Claiming Blackness

A conversation and film screening about the limits and possibilities of a universalized Black politics


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Politics / Economics
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Center for Experimental Ethnography

Opens to public



6-8pm; Reception at 5pm


4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought and the Center for Experimental Ethnography (CEE) at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce Claiming Blackness, a conversation and film screening about the limits and possibilities of a universalized Black politics, on Thursday, December 1, 2022 from 6-8pm at Slought. This event is free and open to the public, and will be preceded by a reception from 5-6pm. The program features remarks by scholar Damani Partridge marking the release of 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, the filmmakers, and Ahmed Shah (Theater X,Berlin), 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 will be a screening 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.

In addition, there will be 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.

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Damani Partridge is a Professor of Anthropology and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. He's published broadly on questions of citizenship, affect, urban space, sexuality, decolonization, post-Cold War "Freedom," Holocaust memorialization, African-American military occupation, Blackness and embodiment, and many other thematic issues. He also directs the Filming Future Cities Project in Detroit and Berlin.

His first book, Hypersexuality and Headscarves: Race, Sex, and Citizenship in the New Germany, was published in 2012 by Indiana University Press, and with this event, we are pleased to launch his new book, Blackness as a Universal Claim: Holocaust Heritage, Noncitizen Politics, and Black Power in Berlin (University of California Press).

Ibrahim Telly Balde, the director of Change the System, appears on the cover of the book and, with his fist clenched and raised high, on the poster for this event. He was also a member of theater and a main actor in the play documented by Brooklyn-based Italian journalist Riccardo Valsecchi.

Ahmed Shah is the founding artistic director of Theater X, and a central of member of the production team that developed the play Schwarzkopf BRD, on the articulations of Black Power in Berlin.

"Black people need Blackness as a basis for establishing a different kind of world, not Blackness as a limit. In this book, living with and thinking through Blackness with Theater X [a post-migrant theater in Berlin] becomes a way to think about and establish a different world."

-- Damani J. Partridge, Blackness as a Universal Claim