Here’s a list of things, possibly incomplete, that white Germans have told me are not racist:
- Sending a Sikh guy who wears a turban an SMS asking him if he will give you a lift home on his magic carpet
- Not wanting to give a German-Turkish girl who wears a headscarf an Ausbildung at your company
- Thinking someone’s name sounds silly and telling them so
- Banning German-Turkish and/or German-Arab schoolkids – or even nursery-schoolkids! – from communicating in their mother tongues in the playground
- Not wanting to give a German-Arab boy a job at your company, because of course you’d rather employ a German-German, it’s just easier
- Teachers thinking German-Arab and/or German-Turkish kids shouldn’t go to grammar schools because their parents are probably stupid
- Bus drivers asking only black guys to show their tickets, because, well, they perhaps don’t have one
It’s tempting, to pretend that racism is an American problem, to look at the pictures of George Floyd’s face, to watch the videos of his death, and to feel outraged as if the problems of racism are so exotic ….
I don’t want to sound like I am equating the black American struggle with the experiences of black people in Europe. The way African Americans have suffered is unique – and uniquely terrible. But it’s not okay for white Germans to feel outraged by George Floyd’s death as if the problems of racism are exotic to us here. It’s tempting, perhaps, to pretend that racism is an American problem – we do it in Britain, too, by the way. I never learned a word about colonialism in high school. The only thing I learned about slavery was that the British, unlike the Americans, gave it up voluntarily. But I live in Germany and so I am talking about the country I live in. We have our own racism problems in this country, and the biggest is that nobody is prepared to admit that racism exists.
In a weird way, a fucked-up way, the most racist, Trumpy small town in the States could be less racist than some perfect Prenzlauer Berg bubble, one of those German dinner parties full of white people (I think Alice Schwarzer would call them fortschrittliche Kreise) who have never experienced racism, don’t have any non-white friends, and spend the evening arguing earnestly about integration, and why some integrate so well and some don’t and that’s so wrong – without giving a thought about the fact it could be a two-way street. Or why Islamophobia is not, officially, racism. Because white Germans say they don’t see race, when the truth is: they don’t see racism.
White Germans say they don’t see race, when the truth is: they don’t see racism.
White people in Germany should spend less time worrying about whether things are officially racist or not. It’s just a word, man. What’s going to happen to Germany if we suddenly thought something was racist and it completely wasn’t racist? Literally nothing! Imagine if I said muesli was racist. What would happen? Nothing. I’d just be wrong, that’s all. There’s always gonna be crazy people who think weird things, what about all those people who think Just One Day is a good book? It’s okay, the world can cope with a few wrong opinions. Racism isn’t this weird topic. It’s a part of life, and sometimes people will say things are racist that you don’t think are racist, and what? Chill out, man. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong. It’s okay. White Germans need to spend a bit less time Germansplaining about where racism starts and Diskriminierung begins and a bit more time listening to brown and black people talking about the ways in which life in this country is hard and uncomfortable.
To be honest, as someone who is half-white, I worry about whether I am being racist or not a lot.
Why do white Germans need to be right about racism all the time? Why don’t they just shut up and listen? What harm would come from them sometimes worrying about whether they are being racist or not, instead of having this knee-jerk reaction, nothing to see here, move along swiftly, that isn’t technically racism so we must never think about it ever?
To be honest, as someone who is half-white, I worry about whether I am being racist or not a lot. I think this entire post might be racist – I suspect it might be. I think it might be racist for me to even compare German and American racism. It might venture slightly into downplaying territory, downplaying the very specific struggles that young black and brown men face.
I worry about being racist all the time. And you know what happens? Nothing. Sometimes later on I decide I was racist, sometimes later on I look back and laugh at myself. You don’t need to be 100 percent certain about racism all the time. You can be worried. You can be interested. You can be curious.
There is a serious problem with racism in the German police. The NSU murders taught us that…. and there have been too many non-whites killed in police custody.
So, I feel like even though I don’t have white privilege, I almost do. I have half-white privilege, I have almost-white privilege, I have non-black privilege. I’m uncertain about race sometimes, uncertain about racism. I think it’s okay to worry about whether you’re being racist.
I have talked a lot about casual racism in this country, the microaggressions, so many of which are worsened by the fact that Germans in general don’t care about hurting strangers’ feelings, racism + bad manners = 74,0000 micro-aggressions every day of the week. But most importantly, let’s never forget that there is a serious problem with racism in the German police. The NSU murders taught us that. And the police in Bavaria and NRW, who are refusing to work in Berlin now that we have an anti-Discrimination law, which literally just says discrimination is wrong and you shouldn’t do it, know they are racist too.
German coppers are undoubtedly less violent than the US police – but as well as a very nonchalant attitude towards racial profiling, there have been too many non-whites killed in police custody. Oury Jalloh is the most famous of those, but let’s also remember Robble Warsame, Amad Ahmad, Yaya Jabbi, Achidi John, Laye-Alama Condé and William Tonou-Mbobda. May they rest in peace. I wish I could think of a witty, snappy punchline to end this post on, but to be honest I think that’s all I have to say. Rest in peace.