Beside The Point - Rassismus in Germany


Beside The Point - Rassismus in Germany

For months now I have been looking for a light hearted way to address the elephant that is racism here in Germany in the blog. I have toyed with the incidents in small doses here as not to burden my audience with incessant complaints i.e. z.B. my post on sweatpants here. I have been contemplating a satire of sorts to segue into this hard topic. Lately, I figure why not just get it over with. The problem is I have my own sensitivities I have brought from America. For me, the lines get blurred between discrimination for being an outsider versus being mistreated because of the color of my skin. It is a slippery slope trying to explain what I feel as injustice to others here. Especially so in the moment from my point of view. As a Black American woman I am received as angry, aggressive and unreasonable. Even though adjectives like exaggerative, imaginative and emotional are just as bad they normally aren't given to people that look like me. So any impassioned retelling of things in combination with hand gestures, tears or an elevated voice is received poorly. Suffice to say I am traumatized by what happens to be on a constant basis. The happenings I feel are because of my perceived race. I am always replaying the moments in my head, those times here where I felt I was treated unfairly. I then compare them to the subtle microagressions and systematic racism I dealt with back home. I give myself the benefit of the doubt in most cases. I am not being denied housing or a job opportunity. I am not being blocked from getting an education or being told I do not fit in at the workplace. I am not being hurt or killed. That what may be happening isn't malicious nor violent. I also do not have to put on airs to belong in environments where historically in America people like me are considered not welcome. But even still I am meant to feel subpar and that in my opinion and experiences, that feeling is just as traumatic as any of the above. Moving about the world as a Black person in any situation or capacity is taxing as is. I think a lot of people including those that look like me believe that it is the opposite. That traveling or living abroad is the epitome of freedom. That you ultimately escape the oppression you had to face where you were born. This new found freedom is not only from racism but classicism and poverty which can be placed upon you in your home country simply because of your skin color. It will automatically be assumed that because you are Black especially in America that you are poor, uneducated and unaware. When I became a global citizen it was assumed that I had the money and status to make that exodus. And most assume that as I made my way across the pond that I would be accepted by others as such. Rich. Smart. Worldly. So that things like racism would just disappear from my everyday and in many cases I would be treated better than others because other places in the world have atoned for sins against people like me. And in some cases I am treated like royalty because I am Black but even moreso because I am a Black woman. However, you remember the negative more than the positive and I can count on one hand where I have been received as a queen or a celebrity for being a Black American woman traveling and living abroad. What I do know is since moving to Germany over three years ago I have dealt with constant mistreatment from Germans and as I like to call them "assimilated others". Again, I leave these instances knowing I am already sensitive so I have to explore the factors that lead to whatever occurred. But in most cases I know it is merely my skin color that has brought unwanted attention and negativity to me. Why? Because there is nothing else but my skin differing me from others in those interactions. I rarely speak, my money is the same color as everyone elses and I have acclimated to a point that I mostly blend in culturally. The only recognizable and obvious difference sadly would be the color of my skin. So every time there is an incident or altercation which at times is weekly I automatically smell the shit. And no matter how you wrap it shit still stinks. 

So lest us dive in. 

