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.

You don’t shop on Saturday if you live in Konstanz, Germany, a 1,400-year-old city of 83,000 people where the Rhine meets the Bodensee. That’s when carloads of Swiss shoppers queue up to get waved into Germany, single-file, by bored border guards. Thousands of others enter less ceremoniously on foot or bike.

They are largely headed to one destination: the five-story (plus seven levels of parking) Lago Center. Opened in 2004, the massive mall includes a nine-screen megaplex and all the dining options you could want. The Swiss visitors pick clean the racks of cut-rate continental couture at the H&M. They leave bare the shelves at the low-end Aldi supermarket. And they make Konstanz’s multiple branches of the DM toiletries chain absolute hell, lining up a half-dozen deep, their shopping carts overflowing with organic toothpaste, name-brand diapers, and pomegranate-scented conditioner.

The Swiss Invasion by Milan Gagnon

Slate published a piece about the town I live in! It’s title and some paragraphs are a bit hyperbolic, and the translation of our Swiss-German scene for transatlantic audiences are sometimes a bit inaccurate for an insider, but in general it’s a good overview of our town, it’s Swiss sister, the open border, the shopping habits, and the challenges (and opportunities) that they create. Well worth the read. 

Merkel and the Populists

Here we are, Angela Merkel’s response to the right-wing populist threat is to move towards the populist right. The NYT reports this from her speech at the convention of her party, the Christian Democratic Union: 

In the 80-minute speech, she repeated the same catalog of beliefs in freedom and equal treatment she had made as an implicit criticism of President-elect Donald J. Trump, but also stiffened her position on the veil and suggested that Germany would be more cautious in welcoming migrants in the future.

In a clear nod to criticism that the state had appeared to lose control over its borders, the chancellor opened her speech to the annual conference of her Christian Democratic Union with a promise that such a situation “cannot, may not and should not be repeated.”

But the biggest applause lines concerned law and order, including a promise that Shariah law would never replace German justice — a problem that has barely arisen but has been cast as a specter by the far-right party Alternative for Germany.

I can’t say I’m surprised, but still, a small part of me had hoped the “liberal, tolerant, cosmopolitan Merkel” would stay more than a myth a bit longer.

Granting refugees asylum and allowing people to clothe themselves in the manner they want (i.e. self-expression) are central parts of the “catalog of beliefs in freedom in equal treatment” Merkel claims to steadfastly support. This rhetoric erodes that “catalog.” Allowing refugees into our country wasn’t a bug but a feature and can, may, and should be repeated.

If the point of a burka prohibition isn’t islamophobic racism but that we “show our face in interpersonal communication,” will the CDU now also call to end email, working from home, and all the other elements of the “industry 4.0” as German officials like to call the new era of work?

Outlawing the burka because of Islamic terrorism is the wrong tool based on a misogynist interpretation of the problem anyway. Outlawing the burka will not stop (mostly male) violence, but might prevent some women from accessing our public places and experiencing the freedom of movement most Germans take for granted, and might serve as a propaganda tool for ISIS etc.

The burka discussion is also a discussion of an oversimplified, flawed solution to an exaggerated problem. The omnipresence of burkas or an actual threat of Sharia law on German streets is mostly right-wing populist spin.

Also mostly right-wing populist spin on a complex, different problem is the discussion after the recent horrific murder of a young woman in Freiburg by a young refugee and the sexual assaults on 2 young women in Bochum. In both cases, the alleged perpetrators seem to be male migrants/refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. Both cases are horrific. Both cases are things that happen in our society. Both cases aren’t unique. Both cases are part of a problem that is bigger and more complex than a ban on refugees can fix. Crimes like this happen, unless we work against the problem of gendered, sexualized violence in our society. We need to work against rape, against murder. We need to teach men – including but not limited to Muslim men – not to rape, not to murder. We need to act against misogyny.

A blanket ban on refugees (or on the burka) doesn’t solve this problem, but erodes the “catalog of beliefs in freedom and equal treatment” we claim to defend. 

A blanket ban is a right-wing populists win, Chancellor Merkel.

What’s the Marking of a Terrorist?

The UN Security Council recently passed a resolution against the travel of “foreign terrorist fighters.” In the face of ISIS, the horrifying terror group that is also recruiting men from the West, something needs to be done about this problem, no question about that. Yet the phrasing of the resolution made me nervous: Can rulings like against the movement of man and money be implemented without increasing racial profiling? Without furthing undue discrimination of muslim people? Without a further increase in overly broad surveillance, both offline and online? Preventive travel restrictions for innocent men and women, caught in a wide net with intransparent rules? The reactions to threats, from 9/11 to today, Patriot Act etc., are the basis of my nervousness.

Here in Germany, the civil liberty issues are already arising. The government is seriously considering stamping identity cards with some sort of “jihadist marker.” This raises a few issues, both on principle and practical grounds. For once, I never would’ve thought to read about a German government stamping the passports of a certain group of citizens. Please note, I don’t want to compare actual terrorists to historically persecuted groups of German citizens. Yet the question is – how will this group of “jihadists” be defined? Who defines it? How “fail proof” can a database like this be? Do only individuals with a respective criminal record get this mark? Suspects, too? People merely belonging to suspected communities? Also, why stamp the physical object, when there are databases at the fingertips of border and law enforcement officers? On a practical note, why should the “jihadists” come and have their cards stamped when they are actually determined to go underground/to Iraq to fight with a terror group? This program has to backfire, it’s already flawed by design.

Heidegger’s Antisemitic Notes

From the New York Times

The so-called black notebooks, written between 1931 and 1941 and named for the color of their oilcloth covers, show Heidegger denouncing the rootlessness and spirit of “empty rationality and calculability” of the Jews, as he works out revisions to his deepest metaphysical ideas in relation to political events of the day.

“World Jewry,” he wrote in 1941, “is ungraspable everywhere and doesn’t need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people.”

The anti-Semitic passages total only about two and a half of the notebooks’ roughly 1,200 pages. Still, some scholars say, they put the lie to any claim that Heidegger’s Nazism can be kept separate from his philosophy, or confined only to the brief period in the early 1930s when he was the rector of the newly Nazified University of Freiburg.

The NYT article is interesting in full, if you’re interested and have access, as it gives more background on the debate, the recent publishing of the black notebooks, Heidegger’s “‘historical’ antisemitism,” and his relationship with the Nazi state and National Socialism, that seems to be more than “just” opportunism:

“In the notebooks for 1939 to 1941, Mr. Meyer said, Heidegger’s thought underwent a radicalization, in which the Jews become an integral part of his philosophical account of the decay of modernity, and the “final struggle” (as Heidegger put it) then underway. “I think he can imagine and does imagine a world without Jews,” [Thomas] Meyer said.”

(Above emphasis mine)

Elephant Hunting by Thuringia Environment Manager

A manager in the Thuringia environmental department goes big game hunting in Botswana, kills an elephant, poses for a photo with the corpse, brags about it to his collegues. His department is responsible for the preservation of species in the German state. 

Added fun coincidence: While “Udo W.” was hunting, department heads from other environmental departments and agencies were in Botswana, too – to decide on a joint plan against ivory/elephant hunting in Southern Africa. This conference was supported by the German federal environmental department. One of the results of the meeting was that Botswana pledged to no longer hand out tourist hunting licenses, putting an end to purely recreational big game hunting, starting in 2014. 

(Original Article in German; via)