Written by actress, model and TV presenter Dayan Kodua, the first woman of African descent to win a state beauty contest in Germany, this book is on Black success stories in the country. Melanie Scheuenstuhl reviews the pictorial band of 25 personalities – politicians, designers, physicians, artists, chefs, lawyers, policemen and bus drivers, who tell their very personal stories of living in Germany.
In the process of growing up, many of us turned to other people – relations or not – to see how they lived their lives, how they coped with life’s challenges, developed their own style and found their place in society. These role models helped us to find our way through tough times and to achieve our goals.
When Dayan Kodua was growing up in the northern German city of Kiel after leaving her native Ghana with her family at the age of ten, there was no one in the public sphere or in her close environment, apart from her family, who resembled her: no Black teacher, lawyer, nurse, politician or television host.
At 33, Dayan Kodua could already look back at many professional successes: she was the first Black woman to win the Miss Schleswig-Holstein beauty contest and she is a sought-after actress, model and TV presenter. Obviously she has found her way.
In the absence of role models in Germany at the beginning of her career, however, Kodua turned to the United States, where television offered her a longed-for supply of Black role models. She spent five years in Los Angeles furthering her acting career and got the chance to be part of big television and movie productions such as Boston Legal and Crank. Back in Germany, she has managed to follow up on her overseas success.
As a result of Kodua’s visibility on German television screens, she has herself become a role model for many young Black Germans. To be Black and at the same time seen as someone with success, talent and capabilities is still not yet common in Germany.
While the entertainment industry is slowly advancing in this respect, the success stories of Black Germans in different walks of life are still starkly missing. It was this non-representation of Black success that inspired Dana Kodua’s book entitled My Black Skin. Black. Successful. German (“My Black Skin: Schwarz. Erfolgreich. Deutsch”), which was released on 1 April 2014.
In the pictorial band, 25 personalities from different walks of life tell their very personal stories of living in Germany: negative experiences owing to their skin colour, disappointments, support from White colleagues, acceptance, important life events and many more positive and negative facets of life in general.
Their skin colour is the basic link between the protagonists. Their personal stories, however, differ from each other. They are, for example, politicians, designers, physicians, artists, chefs, lawyers, policemen or bus drivers. They were born to parents who migrated from Africa or they migrated themselves. They came to Germany to continue with their studies or they were adopted by German parents as children.
Everyone has his or her own story. And it is always a story of success. They are the living proof – like so many more who did not make it into the book – that Black Germans are an integral part of German society. And not just in menial jobs but in important, responsible positions that require skills and talent.
Each personality is portrayed with at least one picture, some with more. Some images are classical black and white photographs, others are in vivid colours. All were taken by the German photographer Thomas Leidig.
The life stories vary in their lengths as well. But the reader is well advised not to rush over the pages and the stories but to consciously take one story at a time and see the pictures as an inseparable part of the story. The pictures and the stories support each other. Paper does not blush. The personalities’ eyes, facial expressions and posture convey the pride, joyfulness, self-confidence and determination that resonate in the accompanying text.
Dayan Kodua took on the book project with the aim of bringing examples of successful Black Germans to the limelight. Black children growing up in Germany need to have role models at hand as living proof that it is possible to fulfil one’s dreams in Germany even when you are Black and having a tough time experiencing discrimination and racism.
One thing that many protagonists state in their stories is that the German media depicts migrants in a negative way most of the time. The same consensus is reached on the basic requirement to become successful in Germany: mastering the language.
Everyone in Germany, no matter what colour their skin, should read the book and reconsider their false assumptions of their fellow citizens.
“My Black Skin. Schwarz. Erfolgreich. Deutsch.” By Dayan Kodua, Susanne Dorn, seltmann+söhne Verlag, ISBN 978-3-944721-00-2