Trust me, there is racism and discrimination in Germany with a heavy handed pour of xenophobia. There are also other aspects of discrimination that may not apply to me but could carry over to individuals who identify, worship and live in different ways. Xenophobia requires a lot more to be at play. I must speak for you to know I am not German or a native speaker of the language. I must do something culturally different to stand out in a local crowd. I can also make the "mistake" of wearing the wrong attire, being overly animated or loud and or simply speak another language to a peer in a space where everyone speaks Deutsch. To Germans and assimilated others this behavior may been deemed as strange, rude or disrespectful. But these are also things I can freely do and it is entirely my prerogative to do them anywhere at anytime. But if someone challenges me or mistreats me for the above it can be deemed as xenophobic. When I do nothing and I mean nothing at all - I am merely walking down the street and someone decides to approach me and say something derogatory to me one can only believe it must be because of the color of my skin. If I were to react to this behavior, speaking German and responding culturally so, that person may then apologize knowing they have done something to the wrong Black person. But how is this better or fair to me or others like me? How does this make the notion of someone minding their own business and being verbally attacked for no reason by a stranger okay? Being discriminated against for using your mother tongue, displaying your culture or not being able to speak the local language is ALL discrimination. It may not apply to race and it may not feel entirely xenophobic. But it is discrimination none the less. And someone shouldn't get away with yelling at me because I am wearing sweatpants or I tied my hair in a scarf. I do not expect for them to know or understand why I am wearing what I am wearing or that these things differ from something. I shouldn't have to explain that Americans wear sweatpants because we can and that my ears are exposed so this particular head wrap is not a hijab. None of that should matter. What matters is people should be left alone and when they aren't it opens up a world of negative experiences for them that they do not expect and cannot properly combat. It makes living volatile and traumatic. It makes people retreat from being themselves. And ultimately it makes people leave which is the outcome racist, discriminating and xenophobic people want. And when you are challenged about the whys behind these incidents from people of all races and backgrounds it makes coping very hard. You are already far from home and isolated in identity, language etc. and now you are struggling to simply exist without constant fear of others reactions to you ... obtuse reactions to you simply walking down the street. 

This is Germany ... at least for me. 

I know that Germans typically mind their business. They do not involve themselves with strangers and acquaintances. They don't normally pay attention to their surroundings or abnormal incidents. I know that people do not know their neighbors and generally do not show concern for others.  People do not make conversation on the trains. Making friends and dating is hard. If you drop something people are more often going to list it somewhere online than yell for you to retrieve it. This is the opposite to the American way of knowing everyone and or getting involved in things that do not concern you. There is the daily routine of greeting your postal worker, the trash man, your neighbors and the cashier at the grocery store. The constant gossip of who has moved in or out, who got a promotion at work, what crime has occurred in the area and following whoever looks suspicious or strange. This is why Black people get hurt or killed everyday in America because no one minds their business. People address strangers and question them. People call the police on other people they assume do not belong. And again for most including Black people it is already assumed that we as a collective stereotypically are uneducated or lacking means. So if we happen to be in a certain neighborhood, standing by a certain vehicle or shopping in a higher end store we are addressed as if we do not belong there and many times these incidents turn aggressive and or violent. No one should be asked if they belong somewhere in this day and age. And it should also never be implied that we don't belong somewhere by actions, or questioning or lack or over extension of service. However, in America this is a constant and to avoid it completely is damn near impossible. So most Black people choose to ignore this behavior or try to leverage themselves where they hope the behavior is lessened. So while we are now actively apart of the middle class and the most educated, we are still being forced into oppressive and hurtful situations by others. We have the police called on us if we make the mistake of locking ourselves out of our homes or if we wear sneakers to a certain restaurant. We have associates in stores follow us around assuming we will steal instead of buy our purchases. We have neighbors and coworkers who engage in demeaning conversation around our abilities knowing full and well we can hear them but they all assume we will just endure it. But now there is oversight for these incidents and it is beyond just advocacy and legal options. We can expose this sort of behavior on social media. We work together to hold people accountable for their actions. We have agencies who pursue permanent changes to ensure things like this do not happen. Unfortunately, Germany doesn't have these systems in place. So Germans and "assimilated others" are more than comfortable doing the above here in Germany to people that do not look and or act like them. And no one is holding these people accountable at any level in any way. 

