It Isn't About The Sweatpants


It Isn't About The Sweatpants

For over three years I have been generally okay here in Germany. I have the occasional microaggresion or customer service snafu that I cannot deem solely to race issues. I chalk it up to whatever else it might have been and live another day. But as of late I have been concerned about American sentiments making their way across the pond. One of them being that Black people have to be constantly surveilled and cajoled to be apart of society. This would go beyond the Oma in the window making sure you didn't put your müll in the wrong tonne. This would be an extreme jump from subtleties like being followed in a store by an employee to where America is at now ... a police state. And the police and citizens alike aren't just using stereotypes, accusatory methods and personal bad judgement to make us "mind". It isn't new and I don't necessarily think that Drump emboldened idiots. I wholeheartedly believe that Black people as a whole are just tired of trying to make things work with said idiots and being docile is no longer our state of mind. As a collective we are just done with racist white people and sad, assimilated type others and we give you the what for. This could be returning the hostility with a warranted verbal altercation or violence or the loss of respectability politics on our part. I like the latter especially when I cannot defend myself auf Deutsch and I do not care to ever run for office in any country. If this means wearing sweatpants which I know old, conservative Germans deem as a sloppy, American style of dress .... I am going to do it. And to be perfectly honest sweatpants are fucking comfortable. My comfort is way more important to me than someone else's. And I have now seen them cross into a fashion staple for younger Germans of all backgrounds. At the end of the day, I could care less what you think about me if I am wearing them. You are going to think whatever you want because I am Black and sometimes obviously American. And after all these years of not being attacked for it just stared at I couldn't care less. But here we are being bold here too...

There is this video circulating of a Black man sitting in an airport in Germany. He is wearing black Crocs, sweatpants and from the POV and his admission a Michael Kors gold watch. I have no idea what this man's face or upper body looks like. I do not know if he is accompanied by someone or has done anything before recording that would justify the exchange I am witnessing. And that really doesn't matter. Two heavily armed police/security men are talking to him saying he looks suspicious and that his choice of clothing does not match the timepiece on his arm. And he is verbally sparing with them while remaining seated and constantly waving the phone for his audience to judge his appearance for themselves. At first watch I had a good laugh because I have been told so many times that appearance is everything in Germany. I have been told that wearing sweatpants are akin to rolling out of bed in ones pajamas and that sport apparel and heavily logo'd athletic wear is just a general faux pas here. Now when you combine that with Crocs that are notorious for being well worn and ugly, the overall look is sort of homeless chic. And most Europeans are so unfamiliar with Crocs as a brand that it is just too hard to explain the why's behind wearing them i.e. z.B. they are for orthopedic issues, they are comfortable, they are slip resistant and popular in healthcare and the food industry. Regardless, wearing Crocs and sweatpants in Germany isn't necessarily suspicious but it is more or less frowned upon. The watch is like a whole other blog. I mean MK products are a staple in America for middle class Black folk as a status symbol. I personally wouldn't wear the shit if you paid me. But a lot of us travel to Europe with the brand and its crappy logo head to toe expecting to get some sort of elitist respect not realizing there are places that wouldn't let you in trying to confidently flaunt that mass produced label. So on the second watch, I sort of felt for the guy. I mean he thought he was fresh to death and he was minding his own business. These assholes were giving him a very hard time and ultimately accusing him of stealing this $200-250 watch that probably isn't even sold in that airport. I mean for one thing most shops selling non essential things aren't even open in airports world wide. So if he so-called stole the watch he would have had to get it off someones arm and I doubt anyone in Germany other than him is rocking one. Again, respectability politics will get you nowhere. I wear a $45 watch, a $275 wallet and $800 earrings and no one sees anything but my skin anyways. 

I realized later my daily go to fashion actually is sweatpants and Crocs. I wear this exact same combination seven days a week to walk my dog. Depending on my days outlook I may or may not have on jewelry, outerwear etc. I just need something to quickly put on at the top of the morning that is warm and comfortable. I only wear my Crocs to walk the dog, take out the trash or do a very quick store run. I used to wear them everywhere before I found more corrective and aesthetically pleasing options like Birkenstocks, Dr. Scholl's or Brooks. Now some of these are just as ugly in my opinion but generally more accepted in public spaces respectability politics aside. I mean at the end of the day I am still wearing athletic or homeless chic pieces but there is a cost difference and brand recognition that should garner a bit more consideration by judging Germans. I mean these are 170€ Brooks and they are literally saving my arches every step I take. And I know people will judge me but I mean I am not going to put on a three piece suit to pick up dog poop. And when I walk my dog I have the exact same anxious feelings I would in the States. Do I look like I do not belong? Am I walking somewhere questionable? Is someone going to approach me and ask what am I doing? Is my dog visible so they can see I am walking it and not being suspicious? Will my next move get the police called on me or worse ... shot? I know the chances of me getting shot here in Germany are slim to none but I still have the same anxieties. Those just do not go away overnight especially when images of Black and brown people being shot are literally everywhere. But the worst thought I always have is when will it begin? When are people going to watch me when I am simply walking down the street here in Germany? And when are they going to let their personal views and unmitigated fears turn into altercations? And how will I overcome these situations if I cannot defend myself? And how will I continue to be comfortable here after that occurs the first time, the second and like in America every single fucking day?

