Dear Germany, your racism is showing
I honestly don’t know where to start. This is usually not something I write about, but I don’t know where to direct my anger and hopelessness anymore. There are reasons why I haven’t really addressed these topics in a broader and also more political way. I would rather occupy myself with other topics, with things that bring joy in order to not be consumed by this negativity. Furthermore, I think that many other people already do great work in this area and are a lot more engaged concerning these societal and political issues. I usually write about more personal topics and I wanted to focus on other things. To deal with and speak about this kind of topic is taxing and emotionally draining, but I just can’t keep quiet anymore. This is not supposed to be a scientific or a journalistic article, but a blog post. I just need to talk about it. If you’re thinking “not another article about this topic”, “not this again” or if you feel fed up with always hearing about this topic as you feel like it does not concern you or as you simply don’t want to deal with it, congratulations, you’re privileged enough that you can dismiss these contents that are “always” talking about these issues as mere nuisances in your daily life. You’re so privileged that you can choose whether or not you want to deal with this topic. A choice BiPoC don’t have.
There have been so many incidences the past years that you can’t deny that this country has a problem.
You can’t say that it has become a problem. It has been a problem since the earliest days. Everybody is always quick to say how inclusive, open-minded they are, how they don’t tolerate hate and discrimination. Yet, how is it really? I have been thinking about this a lot in the past years. With social media you are exposed to many more stories you wouldn’t hear of otherwise.
Stories of racism. Call it by the name.
When hate leads to death
What triggered me to write about this now? Another terrorist attack from a racist far-right member in a German city. An attack on innocent people. Again.
I don’t want to speak about the attack in detail. The fact is, that nine innocent people were robbed of their lives because someone deemed themselves as superior, as someone who has the right to decide who is allowed to live and who is not. The attacker decided that these people don’t have the right to exist in this country, just because they are not white and because that person didn’t acknowledge them as German citizens.
It happened again. Everything is repeating itself. I can’t take this government seriously anymore and I have lost my respect for them since a long time ago. These politicians are giving the same words of condolences like they always do, utter the same empty phrases like they do every time something like this happens. Then they turn around and allow a far-right party to gain power and enter the government, influencing the course and rhetoric of this country. A party that divides the society with their hateful speeches and hostility towards anyone who is not white by skin or by name, towards anyone who does not fit into their world view. You would think that the history of this country has showed everyone what that can lead to. A few years ago you wouldn’t have thought that something like this could happen again. You say we can’t forget. You say that this country has to learn from its history and past mistakes. And yet, it is happening again, right at this moment. You say that we have to listen to the worried citizens of this country, who are afraid of those who they view as different and as a foreign body in their country, in their homeland. You say we can’t ignore them. You work with them in the government. You dedicate your time to listen to them. You offer them space and a platform to speak.
When are you going to listen to the people who are the ones being threatened, the ones whose lives are at risk? When are you going to care about the rest of the citizens of this country? When are you going to take actions against the ones screaming hate and murder? Do you even care? You say that “we have to stick together”. You say that “we don’t allow this kind of hate in this country”. You say that “it is an attack on us all”. After that you go back to the same behavior that allowed these acts to happen in the first place. Listening to you makes me sick. I can’t hear it anymore. It makes me angry to hear you speak. It makes me angry to look at your faces. It makes me angry how the media constructs their stories in order to fit it into their preferred narratives. I am sick of you lighting up candles for the victims. I am sick of you laying down flowers for the victims. I am sick of you forming human chains in honor of the victims. I am sick of you repeating the same empty words again and again. These are the consequences of you not taking any action. If you have to show these kinds of gestures it means that it has been too late. It means that people have died, because you did nothing.
I don’t trust you and I don’t feel safe seeing how you run this country.
