Monday, June 7, 2010

German Blacks - A View Ahead

"My, but you speak excellent German - flawless grammar, perfect accent. Keep up the good work!"

I just heard a great piece on BBC Radio's The Strand about the dynamic young Afro-German theater troupe Label Noir Berlin that is presenting their unique view of racism in German. The piece resonated with me while filling me with an old familiar feeling of dread. Amongst the few other black people I know here in Slovenia, all of them (including me) are very concerned about having children in this country where people are so ingnorant, insensitive, and totally unsophisticated especially when it comes to matters of race. So to hear that young native-born Afro-Germans are still struggling through people approaching them and assuming they are foreign (and thus stupid) really worries me. I look to Germany to get a sense of what Slovenia might be able to achieve in the decades to come with regards to social change and integration, and while some of what I see is promising some is just cause for dismay. Despite my hand-wringing, I must say that I am inspired by these young actors's hopefulness, humor, and perseverance considering the low level hostility from ignorant Germans and the high level terror in the face of very real threat of racist violence from white supremacists -- all remnants of vehemently racist institutional policy. While I'm still not sold on having children here, at least if I do, I can point them in the direction of Label Noir Berlin as inspiration to push the conversation about race, space and belonging even further.

"We wanted to address certain issues of identity and 'Heimat' [the German word has more gravity than 'homeland'] without any self-pity," said Lara-Sophie Milagro, artistic director of the theater production company Label Noir Berlin and a member of the cast. The disturbing encounters portrayed on stage "are things that happen to us, but they don't define our lives 24 hours a day," she said. "We're not victims."

"Theater ensemble serves up snapshots of German racism" (via Deutsche Welle online)


alcessa said...

My, but you speak excellent German ... Keep up the good work

I wonder what my mummy-in-law would say if she knew they were quoting her like that.
Though it gets even worse when she remembers her pedagogical role in my life and starts suggesting words (she claims) I probably don't know yet and then she explains them to me, shining like a star... It would bother me, but guess what. She takes offence at some of my behaviour, just like that, things I'd never have imagined could hurt anyone, or ways and habits that I consider every normally self-confident person calls her own... In the end, I guess she gets what she deserves, without my doing anything about it.

You shouldn't forget there are many, many walks of life in Germany. I think there's much more diversity than in Slovenia. Which means there are always enough people around who will treat you like a perfectly normal human being. And it is not always difficult to find out their whereabouts: west, not east. Big cities, not villages. South more than north. And so on.
Actually, since I found out there's always a certain number of people in most places who will treat you in a normal way, I don't care about the rest. And I don't mean only me, myself and I, it can happen to anyone.

Camille Acey said...

@alcessa - I spent a month in Berlin and had no complaints. Of course I know that not all German people are racist or the same or anything like that. The point I am trying to make is that these sort of things are happening often enough for this group to make a whole play about it and that is significant.

alcessa said...

Yes, it is significant, I agree. Showing things that really happen is IMHO always a good idea.
But I don't think German society's going to do away with ... prejudice and racism any time soon. Most probably never. But the ways change, whole places change, people develop... :-) Which I am not sure of when thinking of Slovenia, but then, I wouldn't know, would I.

Camille Acey said...

I don't expect Germany (or any place) to be perfect. I just like to hear that people are thinking about these things, "chewing on it" as we Americans like to say. ;)

Thanks for being such a faithful reader (and occasional critic)!

alcessa said...

Well, I am hooked by your posts in so many ways... I always feel very challenged by most of them and then I need to think about them and if I post my reaction anywhere in your vicinity, it is mostly to find out whether you have something to add, dismiss, correct or confirm - pieces of information, personal opinions etc. And that's because I find the topics your write about and with that your personal experiences highly relevant... On several personal or general levels or all of them. :-)

So. :-)

baresytapas said...

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Anonymous said...

I have been living in Slovenia for nearly 4 years and I think since the country haven't received a mass scale of migrants (mostly Ex-Yugo) there is no such debate about it so far. It's clear to me that people get extreme attached to their identities in such conditions, in a small country like Slovenia. There is maybe a proto-cosmopolitan atmosphere in Ljubljana, but that's all. It takes time so that mentalities can change. But it will happen here and anywhere else. Though there will be always the shadow of a Big Other treating the order of things as narrow-minded people expect it to be. But this kind of people that deny the human race as a whole, do so coz that's the only way they can turn their lives in something a little more relevant.

Anonymous said...

After having lived in Germany for over 30 years, I think the thing that baffles me is that fact that there is actually a quite long history of black people here. No, we haven't reached a "critical mass" like in the USA, but it's no like World War II was the beginning of a black presence in here. One of the most fascinating meetings I had was during Black History Month celebrations in Hamburg, where one of the other guests on a talk show panel I was on - a lady maybe 15-20 years older than I am - was already 3rd generation German. The story of how her father came from Cameroon in the latter part of the 19th century to work here and eventually marry his German wife, to only ultimately be denied citizenship, was both heartbreaking and inspiring.


Camille Acey said...

@armandogt - Yeah I reached the same conclusion in a recent discussion with another black woman friend here in Slovenia. It's just a terribly immature society.

@uncagedbirds - Thanks for giving us a more inside scoop. Yes, black people have been in many places for a while now, but we keep on being "discovered". I recently read about a book where a woman was exploring the history of black people in the US midwest!

Ashley said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for a little while now, I really like it. I was recently looking at hate crime laws in Europe and realized that Slovenia does not currently have any substantial legislation for bias related crimes and it made me worry. That's really scary. I'm glad that you are there having pleasant experiences and helping peoples' eyes adjust to human variation.I don't know if I would be brave enough to do it. I hope that the mindset changes there soon.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I stumbled upon your blog by chance. I am an Asian girl born and mostly raised in Germany. When I've encountered few situations of outward racism, I feel people here consider political correctness much lesser a necessity than in the U:S. but rather a policy to make fun of in order to come off sophisticated in a very crooked way? I found this to be the case a lot with people who would actually label themselves open minded liberals. The worst thing I recall was a professor at a very prestigious university doing a mock impersonation of an "Asian" accent in front of a small group of students during student orientation. The makeup of students was international, but with a good share of Asian students who were raised in this country. He constantly slipped in casual race-based assumptions that were demeaning and I was shocked out of my mind to see a person like this in such a position like he had. I think this was the worst thing I witnessed in recent time and it indeed made much more sensitive and pensive about how people here deal with other races.