"Distant Ties": May Ayim’s Transnational Solidarity and Activism

Friday, January 4, 2019: 2:10 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Tiffany N. Florvil, University of New Mexico
By attending conferences, workshops, and symposia in London, New York, Minnesota, and Accra, May Ayim, an Afro-German writer and activist, engaged in political activism internationally. Through these events, Ayim confronted diverse forms of inequality. Yet Ayim also cultivated strong activist ties in Germany. With the support of Afro-Caribbean feminist and writer Audre Lorde, Ayim, along with others, helped to usher in the Afro-German movement of the 1980s and 1990s. She also co-founded the organization, the Initiative of Black Germans (Initiative Schwarze Deutsche, ISD). Motivated by her diasporic politics and international connections, Ayim employed her literary work as a form of activism to obtain social visibility and equality for herself, Afro-Germans, and other people of color. This paper provides one of the first sustained accounts on Ayim’s global activism. In it, I argue that Ayim consciously pursued international anti-racist politics. Ayim’s emotions and experiences in post-Holocaust Germany and elsewhere shaped her writing, diasporic identity, and activism. Linking local, national, and continental developments, she used her involvement with the Cross-Cultural Black Women’s Studies Summer Institute and other groups and activities to challenge discrimination. Traversing borders, Ayim was active in multiple international events, which enabled her to forge kinships with individuals such as Lorde. Several of these relationships, I maintain, offered Ayim a sense of belonging. These transnational networks ultimately helped May achieve recognition as one of the most promising Afro-German intellectuals and performers of her generation.