May Ayim – Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land

While reading the book „Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum“ (Your home is our nightmare), I stumbled about many names I haven’t heard about before. The book is a collection of essays written by German authors with migration background. The main goal of those essays were to make the white German majority have a good look at themselves, and encourages the reader to reflect on their own privilege. One of these names I stumbled across was May Ayim. It was not her name, but her poetry, which was quoted in said book, that touched me and made me look up some of her history.

May Ayim was born in May 1960 to her white German mother and her Ghanaian father as Sylvia Brigitte Getrud Opitz. Her parents both gave her up for adoption shortly after she was born. Therefore, she grew up in a white foster family with four white siblings, always being the only one in her family facing institutional racism in her everyday life. She commented on her life in a post-colonial country with the following words: „For years I lived with the feeling that I did not have a history or a future in German society, but one day I had to emigrate. That this is very stressful, is out of the question. In the meantime, it is clear to me that this is not an individual experience and that my experience exemplifies the way in which a group of the population is consciously excluded from existing parts of German society. ” (1)

While studying science of education and psychology, not only did she to Ghana to meet her birth family and familial roots, she also wrote her diploma thesis about the Afro-German history, which she published in 1986 in her book „Farbe Bekennen“ (To confess colour). She then also decided to change her German name into May Ayim – Ayim was also her fathers last name. From 1985 onward, she founded the organisation „Initiative Schwarzer Menschen in Deutschland“ (Initiative of PoC in Germany) and therefore created not only a community but established the term „Afro-German“ – as an analogy to the term „Afro-American“ which was already used in the US. 

Since 1990, she also began to be known as a poet. Her poetry is mainly focused on her experiences and confrontations with everyday racism. The language she’s using is clear, laconic and easy to understand. When she recited her poetry to an audience, it resembled in a performance – if she were to present her work these days, she might be a well-respected poetry slammer. 

In the early 1990s, Ayim started to suffer from psychotic episodes and went to a closed psychiatric ward on her own request – more than just once. After also getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Ayim couldn’t bear anymore and committed suicide in August 1996.

I cannot even tell you what I find most interesting about May Ayim and her history. First of all it saddens me that people of colour and people with an immigrant background seem to be ignored not only in our history, but also in our day to day society. I couldn’t see the everyday racism those people are facing day by day until I started to open my eyes to it, just a couple of months ago. And I considered myself a tolerant person in a tolerant western society – the truth is – we’re still far away from such a „tolerant society“ and we can only get there once we start to open our eyes and ears and start listening to the marginalized people around us. Ayim was fighting for right to exist in this mostly white society and while I didn’t know about her until some days ago, she seems to be a hero in the Afro-German society and I’m thankful for everything she did and at the same time sorry she had to make her final decision. I’ll definitely put some effort in and buy at least one of the books filled with her poetry. 


Written by Arabell Walter (she/they) from Berlin, Germany. Follow them on Twitter or Instagram! This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.


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