So, I’m friends with an Indian lady who’s slightly paranoid about race and racism sometimes. Incidentally, have yous* ever noticed how people always say “black lady” or “Indian lady” and never “black woman” or “Indian woman”? Especially someone of my mum’s age, for example, she will never say the words “black woman”, it’s always black ladies and Indian ladies or ladies from Pakistan or South America. I know why this is. It’s because people feel guilty for bringing race into it – if someone’s white, they’re not white, they’re just a person. So out of racist guilt – or perhaps racism guilt – black and Indian female friends get promoted to “ladies” in anecdotes. It’s a bit pathetic, really.
Okay. Well. My friend. She is a teeny-tiny bit paranoid about race and racism, but I think it’s fine. I think living in a racist society makes you paranoid – I think it SHOULD make you paranoid – and I think a reaction of anger to an accusation of racism, no matter how unfounded or unfair you feel the accusation is, is in itself automatically a racist reaction.
Don’t forget the kind of things which some perfectly normal Germans think are not racist at all – blacking up, saying “Negerkuss”, segregating Kindergarten kids based on their ethnicity, or should I say, language skills. Don’t forget what Germans find racist and we don’t – terms like ethnicity or mixed-race. We have to be able to talk about this kind of thing without anger.
I know it’s easy for me to say. Or easier, anyway. I’ve received enough vaguely racist and specifically racist treatment (I got spat at at Strausberger Platz once, because I was carrying Ryan on my hip like a Roma or Sinti) for me to feel like I have a “Get Out of Racist Jail Free” card. I know that. But I still think, though I know this is hard: the only non-racist reaction to an accusation of racism is total bemusement followed by genuine reflection. An angry reaction is racist, because it’s verlogen. Being called a racist is not worse than racism. Don’t be silly.
This is also why I definitely think we should let people be slightly paranoid about racism. Once racism has ended for good, people won’t be paranoid anymore, will they? It’ll all be good. This paranoia is the price we pay for living in a racist society. I think it’s fair enough, basically.
My friend’s definitely slightly paranoid, though. Only slightly. But she definitely is.
“I think it’s so racist how Germans don’t eat garlic,” she says to me one night over a bottle of expensive-for-Lidl Rioja wine.
“Do you?” I ask. “It is definitely a bit annoying.”
“It’s ridiculous,” she says. “And plus, it’s just another way of alienating ethnic minority people from the workplace.”
I bite my lip politely.
“There aren’t any ethnic minorities who don’t eat garlic, are there?” I ask anxiously.
“No, I don’t think so,” she says.
“What about Vietnamese people?”
“Everyone except for the Germans and the Anglo-Saxons eat garlic,” she says. “It’s so racist of them, this garlic-phobia.”
“I don’t think it’s racist of them to not eat it, if they really don’t like it, but it can definitely get a bit racist, sometimes, when they start going on about how disgusting it is.”
“Yeah that’s classic othering,” she says.
“I never smell it on anyone. I’ve never smelt garlic on anyone, ever.”
“Well, that’s because you are a normal person and you eat garlic all the time. If you eat a little bit of garlic every day of the week, you never smell it on anyone-else.”
“They only eat it on Fridays, don’t they? The Germans. The poor things. No wonder they have to eat so much pork, pork’s the only thing in the world which is so delicious you don’t need to add garlic to it.”
“German people,” says my friend, “are so racist, that they’re prepared to only eat delicious food once a week, just so they can marginalize a few more Ausländer.”
“You know,” I say, cautiously. “There are some people – I mean, I’m not one of them – but there are some people – I’m friends with some of them – who would say that we, now, in this conversation which we’re having right now, we’re actually being racist towards Germans.”
My friend looks at me in total disgust.
“Don’t be stupid, Jacinta,” she says.
“I’m just saying.”
“We can’t be racist towards Germans.”
“Of course we can’t.”
“Well, we could try. I’m sure I could give it a go. They’re really bad at Hangman. They really are. Not as bad as Polish people, but really quite bad. They never go for the vowels first. That is basic Hangman tactics. Every five-year-old schoolchild knows that.”
“We can’t be racist towards Germans because that’s not what racism is. Racism is the systematic oppression of non-white people by white people. It’s systematic. It’s an oppression. We can discriminate against white people, sure. But we can’t be racist towards them. We can’t be racist towards white Germans. It’s ridiculous.”
“Oh, right,” I say.
She looks quite angry now. “How many Germans have you stopped getting a job or a flat or a place at university today, Jacinta?” she asks.
“None,” I say.
“Exactly,” she says. “We can’t be racist towards Germans because we don’t have any power or status in this society.”
“Well,” I say. “Phew. That’s a bit of a relief, actually. Because the thing is, they do look very bad naked, don’t they? I don’t mean the skinny boys at the lake, they’re lovely, all golden and creamy and perfect, pale and gorgeous, their long limbs glittering in the late summer sunshine. I mean, those fat, pink, lobstery things. Germans over 40. Ew. They’re so puffy and grotesque. You’re in the sauna, and you’re looking around, and all you can think is: ‘How could Hitler have ever thought that this lot were genetically superior to anyone on Earth?’ I mean, that is literally all I ever think when I’m in the sauna. And to think I used to worry that I was being racist!”
My friend frowns.
“Just because something isn’t racist doesn’t mean it’s necessarily helpful, Jacinta,” she says.
“I mean, imagine Brüderle naked,” I say.
“Oh, shut up, Jacinta,” she snaps at me. “I think I’m going to be sick now.”
*I am going to start using the plural of ‘you’ again, because I think you guys is a bit sexist. Sorry.