Faculty Fanfare: Tiffany Florvil

Tiffany Florvil Faculty Fanfare

UNM Associate Professor of History Tiffany Florvil has been selected as a 2023 – 2024 Radcliffe Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. She will continue her research on the life and legacy of Black German May Ayim.


Ayim was a spoken-word poet, an essayist, an intellectual, an activist, and an educator who co-founded the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD), a cultural-political organization that ushered in a Black German civil rights movement of the 1980s and 1990s. 


Being a Radcliffe Fellow would provide me with the time to read and think deeply about my primary sources and to advance key arguments of my project. I welcome the opportunity to forge new intellectual communities, where I can share my work, gain constructive feedback, and acquire new scholarly leads,” Florvil said. 


“I can also pursue collaborations with Harvard faculty and acquire research assistance from bright undergraduate students who are fluent in German. By the end of my fellowship year, I will have meticulously organized my source materials, established new archival leads for additional research, and secured a contract for my second sole-authored monograph, all of which will help me craft a compelling and careful narrative of Ayim’s life.”


Florvil said she hopes the experience will be generative and stimulating, and will help her efforts to obtain promotion to full professor at UNM.


“There is much more to explore about Ayim’s relevance in 20th-century German and Black diasporic histories, especially since her life complicates postwar narratives on identity, belonging, and disability. Moreover, Ayim’s legacy is still unfolding. Just this January 2023, her 1989 thesis in speech therapy was discovered by Riccarda J. Schneider and given to the Freie Universität in Berlin,” said Florvil, who attended the dedication.


Ayim matters because her writing tells us about racism which still impacts marginalized communities in contemporary German society,” Florvil said.


“Sadly, I have experienced this racism firsthand when white German women often clutch their purses when I walk near them as if I will steal from them or white Germans glare at me on the S Bahn and move elsewhere so that they don’t have to take the empty seat next to me, a Black person. At events and in conversations, white Germans continually claim their country doesn’t have a problem with race, racism, or police violence.”


Florvil said there are many debates that tend to affirm Germany’s progressive image and praise Germany as a country that effectively dealt with its past including the Holocaust. “Yet these discussions often do not recognize their own complicated history, she said, which has included the Brandenburg Company’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, German colonialism in Africa and the Pacific, and the extermination of Indigenous communities during the Nambian genocide (1904-1908).” 


Florvil said she’s uniquely situated to write an intellectual biography on Ayim, as she already has started researching her life for her award-winning book, Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement (Illinois, 2020). That monograph “showed how Ayim and other Black Germans began reimagining their positions in Germany and the Black diaspora through grassroots movement(s). Beginning in 1984, Black Germans no longer permitted white Germans to define and silence them. Yet, Ayim’s trailblazing legacy has been forgotten beyond the Black German movement, and my project serves as a much-needed corrective,” she said.