Germany is barely tracking the demographic of Black people that are born, live and work here. They do not even have a scope around minorities experiences here. No one is informing Germany and Germany isn't asking. Everyone has turned a blind eye on the subject of race so for many Germans and others who immigrant here race is not a construct that needs insight. There are no boxes to check on forms. There is no affirmative action or diversity clauses. Inclusivity is expected but not demanded by the state or its people. So this allows discrimination to occur without any repercussions. I cannot claim to be discriminated against if there is no method of categorizing me by my race. There are some numbers around first and second generation immigrants, migrant workers, those seeking asylum and other passport holders. However, no one quite considers Black Germans, expats and the myriad of mixed race people that could identify either way living and working here. Upon arrival you are constantly assured that the bureaucracy is inherently German and it happens to everyone and not to expect racism. You're told processes and applications are all done in a fair way. However, native Germans don't really engage in the bureaucracy that immigrants do. So it is hard to tell if your experience differs from others. Germany makes actionable steps for the most basic things overly complicated. You cannot claim whatever rules apply because in many cases there are no straight forward rules or at least nothing you can rapidly find in the midst of being discriminated against. If someone tells you something, you are so desperate to integrate you do it first and ask questions later. It sometimes doesn't even occur to you that you may be jumping through hoops and hurdles that someone who doesn't look like you doesn't have to do at all. You sort of find out the hard way and the disillusion is startling. Once you begin to notice you cannot unsee it. Having to register for a language course on a different floor than everyone else. Being told your ID card isn't ready yet in a stern voice but others receiving a cordial email to pick theirs up. Having your bags checked in a store and seeing so many others leave without any inquiry. Being approached about an assumed lack of ticket in a museum or a train. Not getting a proper contract for your job and learning a co-worker is not only properly on-boarded but paid more for the same work. 

So imagine you exist in a new place, trying to adapt and ultimately integrate. Then having to endure random strangers staring at you, verbally attacking you or denying you services based on your skin color, language proficiency, clothing and or use of mother tongue. And imagine the scope of it throughout your experiences in that said place - shopping in a store, getting a doctors appointment, looking for an apartment, interviewing for a job or renewing your visa. What I am saying is that discrimination is rampant in Germany to the point where it spans from simply buying grocery to having an appointment in an immigration office. You cannot find a way to deter it or ignore it. It ultimately affects your livelihood and choices. In America, there are some socioeconomic and regional adulations to race and race issues. I can move from a segregated area to a more diverse one. I can commute to an environment that employs more Black and brown people. I can shop Black owned businesses and seek hospitality and entertainment with my own kind. I can also move into an upper echelon of experiences where exposure to others can be rewarding or futile. At the end of the day this depends on others not Black people. It isn't and shouldn't have to be us being the inclusive, fair and pleasant party. In most cases, we are walking on eggshells or over extending ourselves to meet people halfway and it is daunting. I find myself doing this with Germans and assimilated others who sometimes even look like me. There are so many Black and brown people in the Diaspora that come from countries so impacted by problems beyond the scope of racism or xenophobia. Most of these people are used to the lack of oversight as well as whatever internal corruption so Germany is a happy medium for them. And I can see how the above would pale in comparison to being bribed, exiled or killed for seeking basic needs like finding housing, establishing utilities, qualifying for social services, applying for a visa etc. This is why many people come to Germany. Because the process of seeking asylum, immigrating and integration despite any discrimination you may or may not experience is a cakewalk. I am not used to either experience. I am used to providing resources for people in need and cooperating with people who are doing the same in terms of legal immigration. America provides refuge, translators and services for anyone who needs it. What you see and hear about immigration in America is a rarity. Most immigrants are treated fairly and given so many options around legally immigrating. I am also used to living, working, shopping with mostly rare and subtle interactions around race. I am not used to having government agents and clerks give me the runaround or cashiers purposely throwing my items down the belt and in both cases everyone not only keeps their jobs but does the same thing to people who look like me day in and day out. My complaints fall on deaf ears in both English and Deutsch. I am told that this is normal and to stop bringing up race. When I seek resolutions I am told what is happening isn't worthy of action. And in most cases I myself am blamed for this behavior. I am told that I am doing something wrong and that opens me up for being treated this way. And there is no group, agency or person that can ensure that what is happening is wrong and shouldn't occur. And still people of all races and nationalities are coming to Germany by the droves expecting things to be entirely different...

