BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY Am I Black Enough? My Experience With Racism in Germany
Whenever I talk about race, I receive disapproving comments from people I know who believe that I place too much emphasis on the subject. Many of them are noble in their intentions and they wholeheartedly believe that "we are all humans" and that racism will end only if we "stop talking about it."
I am not arguing with the fact that we are all humans. Indeed, "race" in the way that it is popularly used is but a social construct created by man. We are all of the human race, period. However, racism will not go away simply by not talking about it. By not discussing racism and the effects it still has on our society, we are essentially repressing this wickedness and turning a blind eye to its manifestations, thereby making it even worse. We cannot rid the world of racism by adopting some kumbaya philosophy because the reality of the situation is that racism is more than just a plague affecting the uneducated and ignorant: it is an institutionalized system with malicious intentions.
Why do I talk about racism so much? Because my formative years were spent coping with it. My childhood was not full of the happy-go-lucky, colorful world that children are familiar with before they enter the "real world" and start associating only with people of their own ethnicity. From the age of four, I was thrust into a world of racism, and I became very aware of the fact that being black made me "different."
This is my personal story.
I was born in Maryland, and before I turned four, I had already lived in about three or four different places due to my mother's military service (we lived in Florida in the early 90s but had to leave after hurricane Andrew).
We moved to Germany in 1995, and I started school two years later at age six. In Germany, school kids are given a "Schultüte" on their first day of school, which is a cardboard cone filled with candy and other treats. I remember being extremely nervous as I carried my Schultüte through the school, anxiously awaiting what was to come.
|Girl on her first day of school with her Schultüte|
And then, it started.
"Look at the black kid!"
"Hey darkie! What are you doing here?"
"Go back to Africa you monkey!"
I literally felt everyone staring at me. As I walked down the halls with the other first year kids, I knew that something was off. Something about me.
My escort (my mother was unfortunately not able to attend my first day of school) guided me to my classroom and I started crying. I literally broke down into tears. I remember the teachers and adults having to force me into my seat because I didn't want to stay put. I didn't like the kids. I didn't like the names I was being called. I just wanted to run away.
My teacher, whose name was Frau Fuchs, was a very kind woman, despite her strict appearance. She gave us a speech at the beginning of class, the context of which I can still remember to this day. She told us that we would be starting a new journey that would be exciting and even scary for some of us (at this point she was looking at me). Her words calmed me, though I was still in a state of visible angst.
One of the earliest memories I have of blatant racism was shortly after my first day of school. By now I had settled in and found some friends, though I was still subjected to a lot of teasing and name calling. Usually it was things like "darkie" and other childish remarks, but this time it was different.
I was running the track outside when I came across some older kids in the bleachers. I slowed down a little to catch my breath. As I passed the kids, they hurled some pretty harsh things at me.
"Look at that little nigger running! Hey nigger! Why don't you run faster? Run nigger, run! Hahaha!"
I just looked at them and kept walking. I was used to being teased, but this was the first time I was really alone, confronted by a group of hate-filled people. I now know that kids are cruel and that it is in their nature to pick on each other, bully each other, and tease each other, but back then I was six years old and I didn't know why I had to go through that. These kids were at least ten years old, and there were at least three of them. I was alone. It was the first time I felt what it was like to really be "different."
But the childishness of those and other kids was nothing compared to what the older folks used to hurl at me. That was the real deal. That was real "racism," not childish name-calling. There were adults, even teachers, who hated me because I was black. I remember one time in particular, an old woman said some words to me that I will never forget.
As the school year progressed, I learned to fight those little racist punks, be it with my words or my fists. I had beefs with a lot of them, and my friends were always by my side when shit popped off. Well, this time was just one of the many times I fought with my fists, and it ended up quite badly.
This fat, greasy-haired, pig-faced kid named Otto and I were arguing as we walked home. I cannot remember how many people were there at the time. We all used to walk home together after school. Anyway, me and Otto exchanged some words and ended up scuffling. I picked up a rock and threw it at him, and it hit him in the head. He took off crying and bolted into his house. A few seconds later, his grandmother, an old German woman in her 60s came out of the from door and stood on the porch, staring me down with a grimace that remains etched into my mind to this day.
"You little fucking piece of shit nigger! You filthy animal! You're a worthless dirtbag nigger! You better never touch my grandson again, or I'll kill your black ass, you hear me?"
Now I know that this woman was yearning for the good ol' days in Germany when anyone who wasn't blonde-haired and blue-eyed was rounded up into trains and sent away. The memory of this horrific period of German history was obviously still prominent in this woman's mind, and she let me know. She really let me have it.
But I was unfazed.
"Fuck you, you old hag, go back inside and look after your little bitch of a grandson!" I laughed and walked away. Though internally, I was shocked. The fact that this memory is still fresh in my mind is a testament to the impact the altercation had upon me.
My daily life was full of events like this. I was called everything from darkie to monkey to nigger. I heard it from everyone, including grown people who should have known better. But even though it made me sad and upset, it simultaneously taught me to accept myself for who I was and to never put anyone else down for being who they are. I never bullied anyone, though I did fight quite often.
Furthermore, the fact that I was different made me popular. Little girls had crushes on me (Ida, Eva Maria, Manuela, and Gabi come to mind right off the bat) and little boys wanted to be my friends. Older folks (the ones who weren't too busy screaming racial epithets at me) were fascinated by me. Sometimes I felt like a circus display, but it was nice having real friends who were there for me. And it was nice having all the girls like me (Nicole was another one...or it was Bianca. They were sisters, I can't remember which one liked me).