Last week I was walking the dog and I had someone pull their car alongside me and just watch. It was an older woman who could have been German or any other type of Caucasian. My dog was clearly visible but maybe it was how I was walking it that caused her to stop and watch. My dog is rather sporty and tends to jump on ledges and overhangs during a walk down a sidewalk. I know some of those things are planters or gardens and that I shouldn't allow my dog to go for gold. So of course I would curb the dog and I always pick up my dogs mess. It is very obvious to on lookers that the dog is well taken care and that I am equipped with bags. But for some reason she felt the need to drive along side me as to put eyes on me for an extended period of time. I tried very hard to ignore her but I braced myself for a verbal exchange and I personally cannot stand the types of old women here in Sülz that sound like they've smoked a Tabak shop and lived hard lives. I am sorry I do not speak Kölsch or pirate. I try to avoid interactions with these types all the time but they seem to be very abrasive because I am here breathing the same air as them. I tolerate the behavior to an extent but I am bothered by it. And from the looks of that lady's car and her overall look I knew she was "gunning" for me. Again, not her property, maybe not even her neighborhood but she needed to surveil me until I felt unwelcome enough to leave. Instead another vehicle came and the street is only so wide so she had no choice but to shake her head and drive away. Later that week I got the idea to go on an early morning assets run for the blog. This is the day I took this photo. I had just walked the dog, it was early and I figured why not go around the city as it sleeps to take asset photos. I took multiple trains and buses this morning right as the sun came up. On the 106, I had a woman who refused to sit in one of the eight seats designated for someone like her and instead stand right beside me. I was on the phone but so were two other people. And while she made it very inconvenient for others to get on and off the bus she chose to make an entire scene about me being on the phone. She threw her hands up, she turned to stare at me several times and then shook her head as all Omas do. She did this repeatedly until exiting and she literally got off one stop before the last stop where I was headed. So I was made to feel miserable the entire ride. There was no attention given to the pleasantly plump Turkish man with his mask under his chin talking in the center back seat. No, me speaking English and clearly in sweatpants warranted a "Schwarzfahrer (1993)" level show.

And now today. 

I am walking my dog. I just got out of the hospital yesterday. It isn't Covid but I am at around 45% as a human at the moment. I put on my go to outfit and decided to slow crawl my morning dog walk. Instead of a brisk walk where we stop occasionally for fertilization, I am stopping at every patch of grass so that we can head back as quickly as possible. I have some guy carrying a shitton of paper well after papier pickup approach me asking that I stop walking my dog there everyday. I can count the amount of times I have stopped at that semblance of grass and I am trying to decipher his day drinking accent and place the words. He is telling me I do not pick up my dogs waste and I am there every day and he saw me the last time OR he was saying make it the last time. But in my opinion it was like the third time I had stopped there with or without my dog in like three years. At first I visually indicated I had a bag. Then he got closer to me to argue his case. So I then shooed him and he begin to walk to the paper receptacle but still mouthing at me. My poor dog is looking at him like what is he going on about. I move to the next patch and he follows me still holding all of this cardboard from his waist to his chin. It is very clear that he is adamant I am the resident shit leaver and I cannot argue that it ain't me. And even if it was does he have to follow me during a pandemic at 9am in the morning on a public street claiming the 1 meter space that bikes, beer bottles and cigarette butts occupy like he is the mayor? Like how am I to blame for whoever he saw leave dog poop? And there are only three other dogs on this street and maybe two other Black women I see on a regular basis and they don't own dogs. Or is just that he saw me in my sweatpants and Crocs and made me a target? The anxiety is constant...

Frankly, I have had up to here with Germans talking to me like I am a monkey with a tail. I look young so people always seem to approach me with unsolicited advice and reminders. I masquerade as under 20 but I am nearly 40 and I do not need some moin, moin fucker waging his finger at me. I do not even want to waste my Deutsch sprechen skills on people who feel the need to "du" me because they assume I am attending hochschule. And I am NOT a morning person. If I could get away with not feeling for my dogs bladder I would never go outside before 11am. However, I myself have kidney issues and I refuse to make my poor fur baby wait beyond my eyes opening. Most of the time I am walking the dog I am running on empty and have every intention of returning to bed the moment I get back home. I just do not have the capacity to argue with people or protect myself from incidents like the above. And while I know it was not the best to approach a Black guy in an airport with fucking guns and accuse him of being out of place. I believe it is equally insane in Europe especially in Germany to chase after someone about something as trivial as dog poop. Germans do not seem to care about other atrocities like their ancient hospital systems, elderly people having to collect bottles to eat and the amount of evictions on my block as of late but you have time when a Black lady is minding her business and properly walking her dog!? I mean the rest of the world is burning and what makes you rabid is me walking down a public street!? I just wish I could express the magnitude of ironic stupidity here. 

Seriously, in the past two weeks I have been really debating just hibernating through the winter as I can literally go nowhere without being accused, harassed, approached by an angry German or my favorite new word, an assimilated other which in my opinion are way worse than any Frau or Herr. I mean we basically share the same experiences and for some reason Turkish Germans give me a harder time than their counterparts. And I have learned to address these situations in the moment but I still leave them defeated and wondering why it had to get there in the first place. This is why I have mused for weeks over the Wahl because how is it that a council has been in place to circumvent this transition from comfort to oppression all these years? What exactly have they been doing to prevent people from feeling like they cannot live without watchful eyes and prying sentiment? And why is it that the stories are endless from Black and brown people all over Germany constantly facing altercations and incidents in stores, on trains, in doctors offices, language schools etc.? I mean when will enough be enough? And any day now we are going to have citizens taking it into their own hands to incite violence and or call 112 for things like us just existing. And then we have the news out of the police force in Düsseldorf?! Where are the allies? It isn't about sweatpants anymore. It is bigger than that. And it just needs to stop before it begins.