It is hard to tell them Black people have it worse here. 

Now I admire anyone who takes the leap and goes abroad for a better life. I would never use my experiences to deter or discourage anyone. I will say my situation is different. I am not here for anything but love. My own German spouse was completely unaware and embarrassed by the nature of their fellow countrymen when we arrived here. He has witnessed people accuse me of stealing, yell at me for no reason, put their hands physically on me and above all just give us both a hard time for existing together. And while he has seen and experienced this he himself is still German. So he too believes complaining and asking for change isn't applicable. He encourages me to continue doing what I have always done and he himself cannot understand how I have allowed these incidents to mare me. I don't shop in those stores anymore. I don't walk down those streets either. Even in his company I absolutely refuse to. And at this point I am running out of places to be and go. I have asked him what happens when there is nowhere for me to be at peace in this country. What happens when the new sentiments I luckily escaped between 2017 and now travel overseas and become a thing here too. When will I have to worry about the police being called on me or being shot. I guess I asked too much because eventually I did have police called on me by a local store. And the trauma of that has set in to a point where I barely get out of bed. It was a store I had given many, many chances to based on convenience really. I felt it was close so I could look pass the constant accusations, being followed around or having unwanted assistance when I rang out my purchases. Eventually, this all came down to a seedy cashier calling who I believe was loss prevention and having that person follow me from said store to my home. And the act of me going home with my paid for purchases then authorized him to call the police on the stores behalf. The outcome of the situation was a bit more than I could handle. It was me and my husband on the street for about an hour with this unnamed man and three police officers. Ultimately, no one listened to me in any language but my items were cruelly controlled on the sidewalk just feet from my door. I have never felt more violated. And days and weeks later I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. It pains me to this day that some someone accused me of stealing 13€ in cat food, dog treat, laundry parfum and depilatory. We were heading to Berlin in the morning. Shopping there was just a means to an end and the incident ruined everything for me. 

The police didn't even offer an incident report and encouraged me to understand that that strange man who followed me home was a friend to them and just doing his job. As for the store and that cashier and the entire situation - I was buying stuff and she couldn't help but mind her own business! I bought some stuff, paid with one card and bought more things with another. It was assumed by her that I had stolen the first lot of things in my personal einskaufwagen. The wagen, a gift from my husband which I regret accepting because all it has given me is a lot of grief and unwanted attention at many stores. Meanwhile I watch others shop freely with multiple bags, backpacks and wagons akin to mine. I tried to point that out during this heated altercation in front of my home but it didn't matter. Legally, I have no grounds to stand on because in Germany accusations can be pursued. Also, if people wish to see in my belongings and I refuse they can also call the authorities. And the authorities don't have to make their call official by doing any reports or handing over as much as a business card. The same goes for plain clothed men who follow people home announcing that they are security. I had my husband return everything as well. So while the juju is out of my home my spirit still isn't right about what happened. I was so angry and embarrassed by it all I just wanted to pay people to go there and see if it happened to them too. I just wanted to prove the point that there was absolutely nothing I could do differently. That if someone, anyone that didn't look like me did the exact same things the outcome wouldn't be the same. And the people that I confided in about this all told me to just forget about it including lawyers, including discrimination agencies and advocates for things like this. All of them. Why? Because Germany has made it impossible to do anything about discrimination. 

And everyone likes it this way.

Racism, xenophobia or discrimination of any kind here hits differently. For me it feels like a hopeless loop of dealing with people slighting me and getting away with it every single time. For a long while I tried to empathize with people who did things to me that were blatantly racist or xenophobic. I felt like my lack of knowing the language gave them just cause to assume things because I couldn't offer an explanation and they couldn't properly ask. I faulted the systems in place that didn't allow for a translator or at best some compassion in certain situations. I expected for different outcomes and felt like my high exceptions could never be met. I also felt like Germans and first and second generation immigrants had been inundated in the late 2010's with outsiders so they were fatigued. This is not a good excuse. There really is no excuse. But I accepted the following...

