My grandma was a German catholic girl who had to flee what is now Czech after Germany lost WWII. Her family moved to the Munich area and after finishing school, she started working at Föhrenwald, the biggest camp for displaced persons. There, she met my grandfather, a Jewish man who had escaped the Ghetto in Warsaw and lived through the war in a Siberian labor camp. They met, fell in love, married and had their first daughter. Five years after the war, Nazis were still alive and well and so was Antisemitism. By deciding to marry a Jew my grandma put herself in a position where people would look down on her and her children. Some people consider it Rassenschande (“race shame”) for a good German woman to be with a Jew. Therefore, society punished her through exclusion. Growing up, my mum was surrounded by other German children with Jewish fathers, because the suburb they lived in, these families stuck together. These women stuck together and even when they were old and their husbands had already died, they would still look after each other, each other’s children and grandchildren. As well as this strong sense of community, these children also inherited their father’s trauma. They did not feel like they fully belonged to Germany. They could never be sure that they would be able to grow old in this country, which is why they did not adopt a traditional German identity. Furthermore, if your parents are some sort of “different”, you are more likely to have a partner who might be “different” to you, too.
So, with her unusual German-Jewish-single-mother-upbringing (unfortunately, my grandfather passed away when she was very young), my mum went and married a Sudanese Muslim. It is okay for a white man to have a black wife, an exotic woman, because it has always been a woman’s role to adapt to her new tribe. Therefore, when a white woman chooses a foreign man, she is expected to adopt his lifestyle, change not only her name, but also her religion and even her country. Otherwise, how can she be a good woman?
In order to escape the prejudices my mother did what my grandma had done and found herself a safe space, a sisterhood of German women to were in relationships with foreign men. Growing up, most of my friends were Afro-German, their mothers white and their fathers African. We would spend all of our free time together, go to playgrounds, hiking and on holidays. Now that we have grown up and moved out and unfortunately most of our parents have split up, our mothers still meet at the same parks and beer gardens. They still take us for our summer holidays every year. Motherhood is looking after the ones you love. Sisterhood is looking after your fellow women in order to support their motherhood, most importantly single motherhood.
Where they used to be frowned upon for having men of colour, their situation worsened when they became single mothers with black children. This is most apparent when we travel. Not only do people shame them for being single, especially other women who perceive them as a threat to their own relationship, they also feel like their stereotype is now perfectly justified. “Of course he left her, what a cliche.” “Look at her children, this slut sleeps with everyone.” Even when people stay quiet, a single mum with black children is always watched extra hard and extra careful. Her sons are perceived as a threat when they are still teenagers. She has to make sure they are extra strong and extra witty, she has to be careful where she takes them. I remember how nervous my mum used to get when crossing East Germany. I remember how scared her friend was when they found out that there were Nazis at our campsite in Italy. A single mother carries all the responsibilities – she cannot become ill. No one helps when her car breaks down. She has to drive the whole way. She has to be on alert the whole time.
The only time our mothers relax is when they are together. When everyone has arrived safely, they sit by the sea and drink wine. They do not need husbands, they have each other. They are strong independent women who live by the same rhythm and share the same experiences. And if they don’t, they listen to each other without prejudice.
Motherhood is sisterhood. Single motherhood is a special kind of sisterhood. A sisterhood that leaves a legacy of open-minded and kind-hearted feminist children, familiarised with strength, holding each other up against silence.
Words by Amuna Wagner