the path to become the Black Queer historian I am today. Everyone needs to have this moment! You need to find yourself in your nation’s past. You have to really. I cannot stress how imperative this action is to build a sense of self and belonging in the present and future for the Black population. I, despite being queer and black, benefit from American imperialism in ways that were not apparent to me until I left the states. When I saw Black Europeans posting only MLK and Malcom X quotes for Black History month, and the explosion that was the global acknowledgment of Juneteenth this year, I knew right then and there that my Black culture was global and rode on the coattails of the empire to some extent–this scared me. It scared me a lot because I wanted to know more about the Black British timeline, and I want that history to be presented on the same platform as Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, the Million Man March, Selma, and so much more. But then, I had to remind myself of the past labour that was required of me to find Bayard Rustin, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Essex Hemphill, Audre Lorde, and other Black Queer folks of the American past. Finding one’s own history is laborious in its nature; unless you’re a part of the white race. The black image in European history–not just in Britain–still struggles to make it to the surface of our general understanding of the past. Tracking these Black images has been done by scholars, but the names of these historical figures still have not been ingrained into our society the way American figures have. This needs to change, and I believe the images in art and media are a great starting point for this. Let’s focus on Germany for this conversation.
German Black History: From the Court “Moor” to the Negro
Don’t believe the White hype, Blacks of Afro descent have had a presence in Germany from the Middle Ages to World War I and all the way up to now (oh course), but history is messy and the victors of it usually get to paint the images of the past for the present people to look back and see. Despite the erasure of this Black presence by major factions from Christianity, the Nazi party, and White supremacist culture to follow; you can find images of a Black aristocratic class if you look hard enough– just head to the German Historical Museum in Berlin for a start. When you’re there, you’ll catch a glimpse of a regal image of a Prussian (now a dissolved state of Germany; today part of Poland and Russia) military official holding his lover. They are an interracial couple dating back to the late 1800’s during the Wilhelmine Period.The image is by German artist Emil Doerstling entitled Preußisches Liebesglück. It depicts Gustav Sabac el Cher. His father, whose name is August Albrecht Sabac el Cher, was brought to Germany in 1843. Mischa Honeck, Martin Klimke, and Anne Kuhlmann lay out the history of Gustav and the importance of the image exquisitely in Germany and the Black Diaspora : Points of Contact, 1250-1914:
Gustav’s father, August Albrecht Sabac el Cher, was brought to Germany in 1843 by a Prussian nobleman who received August as a “gift” from the Egyptian viceroy Mehmet Ali while traveling the Orient. The Sabacs fared well under the tutelage of the Prussian aristocrat. Gustav was educated by the best teachers, enjoyed close ties to the Hohenzollern court, served in the army, and rose to the position of imperial bandmaster. Well-respected and fully integrated into German society, Gustav performed in front of kings and emperors. When Gustav Sabac el Cher died (1934), forlorn and almost forgotten after the Nazi takeover, Wilhelm II sent a letter of condolence to Gustav’s family from his Dutch exile.