I had nurses fill out forms for me and state that I was I seeking asylum and or exposed to Ebola. 

I had teachers bypass my raised hand in Deustchkurs to get a response from a European classmate instead in regards to social questions around cultural holidays or traditions. 

I had hair salons offer to point me in the direction of the ethnic part of town. 

I had doctors give my medical prognosis to any Black male in the waiting room and explain that I could feel comfortable now because my husband was informed. 

I had multiple employees at an amt refuse documents from me after they requested I get said documents. 

My husband and I have waited for a table and or service and watched others get served after our arrival. 

I had people immediately move from me in waiting rooms and on trains using hand movements to imply that I smelled. 

I had people aggressively shove me out of the way on the street and at entrances of spaces and trains.

I had a neighbor accuse me of stealing the contents of his package I couldn't refuse during his absence. 

I had a random man in the grocery store tell me I was speaking an ugly, stupid language while on my phone. 

I had two older women refuse to sell me produce because they only spoke Kölsch. 

I've had a multitude of doctors insist I lose 40 kilos without even weighing me. 

And I am sorry I cannot chalk this up to an entire culture being direct, moody or lacking an understanding of basic customer service. And in most cases this behavior isn't even exhibited by Germans. It is "assimilated others" three shades lighter in complexion than I am ... Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian and others who feel like discrimination is a rite of their own passage. It happens so frequently with people in my exact same position as an expat and immigrant that I know someone somewhere has given them recognition for doing this. It is too prevalent and sinister to be a secret issue of people with like experiences and backgrounds to me. So many times I am given the excuse that the person who discriminated against me is an "ausländer" too as if that makes any difference. It is beside the point. Now I know there are plenty of people saying if this is happening to you with this much frequency and magnitude why don't you just return home. Oh, how I wish. I would certainly like to tuck my tail at this point and go back to a place where I can at least buy food without wondering if my bag is going to pose a problem.  However, I married one of their own and ultimately we are okay here as a couple. We have lived in both places and while I can say I never returned home crying after a doctors visit or a trip to the mall in the States there are issues there as well. So the caveat of being here is knowing that while the police were called on me there is no way they would kill me here in Germany. Is it a selling point to continue to endure other microagressions and obtuse discriminatory situations? Absolutely not. Again, I do not discourage Black and brown people from traveling or expatriating. I have had people do that to me and some even tried to warn me during my honeymoon phase. In the very beginning, Germany was too good to be true and I felt it could never disappoint me with something like racism. But if I could create a manual on how to handle these reoccurring situations I would at least prepare others for it. I would explain that not everyone that looks like you or comes from where you do feels the same as you would about this subject. I would say there are cultural differences that may not fare well for you integrating. I would explain that the privilege and affluence afforded when being abroad isn't a safety net or an invisibility cloak. 

Being Black is a global experience.

Unfortunately for some expats they must be reminded that being Black is received negatively worldwide. Sadly, you cannot talk, buy or charm your way out of negative experiences like oppressed people try to do in the States and expect that any of it translates. Well dressed, articulate and exposed doesn't express you are not stealing or legally immigrating or have an appointment. There is no manager, executive or officer that cares about your world experiences. And you may find people that look like you that do not care either. They are too busy trying to keep their heads down and assimilate and they too will discriminate against you if it leverages their place in this world. I myself do not align with respectability politics and I expect that people would treat me like a person. Well at times all I have is my image, body language and the sound of my voice. I do not necessarily know I am wearing the wrong thing. I do not really understand if I look approachable or hostile. And many times I am seen as aggressive or angry without even trying to be. And in situations where I do not have language to properly defend myself or an ally to speak for me - I am simply who they think I am. There is nothing I can do to garner respect, humanity or compassion from a person who perceives me as thief, thug or a threat. It doesn't matter about my gender, my degrees or my passport color. So on the same token I am not about to keep running from other people's poor perceptions of people that look like me. All I can do is live which is what a lot of Black people are doing. Sadly, we assume we can live a bit better on the other side of the globe only for the same things to happen in different ways. It is getting really hard to avoid and ignore moreso when an entire country denies their part in it. And Germany is in complete denial. I am one of way too many who can confirm that racism is a major problem in this country. 