Just a few days before the attack, Ozan Zakariya, published a piece called “Gruppe S: Muss ich erst getötet werden, damit ihr empört seid?” (Translation: “Group S: Do I have to be killed first for you to be outraged?”) talking about a far-right terrorist cell, that was arrested by the police. They were planning attacks on 10 mosques in Germany. The author talks about the danger of far-right ideology and terrorism and how people in Germany are still playing down the danger and the fear of BiPoC, how people are shocked when they find out about these groups, even though BiPoC have been warning about the dangers of racism and the right-wingers for years. People commented that nothing happened, that those were just a few who wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway. So you want to wait until something happens, until people die, to take action? There you have it. Just a few days later one single person managed to take the lives of nine people. Nine innocent people who just wanted to meet up with their friends in a place where they felt safe and welcome. Are you outraged now? Something has happened. Again. Do you deem it to be appropriate to take action now? Or are you saying you’re shocked about this and didn’t see it coming? It has been coming all these years. It is not always this direct hate. Listen to BiPoC who have been telling you about their experiences. Acknowledge the racism in your government. Acknowledge the racism in your institutions. Acknowledge the racism among your authorities. Acknowledge the racism in your judiciary. Acknowledge the discrimination BiPoC experience in this society when they are looking for an apartment or a job. Acknowledge the racism in your schools and universities. Acknowledge the racism in your medical facilities. Acknowledge the existence of racism in this society.
It is not a problem of an individual. It is firmly anchored in the German society. However, you dismiss the BiPoC and their stories, you laugh them off, saying that they shouldn’t play victim all the time, saying that they should stop looking for racism in every little thing. Why don’t you just say you don’t care about the fears and worries of people whose ancestors don’t have the same cultural background as you? In all of these cases you construct the story of a loner who has psychological problems. You search for any clues in order to push the responsibility away from you. You say they were crazy, you say it was an individual. You say there isn’t any connection to the political party or the right wing ideology, and that the only reason for these acts were psychological illnesses. You say THEY had a problem. That way you don’t have to be critical with yourself and question your own behavior or the system you are part of. You don’t want to see what has enabled them.
It is a structural problem. It is a political problem. It is a societal problem and you are part of the problem. You, the politicians, who court these kinds of people. You, the people who down play BiPoC’s worries and fears. You, the people who deny people’s experiences with racism. You, the people who allow right wing politicians to defend these acts of terror and twist the narratives to turn the victims into the offender. You might deem yourself as not racist, because you don’t engage directly in these kinds of hateful acts, but you are part of the problem, so don’t you dare down play these as an act of a crazy individual. How many more individual cases do we need in order for you to see that it is not a problem of an individual? How many more deaths do we have to endure? Maybe you need another 6 million people dead in order to care? Maybe you have to see people die in camps first in order acknowledge that this society has a problem? Is it that what you want? I can’t stand to see the words of well wishes and condolences on social media anymore, every time something like this happens. I don’t want to hear about your speechlessness or loss for words. I’m so tired and sick of it.
These kinds of attacks don’t just suddenly happen out of nowhere. You must be a special kind of ignorant to not see the structures behind these kinds of acts. Don’t act surprised when these happen. These past years hate speech and the incitement against BiPoC and other minorities has been normalized and it is increasing. The roots have always been there. They were never gone and now they have begun to sprout again, because there are people watering them, nurturing them. You could have listened. But you didn’t. You could have taken the worries and fears of BiPoC seriously. But you didn’t. You could have stopped those, who spew hate and divide this society, from entering the parliament. But you didn’t. You could have taken measures and taken a firm stand against racism and the far-right. But you did nothing and you let it happen. You are the ones putting the democracy and the lives of people at risk.
People who are not affected always need these kinds of things to happen first, before they feel the need to even speak about it. However, it doesn’t always have to be this kind of direct hate that result in death. This is the peak of everything. It starts with daily racism. There is the term microagressions, which describe brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups (Sue, 2010: Microagressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation). It can happen in a subtle way and people might not even acknowledge or just outright deny these as acts of discrimination or racism. Yes, you might think that you can’t be racist, but there is probably a chance that you have been. You can see examples of different kinds of microagressions defined and analyzed in this document.
I am observing stories and news about these quite closely and there are so many stories I have read or experienced myself that I could share, but I just want to share a few.
Starting with the Corona-virus, a topic you should have heard about during the past few weeks. Under the hashtag #IamNotAVirus (German: #IchbinkeinVirus) on Twitter Asian people talk about their experiences with racist verbal or physical attacks since the outbreak of the virus that originated from Wuhan, China. It caused an irrational fear in people that caused many racist attacks on Asian and Asian looking people. I can understand if you are afraid of catching the virus and get sick. However this does not justify attacks of any kind on any Asian person you see. Children were bullied in schools, avoided by their friends. A girl was insulted, spat on and beat up by two women in Berlin. Chinese people were denied by their doctors. There was a Chinese woman with the flu the doctor refused to see. These are just a few examples of many. The people didn’t care whether the people they attacked or avoided were even from the area where the virus came from, or whether they were even from China, or whether Chinese people even had any connection to the area. They viewed every Asian person as a threat to their own well-being. They say that they just want to be safe and don’t want to get sick, so they are avoiding every Asian looking person altogether, which is why this does not count as racism. Okay, but what about white people who came back from China? Do you treat them the same way? No, because they are white and you can’t tell that they were in China. There was a white woman coming back from a business trip in Wuhan and didn’t receive this kind of treatment. Why? Because she is white. The attacks were directed towards Asian and Asian looking people only. It is just ignorant and racist and this is not something new. You can find many more incidents by looking at the hashtags mentioned above on Twitter, incidents that you might not find on the news.
