May Ayim

(born 1960 in Hamburg – died 1996 in Berlin)

"I'm going to be African, regardless, even if you’d like to have me German, and I'm going to be German, regardless, even if my Blackness doesn’t suit you."

With her poetry, May Ayim sought to make visible social conditions for which no words have yet been found. 

May Ayim was a poet, scholar and activist in Black feminist and Afro-German movements. She is considered one of the pioneers of Critical Whiteness Studies in Germany, which criticises the invisible “White” norm and analyses racism as a structural privilege of “White” people. 

In the 1980s, she established contacts with representatives of the international Black women’s movement. In 1984, she became one of the co-founders of the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative of Black People in Germany). With Farbe bekennen. Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte” (Eng. publication title: Showing Our Colours: Afro-German Women Speak Out), together with Katharina Oguntoye and Dagmar Schultz, she laid the first literary milestone in Black German historiography in 1986. With these investigations, she carried out groundbreaking scientific work on the history and present of Black Germans. She is internationally recognised for this research and for her political poetry on racism. Her best-known books of poetry include grenzenlos und unverschämt (1997, Eng.: borderless and brazen), blues in schwarz-weiss (1995, Eng.: blues in black and white) and nachtgesang (1997, Eng.: nightsong). 

In January 1996, she suffered a mental breakdown. In August of the same year, she committed suicide at the age of 36. 

Ayim, M., grenzenlos und unverschämt. ein gedicht gegen die deutsche sch-einheit (approx. Eng.: borderless and brazen. a poem against german unity/pretence), in: blues in schwarz-weiss. Gedichte (Eng.: blues in black and white. poems), Berlin 1995.

May Ayim
Credits: Dagmar Schultz