After I lived in Germany, I moved to England. It was in England where I discovered that there were a lot more black people than I thought. I went to school on a military base, and there were all sorts of black people there. I hung around mostly black people during this time. It is in England that I learned about black American culture. I learned to speak "Ebonics," I learned to play basketball, I learned to rap, and I learned to do all of the stereotypical things "black people" do. I also learned that my experience growing up in Germany as the only black kid I knew was different from that of my black peers in England. It would make me understand what it means to be black in a different way than my peers understood it.
You see, most black people in America live in black neighborhoods. We are a minority in our nation, but we represent the majority in our neighborhoods. Black Americans of all socio-economic backgrounds tend to live around each other. This isn't unique to black Americans; unfortunately, we all have the tendency to self-segregate, regardless of ethnicity.
The fact that most black Americans live around other black Americans means that there is a shared black experience and culture. I did not initially belong to this culture, and I still don't completely belong. Black people in America know what it is like to live in conditions that represent the legacy and ongoing impact of institutionalized racism, but most of them do not know what it is like to really be black and completely alone amongst highly racist people. They know about the KKK, but they have never come face to face with such groups.
I have been told that because I grew up in Germany, I'm not black. Though the person who told me this (a white dude) said it in a joking manner, there are many black people who believe this. To many black folk, me growing up in Germany subtracts from my real "blackness."
Haha, yeah right.
I was literally the only black person for miles (besides my biracial mom, who worked on base far away from our town). I was the one speck of pepper in the salt mine. I didn't get to live in that blissful stage of childhood where skin color doesn't matter and all the kids play together happily before they fall into the traps of the real world. I understood that my blackness would make my life more difficult. I developed consciousness of my blackness before I was five years old. I don't mean I simply knew my skin color was different; I mean that I knew that my skin color was to be the basis for a lot of hatred that I would have to face in life.
In short, I've known who I am virtually my entire life. And I have experienced racism in every nation that I have set foot in, some of it vile and obvious, some of it subtle and patronizing. I have been black in America, in Germany, in England, in Italy, in France, in Portugal, in Luxembourg, in Switzerland, in Austria, in Liechstenstein, in Holland, in Belgium, and in many other places. I have seen just how penetrative the global system of white supremacy and racism is.
Yes, white supremacy.
Because in the modern world, it is not non-white people who control society. Racism exists amongst every ethnic group, but it is the historical legacy of white supremacy that still rules supreme today. So to those who think that racism is just some American thing, let it be know that racism is a global phenomenon. Non-white people worldwide have been oppressed and discriminated against since the first European "discoverers" set foot in foreign lands. This is the racism I know. Not just the historical, black-and-white antagonisms that exist in America, but the racism that inspired the creation of Apartheid, Jim Crow, Nazism, and so many other file forms of hatred.
A lot of the black kids I knew and a lot of the black people I know today don't really know what real racism is. They know about the historical impact of racism in America, but they rarely come face-to-face with people who are ready to do them serious harm because of their skin color. Young black Americans as a whole have not experienced the racism our forefathers experienced, so most of us are unaware of just how real racism is. We are told to look past skin color, but we are not the ones who created a system of oppression based on skin color, and we do not perpetuate this system. Yet when we try to examine our current condition in the context of the historical realities that our people were forced to undergo, we are told to just forget about racism and it will go away. I don't care what anyone says: 300-plus years of chattel slavery and oppression will render a people lost and confused. And black America now exists in a confused state, especially young black Americans. We try to adhere to some invisible standard of "blackness," much of which is extremely destructive and counter-productive. We have lost the identity of ourselves, which is why we have created this current identity. We have to listen to certain music, wear certain clothes, and walk and talk a certain way to be considered "black" and to he accepted as "black enough."
I am proud to say that I don't give a fuck whether or not my black peers consider me "black enough." I am proud of my blackness. I understand what it really means to be black. I am not looking for acceptance from anyone. I have experienced forms of racism that I know many of my black peers have never and will never experience. I am not the lost one. I know who I really am.
The racism I encountered in Germany made me understand that though we may all be human, that's just it: we are humans. We are ignorant, brutish human beings who would rather create separation amongst ourselves than foster unity. We would rather establish systematic and institutionalized discrimination than come together as one race and make the world a better place. Sure, I talk about racism a lot, and that it because it was a big part of my life. I'm not buying into the whole "post-racial society" thing because I have seen just how subtle racism can be. It's not always in your face like that racist old lady or those kids at school. It's not always having to look around to make sure some neo-Nazi punks don't try to beat you to a pulp. It can be as simple and as subtle as a seemingly harmless word. And believe you me, racism is alive and well worldwide. How do I know?Because I have been living with it my entire life.
I will leave you with one last story, though I have countless more I could share. I moved back to Germany in 2004, when I was 13. About two years later, I went to Munich with my mom. I was really excited because I had never been to Munich, though I had been to the surrounding area, and it was beautiful. The people were lovely, the pretzels were great, and the scenery was breathtaking.
As we entered Munich, I saw some skinheads. Okay, no problem. I was used to seeing them. Then I saw a few police cars. Then more skinheads. Then more cops. It looked like something big was going on.
We got out of the car and saw a huge crowd of people on the street surrounding a smaller group of protestors. As we neared the commotion, I saw what was going on.
My mother and I, the only black people around, had stumbled upon a neo-Nazi march. There were everything from junkie skinheads to racist politicians marching through the streets of Munich, spewing vile filth from their mouths. Many of them shot me looks of complete and utter hatred. Had the police not been there, there would definitely have been some problems. In reality, it was probably dumb for us to stay, but we did. Then at one point, a woman came up to me and spoke some of the truest words I have ever heard.
"You guys had better leave. The Nazis are coming."
If there is anything that will make you aware of racism, it is being told to flee from vicious neo-Nazis who hate and literally want to kill you because of your blackness.
Think about it.