I show my boyfriend a pic of a German friend of mine, on the internet, all blacked-up so he looks like that Italian footballer dude, Balotelli.
“Do you think this is racist?” I ask him.
“Yes,” he says.
“Actually, it’s not,” I tell him. “Well, I don’t think it’s actually racist. Actually.”
“Of course it’s racist,” he says. “He’s all blacked-up. You don’t need a degree in race relations to know that getting all blacked-up is racist. Even I know that one. Even Jim fucking Davidson knows that one.”
“Well,” I say. “It’s actually not racist because he hasn’t blacked himself up to look like a generic black person, he’s just painted himself black to imitate a specific person – in this case, a footballer – who just so happens to be black. And because it’s a specific situation. That’s what my mate told me today. We were chatting on Facebook. He convinced me. It’s not actually racist. It’s satire.”
My boyfriend looks at me skeptically.
“Jacinta,” he says. “That is not satire.”
“Not proper satire,” I say, “German satire. You know, “Satire”, to rhyme with Shakira.”
My boyfriend grabs the laptop off of me and looks at the picture of my blacked-up German mate, shaking his head disapprovingly.
“I can’t believe you actually think this isn’t racist. Next you’ll be saying it’s alright when they do it at the opera. I never noticed how integrated you were before. Have you been secretly doing an Integrationskurs? Soon you’ll be at dinner parties, saying stuff like: ‘Just because the Holocaust was really bad, people expect us to pretend we don’t all totally despise Turkish people.’”
“Yeah, I know,” I say, sighing. “I’ll say stuff like: ‘Das wird man doch noch sagen dürfen.’”
My boyfriend puts down the laptop and looks at me. “Do you really think it’s not racist, or is this just a thing you’re telling yourself to try and convince yourself that you don’t actually secretly think all your German friends are basically Nazis?”
I bite my lip, look at the picture of my blacked-up mate and think for a bit. “I’m not totally sure,” I say in a quiet voice. “But I think I actually think it’s not actually racist.”
“Well, blacking up is up there on the Racism-O-Meter, as far as I’m concerned. My Racism-O-Meter goes…” My boyfriend starts making Racism-O-Meter signs in the air, as he lists off various racism sins, going from top to bottom: “Killing All the Jews… Blacking Up… Saying All Poles Are Thieves… Not Being Prepared To Watch A Chinese Movie At The Berlinale Because You’re Scared You’ll Get The Main Characters Mixed Up…” – at this point in his Racism-O-Meter he gives me a knowing look, I pretend not to notice – “Saying ‘Negerkuss’… Being Against Circumcision.”
“Actually,” I say, “I am slightly against circumcision now.”
“Only slightly. Just a tiny bit. In a kind of Richard Dawkins-kinda way. It’s not good, Ben. But you know what I’d do, if I were a German politician? I’d, like, do a big campaign against babies and ear piercing. I’d be like: ‘Stop this baby ear mutilation now!’ And then, in brackets, I’d say: ‘Oh, you’d better stop lopping off the ends of your kids’ penises, too, otherwise the pierced ear people will think we’re being unfair on them.’ That’s what I’d do. To be, kind of like… you know… sensitive.”
“That’s a very practical idea,” says my boyfriend, sitting down on the sofa and pulling me down beside him. “I’ve often thought you should become a politician. You’re very practical.”
“I’ve got a very good idea for Wowi, as well,” I say. “About the airport. You know what I’d do, if I was Wowi? I’d hold, like, this huge, huge, huge press conference. And then I’d say: ‘I know, I fucked up. I’m a fucking eejit. This is a massive, massive, massive fuck-up. I am sorry. I am going to give you a present to make up for this fuck-up.’ And then I’d move the airport back to Zone B. You know in the BVG zone thing? I’d move the airport back to Zone B. Or you know what I mean. I’d move Zone B out to the airport. That would be my present to Berlin, for having fucked up so monumentously.”
“’Monumentously’ isn’t a word,” says my boyfriend. “And I’m not sure if Klaus Wowereit has the power to do that.”
“Of course he does,” I snap peevishly. “He’s the fucking Bürgermeister.”
I look back at my laptop on my desk and see that someone’s replied to the “Is blacking up racist?” Facebook debate. “Oooh, look!” I say. “Someone’s replied to the whole ‘Is blacking up racist?’ debate.”
I read the comment out loud to my boyfriend. “He says: ‘If you can see anything racist in that picture then you don’t have all your latten on your Zaun and you need to be medically treated for Naziphobia.’” I laugh. “What does that mean, with the Latten on the Zaun?” I ask him. “Being a few sandwiches short of a picnic?”
“Yeah, exactly,” he says.
“That’s so German, isn’t it?” I say, grinning at him. “To think that someone who thinks that blacking up might be a bit racist is actually suffering from a Naziphobia.”
“Well, the rate you’re going, that’ll be you in a few years. You’ll say things like: ‘And they’ve actually made us close down all the concentration camps! It’s political correctness gone mad!’ Oh, by the way, you got a Christmas card. Here. You are definitely winning the Christmas card competition.”
I rip open the Christmas card, it’s from my auntie. I put it up on a bookshelf.
“I find it really leichtsinnig, you know,” I say, “the way British people don’t write their Absender address on the back of the envelopes when they send letters. Like, what if the letter goes missing? It only takes, what, three minutes. Or two. And then the letter won’t go missing.”
“Oh, God,” says my boyfriend. “You’re not just integrated, you’ve actually gone native.” He stands up and kisses me behind my left ear. “What’s for dinner tonight?”
“Königsberger Klopse,” I say, and his whole face lights up.
“Really?” he asks, beaming.
I sniff nonchalantly. “No,” I say. “Of course not. We’re having aubergine and chickpea curry.”
My boyfriend sighs longingly. “I’m really looking forward to the day when you’re so German you make me Königsberger Klopse for dinner.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I bet you are.”