White Rebels in Black

German Appropriation of Black Popular Culture
Priscilla Layne
Investigates the appropriation of black popular culture as a symbol of rebellion in postwar Germany


Analyzing literary texts and films, White Rebels in Black shows how German authors have since the 1950s appropriated black popular culture, particularly music, to distance themselves from the legacy of Nazi Germany, authoritarianism, and racism, and how such appropriation changes over time. Priscilla Layne offers a critique of how blackness came to symbolize a positive escape from the hegemonic masculinity of postwar Germany, and how black identities have been represented as separate from, and in opposition to, German identity, foreclosing the possibility of being both black and German. Citing four autobiographies published by black German authors Hans Jürgen Massaquo, Theodor Michael, Günter Kaufmann, and Charly Graf, Layne considers how black German men have related to hegemonic masculinity since Nazi Germany, and concludes with a discussion on the work of black German poet, Philipp Khabo Köpsell.

“What does it mean to see black people as rebels, black culture as rebellious? Isn’t rebellion positive? What happens when people are limited to the motif of rebellion? Focused on the image of the rebel in German depictions of black culture, Priscilla Layne’s lucid and engaging study advances critical race theory and German Studies through a productive dialog. She does not simply apply paradigms worked out in other cultural contexts; rather she advances critical race theory through her insightful readings of German texts. And likewise, seeing what often goes unnoticed, Layne’s discussion advances the work of German Studies by looking at texts of German literature, music, and film, with greater acuity. Layne explores white visions of blackness, dominated by a focus on African Americans and she takes up Black German cultural production with its Afro-European references and complexities. Covering 60 years of post war developments in both West and East Germany, her analyses help bring forward new critical paradigms.”
—Randall Halle, University of Pittsburgh

“An impressively theorized book . . . Priscilla Layne engages carefully with earlier scholarly works, situating her own text within the context they provide, and delineating ways in which she agrees or disagrees with and goes beyond those studies.”
—Sara Lennox, University of Massachusetts Amherst

“In her terrific new study, Priscilla Layne argues that German men’s embrace of black musical traditions constitutes a sort of literary minstrelsy through which, to quote Ralph Ellison, white Germans are ‘told on, revealed.’ Layne shows, too, how black artists responded to these fantasies by exposing the masquerade, and by proposing their own, Afrofuturist visions of diasporic masculinity."
—Katrin Sieg, Georgetown University

“Beautifully and intelligently constructed, White Rebels in Black boasts a broad array of intersections and interventions to compellingly reveal how much more complex constructions of Blackness are at this time—especially within a transnational perspective.
—Michelle M. Wright, Emory University

Priscilla Layne is Associate Professor of German and Adjunct Assistant Professor of African and African American Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Praise / Awards

  • "Layne’s explicit and refreshing choice to home in on Black German masculinity and how its formation differs from white German hegemonic masculinity in postwar Germany is especially of interest, given the dearth of research in this area ... A must-read for scholars of Black German studies."
    --German Studies Review
  • "White Rebels in Black is a must-read for scholars interested in Black German studies and in questions of diversity and social justice. It can serve as an appeal to Germanists studying any text to recognize and challenge patterns of othering and cultural appropriation. The diversity of texts within this book demonstrates that these are common tropes and that it is our task as scholars to expose and challenge the underlying stereotypes. Th e theme of masculinity is carried throughout and offers convincing theoretical engagement with an oft en- overlooked aspect of intersectionality. All chapters can also serve as valuable resources for undergraduate and graduate classes in which the specific texts are discussed."
    Feminist German Studies
  • "White Rebels in Black adds very important new accents and dimensions to the scholarship that others, including Moritz Ege, have begun to undertake on German appropriation of Black culture since the Second World War. ... Layne's book is a wonderful contribution to transnational German Studies. It is written in lucid prose and will be valuable reading for scholars as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students."
    --- Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies
  • "Priscilla Layne’s White Rebels in Black is a welcome addition to the field that turns our attention towards intersections of masculinity and race."
    --Black Perspectives
  • "This study brings together two of these strands—mainstream German literature’s discourse about Africans and black culture since 1945 on the one hand, and contemporary Afro-German writing on the other, complemented by a third strand, the comparative analysis of African-American experiences of racism and stereotype in post-war and contemporary German culture and society... this is a very worthwhile book to read for those interested in this interdisciplinary field." - Dirk Gottsche, Monatshefte
  • "Layne’s book provides insights and ways into diversity understanding and should be read by those studying transnational literature, German studies, Black studies, or film studies. Yet, by covering German texts from the post-war to present periods and with its inclusion of numerous genres, it is also an accessible and almost required reading for authors, filmmakers, journalists, and German teachers. White Rebels in Black not only holds an astute analysis, but also calls for readers’ changes in approaches, choices, and perspectives towards these texts."

    -Mona Eikel-Pohen, Studies in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Literature
  • "White Rebels in Black offers a concise and helpful guide to understanding German appropriation of Black popular culture and how such appropriations offer German artists opportunities to express distance and difference with the German past and its modern society.... Her book is an important corrective that likewise calls on new scholarly inquiries into how blackness appears, is constructed, and performed throughout Germany." - The Black Scholar
  • "One of the most exciting - and important - developments in German Studies of the past two or three decades has been an increasingly sophisticated interrogation of the cultural construction of ethnic German identity as implicitly and exclusively "white." With her first book, Priscilla Layne admirably joins the illustrious ranks of a growing list of scholars from both sides of the Atlantic ...adding a strikingly original and welcome perspective on issues of gender to the mix." 
    A German Studies Yearbook
  • Honorable Mention: Modern Language Association (MLA) 2018-19 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures

    "In White Rebels in Black, Priscilla Layne breaks new ground for German studies by highlighting the centrality of Blackness for critical evaluations of postwar German cultural productions." —MLA Award Committee

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Priscilla Layne interviewed in AAIHS Black Perspectives Link | 1/24/2019

Product Details

  • 272 pages.
  • 3.
Available for sale worldwide

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  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12383-4

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