I no longer empathize with the fact that Germany has experienced so many changes in demographic. I do not care that there are places with more outsiders than native Germans. I also do not care that Germany has swept historical tragedies under the rug and pretends that it all healed deep, dark sentiments around people that do not have blonde hair and blue eyes. There is an older generation that is seething that they cannot openly hurt and kill people for lacking those features. There is a younger generation that idolizes the former one. There are a lot of people in between with their own sentiments around migration, war, guest workers etc. that feel like they are being infringed upon. And these people show it by discriminating against others in their workplaces, neighborhoods and institutions because no one holds them accountable for it. Germans are responsible for the change. There are so many signs around town about anti racism and standing in solidarity with movements for civil and human rights but it is all for show. Most of these people refuse to sit next to me, hang up the phone on me and treat me like I am less than for simply breathing the same air. There is nothing I can do to control or change this. It is up to the people who have hatred to change their thinking. I am not needed to convince them or implore the change. I refuse to keep educating people about what is right and wrong. They know better. And knowing better doesn't need my approval or any engagement on my end. It also doesn't require language or my passport. It should be common sense and human nature to accept people as they are. And I shouldn't have to present myself a certain way or announce myself to garner basic respect. My expectations aren't high or unreasonable. I would just like to be treated fairly everyday. I want to live just like everyone else. And that doesn't mean living on this side of the street and not at that store. Why should I live in a box because Germans and others who assimilated to similar standards want me to?  

The most common response to support me from people and agencies alike is to seek counseling. In my opinion, Germany has enough mentally ill people that require those services. The discriminated against don't need therapy. The entire concept of that is divisive. The aim is to convince people that their experiences are only valid when purged in private to people who may be complicit or to seek some help to prevent the non preventable (at least on their end). Meanwhile, the people that are on the other end are never held responsible. People who experience discrimination are purposely distracted from resolution, walking through that trauma and humiliated all at the same time. The fact that anti-discrimination groups and human rights lawyers in Germany are even suggesting therapy for these incidents is deplorable. There needs to be an entire overhaul of this country where racists and xenophobic people are rehabilitated. If they continue to harm people they should be held accountable. America is slowly criminalizing discriminatory behavior that is ultimately meant to harm someone. Calling the police could be lethal. Making false claims could destroy a life. Those who engage in that behavior are being charged with a crime. Germany needs to take notice because the incidents occurring here are just as violent and insidious. There are many people forced into deportation, working "Black" and suffering for the actions of others that should have been helping them. A variety of people are complicit ... landlords, employers, banking representatives, teachers and more. The so-called fairness and equal opportunities that Germany prides itself in offering to all is just not realistic. There are so many Black and brown people being told the opposite when all they wish to do is provide for themselves and their families. And in my case I am not even looking for anything remotely like that. I just wish to be a wife, create a home here and live. Upon arrival, it was made very clear I was not entitled to do that. The benchmarks of immigration were always held too high or too far for me to reach. Every criteria I met it was as if it wasn't enough and for my neighbor it was. Again, when I put my sensitivities aside and I think objectively it is pretty clear why my experience differed. And still I am having some sort of negative interaction every single week here. My favorite one is engaging in the ping pong of conversation informing people where I am from and what I am doing here only to be asked when I plan on going back home typically with my husband right there. I am considered an outsider just seeking something I shouldn't so I am constantly redirected to a place where I should be instead. I am so used to it I no longer respond in disbelief. I just shake my head as if we were in a loud club and I am pretending to understand. Actually, I don't. I really do not understand. But something deep down tells me they totally do when asking me that question repeatedly throughout this country.