Hunter, Elizabeth Löwe. Black Racial Isolation: Understanding African Diaspora Subjectivity in Post-Racial Denmark. (2023) [PDF]

Hunter, Elizabeth Löwe. Black Racial Isolation: Understanding African Diaspora Subjectivity in Post-Racial Denmark, 2023, Dissertation, UC Berkeley.

This is an Afrofeminist Cultural Studies analysis of blackness and belonging in Denmark. The study is situated within African Diaspora Studies, specifically the theoretical branches in and of Europe. Simultaneously constructed as marginal to hegemonic Europeanness and dominant conceptions of blackness, I seek to carve out space for Afropean and European Black perspectives. With attention to genealogical distinctions between European-based Afrofeminisms and Black Feminisms of the USA, this dissertation is a contribution to a grounded theory of blackness in a larger European context. Specifically, this is a step towards writing the much under-theorized conditions of the African diasporas in the Nordics into the archives (McEachrane 2016).The study centers first-person narratives. I focus on first-generation African diaspora Dan-ish people, i.e., those with experiences of being raised and socialized in Denmark while Black as the first in a family. Situation myself as a researcher within this very life experience, I examine how others have navigated that experience before the era of the Internet and with a scarcity of racial mirroring. But particularly, I examine the condition of being racialized as Black in an alleged post-racial European context, dominated by a ‘raceless’ discourse of Denmark and its ‘other’ (El-Tayeb 2011; Boulila 2019). And more precisely within a regional discourse of Nordic Exceptionalism (Habel 2011). Positioned as apparently a paradox within an exclusive nationalist narrative, Afropean existence becomes unspeakable and Black Danish people constructed as always already foreigners, having just arrived. Part of the Black Danish experience, as across the Nordic region, is thus characterized by a lack of language to name one’s reality (Adeniji 2016; Diallo 2022). And importantly, a language to understand and resist racism, and to develop a political consciousness (Essed 1991; Kelekay 2019). I analyze how these circumstances affect Black Danish people’s subjectivity. The study’s first chapter builds on a reading of Crucian-Danish Victor Cornelins’ autobiography From St. Croix to Nakskov from 1976. This is supplemented by material from the Nakskov Local History Archives in Denmark. Here, I offer feminist analyses centered in African diasporic care and consideration of historical representations of blackness in Denmark as well as archival silences. Reading Cornelins as an early theorist of blackness in Denmark, the contours of a primary formative condition emerge: racial isolation. The second and third chapters are based on original data from semi-structured interviews during a seven-month stay in Copenhagen in 2020-2021. The second chapter sketches out the scattered collective of a post-WWII generation of so-called ‘brown babies.’ Being of Black American and white German parentage, thousands of individuals were deemed ‘better off’ outside of Germany due to their blackness and ‘mixedness.’ At the beginning of a post-racial discourse in Europe and a decolonization moment globally, a generation of ‘brown’ children were adopted into the intimate sphere of the post-racial Danish nation-state. An obscured, misrepresented part of Danish history, this chapter seeks to humanize people of this generation and identify their agency in constructing themselves as whole. The final chapter gives context to the current moment and growing up Black in Denmark. Imagined as outside of the Danish nation, yet also outside of dominant immigration discourse, analyzing the particularity of racialization as Black proves highly pertinent. The taxing reality of experiencing racism in a post-racialist culture become clear, especially the fact of being the only one in many social contexts. Yet this chapter also illuminates people’s ambivalence, disidentification, and dissociation from concepts of collective blackness or minoritarian solidarity. There is a complex relationship between assuming one’s own racialized social position as Black and understanding oneself as Danish. Black racial isolation runs through the three chapters as a common condition for African diasporic Danish people who have come of age in Denmark between 1905 and 2021. I therefore of-fer Black racial isolation as a core concept to better understand how Danish Black people make sense of themselves and their relationship to African diasporas and Black (political) collectivity. As a Black experience the Danish is version an articulation of racialization within a Westernized con-text historically shaped through binaries of Black/white. What sets this apart from other theorizations of blackness in the West, is that it experienced alone, rather than in community. My findings suggest that such isolation can results in internalization of binaries and a splitting of the self. In conclusion, I meditate on conditions for creating connection – with self and others – as a path to-ward sustainable, humanizing futures for Danish African diasporic blackness and belonging. As such, this dissertation contributes original, grounded theory of blackness, race, and racialization in Europe with deep appreciation for Afrofeminist and decolonial feminist genealogies from which this study could grow.