31 Days of Herstory: May Ayim

AyimMay Ayim was a poet, activist, scholar and one of the founders of the Afro-German movement.

May Ayim was born in 1960 in Berlin. May’s father, a Ghanain medical student want ether to be adopted by his sister, but was forbidden to do so by German law and he was not married to her mother. May was ultimately adopted by the Optiz family, who were violent toward her – something she explored through her poetry.

She attended the University of Regensburg, and her thesis Afro-Germans: Their Cultural and Social History on the Background of Social Change, was the first piect of scholarly work on Afro-German history. It later formed the basis of Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, a collection exploring the experiences of mixed raced women in Germany, edited by May (then May Optiz), Katharina Oguntoye and Dagmar Schultz.

May also founded the , a club which aims to represent the interests of black people in Germany, oppose racism and promote black consciousness.

During her studies, May travelled to Ghana and meet her paternal family before returning to Germany and training as a speech therapist. She went on to teach at the Free University of Berlin. She was active as an educator and writer, taking part in many conferences and publishing Blues in Black and White: a collection of essays, poetry and conversations.

May soften expoled the racism she experienced through her poetry and academic work. Blues in black and White features the poem afro-deutsh I (afro-german I), which mocked her everyday experiences of racism.

You’re Afro-German?
… oh, I see: African and German.
An interesting mixture, huh?
You know: there are people that still think
Mulattos won’t get
as far in life
as whites
I don’t believe that.
I mean: given the same type of education…
You‘re pretty lucky you grew up here.
With German parents even. Think of that!
D’you want to go back some day, hm?
What? You’ve never been in your Dad’s home
That’s so sad… Listen, if you ask me:
A person’s origin, see, really leaves quite a
Take me, I’m from Westphalia,
and I feel
that’s where I belong…
Oh boy! All the misery there is in the world!
Be glad
You didn’t stay in the bush.
You wouldn’t be where you are today!
I mean, you’re really an intelligent girl, you
If you work hard at your studies,
you can help your people in Africa, see:
What you’re predestined to do,
I’m sure they’ll listen to you,
while people Iike us –
there’s such a difference in cultural levels…
What do you mean, do something here? What
On earth would you want to do here?
Okay, okay, so it’s not all sunshine and roses.
But I think everybody should put their own
house in order first!

In 1996, she suffered a mental and physical collapse ands admitted to the psychiatric ward of the Auguste Viktoria Hospital in Berlin. During her admission, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After a suicide attempt, May was readmitted to the hospital. Shortly after being discharged, she jumped from the 13th floor of a high-rise building.

Following her death, her friend, Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson wrote the poem ‘Reggae fi May Ayim’ in her memory.

It woz in di dazzlin atmosfare
A di black radical bookfair
Dat mi site yu
Sweet sistah
Brite-eyed like hope
Like a young antelope
Who couda cope

Wid di daily deflowahin a di spirit
Wit di evryday erowshan a di soul

Listen to Linton reading the poem in full via the British Library Sound Archives.


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