What White People Don’t Want to Hear (But Should Know) About Racism

“Doch die sogenannten Rassismuserfahrungen weißer Menschen sind nicht die gleichen, die ich mache. Wer zuvor gut aufgepasst hat, weiß, dass sich weiße Menschen selbst zu einer überlegenen Rasse erklärten. Diese Theorie trugen sie während der Kolonialisierung in fast jeden Winkel der Welt. Es stimmt also, dass weiße Menschen in diesen Momenten die Auswirkungen von Rassismus zu spüren kriegen, jedoch – anders als bei mir – nicht als Benachteiligte, sondern als priviligierte Person.”

[“But the so-called racism experiences of white people are not the same as the ones I experience. Anyone who has paid close attention before knows that white people declared themselves a superior race. They carried this theory to almost every corner of the world during the colonization. So it is true that white people feel the effects of racism in these moments, but – unlike me – not as a disadvantaged, but as a privileged person.”]

“Was weiße Menschen über Rassismus nicht hören wollen wollen aber wissen sollten” by German author Alice Hasters is an excellent, personal book on racism and an ideal introduction to the subject for white Germans. Anyone who has already dealt with the topic in the US American and British context will already be familiar with many of the elements and concepts presented, but the strength of the book is precisely the focus on German perspectives, e.g. the effects of German colonial history or the forms of everyday racism and microaggressions in Germany. It also goes into detail why prejudice against white people isn’t racism. I can really recommend the book to all German readers.

I read the book over the summer. The book has received a lot of attention in the last few days in Germany, after German comedian Dieter Nuhr spoke about it on his TV show. He claimed to have seen it in a book store at the airport and called the title racist against white people because it makes attributions based on skin colour. He also claimed the book hit was a big hit in the United States (so far it’s only been published in German) and that this kind of “pseudo-intellectual” discourse was one of the reasons Trumpism happened. In other words, he acted exactly like the kind of white person who should read this book, used his large ‘satirical’ plattform to punch down at a Black woman, and got offended by a slightly provocative title and piled onto an already existing, sub-complex critique of identity politics. Nuhr’s ignorance would be hilarious if it wasn’t so dangerous.

And while the quote I started with is the most topical this week (and the one I shared on instagram) the key quote for this book – and white people like Dieter Nuhr – is the closing paragraph:

“Sich mit der eigenen Identität und Rassismus auseinanderzusetzen, ist viel Arbeit, ist teilweise schmerzhaft und braucht Zeit. Soweit ich das bisher beurteilen kann, kann ich diesen Prozess aber nur empfehlen. So anstrengend und angsteinflößend er am Anfang auch scheinen mag – er macht glücklich. Und frei.”

“Dealing with your own identity and racism is a lot of work, is sometimes painful and takes time. As far as I can tell so far, I can only recommend this process. As exhausting and scary as it may seem at first, it makes you happy. And free.”

1000 Serpentinen Angst

I highly recommend the debut novel by Olivia Wenzel.

“Etwas, das damit einhergeht, eine neue, gesunde Angst in dein Leben zu lassen – eine Angst, tief, wärmer und zerreißender als jede Angst um dich selbst, dein Leben, deine identitären Beffindlichkeiten es je sein könnten: eine Angst, gebunden an eine Liebe, so stark wie alles, was du bisher kanntest, mal 1000.”

“Something that goes hand in hand with a new, healthy fear in your life – a fear that is deep, warmer and more tearing than any fear of yourself, your life, your identity sensitivities could ever be: a fear bound to a love, as strong as anything you knew before, times 1000.”

1000 Serpentinen Angst is the great first novel by Olivia Wenzel. While browsing a bookshop recently, a friend recommended the book to me, especially referring to the book’s treatment of racism experiences of a Black person in Germany. And the novel is about that – in part. It’s also about (Black) life, (Black) joy, (Black) insecurities and (Black) fear in Germany. I was most impressed by the passages on the main character’s struggle with anxiety and the impact the disorder had on her normal life, her friendships and love. I recognized some of it, but the experience of being a Black queer woman in Germany adds extra layers of fear and complexity to the illness. 

The story is told through constant dialogues between the main protagonist and a constantly shifting counterpart. The narrative form is fantastic, slightly experimental and really successful in transporting these complexities, more so than an omniscient narrator or inner monologues could. This narration of the protagonists life and her complex relationships, particularly to her loving yet racist grandmother and her ill and mostly absent mother, creates a tremendous pull. Fantastic.