Abroad Blog: Post-Racism? I Think Not
Guten Tag Wesleyan! Greetings from Berlin! As much as I would enjoy describing my nefarious and risqué escapades in Germany, a more important issue has taken priority over bar-hopping, delicious beer drinking, and the potentially illegal acts in which I’ve participated since my last correspondence. Given recent conversation and events in Germany and the U.S., I feel compelled to compose this article.
My friend “Davy” (labeled with the ze-pronoun) and I were Skyping recently. During our conversation, we started to discuss the recent and unsettling Trayvon Martin murder case. As we touched on the possibility of racial profiling as motivation for the shooting, Davy remarked: “I still can’t believe it. The world is post-racism, right? This is the 21st century.”
I should have taken a picture of my jaw dropping on Skype to publish with this article.
Post-racism and post-race are phrases I hear quite often, not only in the States but in Germany as well. An acquaintance remarked that, at her university in France, some professors have even discontinued using the word “race” in their classes, in accordance to a similar principle: we are in the 21st century, and “race” in terms of “racism” has become nonexistent. She described the difficulty of discussing racial relations in French colonies, when the word “race” is not allowed in her class.
I sympathize with her, and I too found the concept and the reasoning behind this initiative problematic and worrisome. More so, I condemn the idea. My historical research and recent experiences in Germany support my refusal to declare that we live in a post-racism era.
I am currently researching Afro-German history at my German school. Afro-Germans are a minority group, of whom many Americans are unaware. Their history in Germany can be traced back—in some cases—for more than 150 years and for many generations. Many individuals of African heritage came to Germany as students or entertainers; some came simply as migrants; others as French African or as African-American soldiers. Still others were born here as the children of those immigrants.
Regardless of the origin of their ancestors, the Afro-Germans I’m researching were born German. Despite their German citizenship, many faced and still face discrimination because of the color of their skin. This was especially true during the Nazi Regime, when hundreds of black Germans were forcibly sterilized by the pro-eugenic government. They were German, though for some racist Germans, they did not look the part. But I digress.
I mention my research as a segue into two events that rendered me quaking in silent anger. My boyfriend—who is a white German—recently witnessed a group of Neo-Nazis verbally attacking and spitting on a black man on the train. He stepped in to put a stop to the situation. The interaction repulsed him, not simply because he was the only person to react, but because acts of violence against individuals with darker skin, regardless of their nationalities, are becoming more frequent.
More recently, he texted me to tell me to be careful traveling home because a group of Neo-Nazis were planning to march in a neighborhood near my apartment. He recommended taking the bus, because the subway is where he has noticed the most violent racist acts. He was so worried with what he saw on the news that he waited at my apartment to make sure I came home unscathed.
His worry for my physical safety is not unfounded. For example, in my historical research, I read an article from a year ago in the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, which covered a Neo-Nazi march in Berlin and the anti-Nazi demonstration against the march. The article also described a group of Neo-Nazi men pursuing a black man through a subway station, until the police finally stepped in.
Many more violent racist acts have occurred in recent years, all over Germany. In 2006, a 15-year-old boy, originally from Ethiopia, was violently beaten in Berlin-Schönefeld by a group of radical extremists. In February 2012, in Regensburg, a 26-year-old American was verbally and physically attacked in front of a disco by white supremacists. In 2009, in Hamburg, a 37-year-old black man was critically injured in an attack while waiting at a traffic light.
These are just the cases of which I am aware—a Google search would provide many more. The German media label many such cases—incorrectly—as acts of “Fremdenfeindlichkeit” or “Ausländerfeindlichkeit,” both of which loosely translate to hostility toward foreigners. Those terms suggest that these are not acts of racism, despite the fact that this “hostility toward foreigners” is oftentimes directed at people who are German citizens.
But once more, I digress.
I would like to note here that racism obviously does not exist purely in a black-white framework. My intention is not to disregard racism against other groups, but to simply connect my academic research of Afro-Germans to my personal experience as a black man in Germany. Though I can only speak from my experiences as a black man, I have personally witnessed racism in many forms, in other places, and against other groups; for example, individuals of Turkish descent in Germany.
All in all, I do not see the post-racism world that Davy does. Whether it be racial expletives murmured on the subway as you pass by, a black man running away from a group of Neo-Nazis in a news story, or the likely racial profiling of Trayvon Martin prior to his murder, I am convinced that racism exists and—maybe this is cynical—will most likely continue to plague society for quite some time.
Luckily, there are people like my wonderful boyfriend, who cannot stand the sight of such acts, and are willing to step in to right a wrong. It is these people we must depend upon to make the slow changes that will bring us closer to this elusive, possibly unachievable, “post-racial” society that does not yet exist.