Soon the narrative shifted towards the “disgusting, uncivilized and unsanitary” eating habits of “The Chinese” and how it is only natural and their own fault that they would catch such a virus. They started saying to Asian people to “stop eating bats”, because news outlets reported that the virus allegedly came from bats. They disregard the fact that the majority of Chinese people, let alone the majority of the Asian population don’t even maintain the kinds of eating habits they are imagining Asian people to have. BiPoC are seen as the carrier of bad things because they are seen as less and filthy beings. You can see how many of the Western culture deem their culture as superior and civilized, while the cultures who don’t follow their examples are uncivilized and barbarians. There, your white supremacy is showing. This isn’t rare and this is not the first time such a view is laid upon Asian people. A colleague of mine who lived in the dormitory before just happened to get involved into a conversation with the dorm manager one time. That manager complained how Asians are so dirty all the time. You might say now that the person might speak from experience, but this view is deep rooted in history as Sören Urbansky describes. It’s the stories of the prejudice of the “Yellow danger”. It’s connected to the immigration of Chinese people into the US. The author explains that because of the precarious living conditions their ethnic ghettos quickly became a threat to the moral and physical integrity of the European population. The Chinese were seen as a source of diseases and bad smell. You can find more scientific texts that talk about this topic if you search on Google. Since this is supposed to be a blog post and not a scientific research or journalistic piece, I won’t be able to dive deep into every topic.
I will share some more examples of microagressions that I have seen from other people. There was this Vietnamese blogger (@miutiful on Twitter) in Germany who was looking for a new apartment. She asked her German boyfriend to send the applications for the apartments using his name, because her own name would be a disadvantage during the process. After my friend moved out of her apartment, the landlord asked her to find other tenants for him, but she should only forward applications from German people. One time, when my brother was going out with friends in Karlsruhe in broad daylight, walking the streets with many other people, a stranger got a hold of his bicycle and said to him to “get out of here” (German: “Mach, dass du hier wegkommst”), quietly enough that nobody else around them could hear. His friends were nearby but didn’t notice what was happening, because they were too far away to hear. They later asked my brother whether it was someone he knew and when he told them what happened, they were furious. Then, a few weeks ago, a screenshot of a private E-Mail, sent by the superior of a German architecture office, went public, that simply said “Please no Arabs” (German: “Bitte keine Araber“). It was an answer concerning an application from a student and it was probably supposed to be for the eyes of the subordinates only. However, because of a mistake the applicant received that E-Mail as well, which was then shared on Twitter. After everything got public and after the outcry the office, who pride themselves with respecting all nations, explained that it was a misunderstanding and mistake. They said that they actually mistakenly assigned the application to a job and project in China and not an internship, therefore looking for someone who can speak Chinese. They said that they wanted someone with a Master’s degree, 2 years of professional experience, specific software knowledge, but also particularly someone with very good Chinese profiency. They claimed the reason for the E-Mail was because the applicant didn’t fulfill the requirements. Well, if that is the case why not just write “Can’t speak Chinese”, “doesn’t fulfill the requirements”, “unfit for the position” or something along those lines? There are so many other possibilities how you could have phrased it. Why was it “Please no Arabs” then? The person applied, because they thought they are qualified for the position. If they were required to speak Chinese and they aren’t able to, they wouldn’t have applied. If you say it was a mistake, because maybe you forgot to put in this one key requirement in your job listing or because you assigned it by mistake, no matter what your excuse is, that E-Mail shows what your true reasoning for the rejection was. You got unlucky this time, because you got careless. Everything sounds more like a cheap excuse, honestly. You chose to write “Please no Arabs” and therefore focused on nothing other than this person’s ethnicity, not on their skills and abilities. How many BiPoC have you rejected because of their ethnicity? How many BiPoC in Germany have experienced this without knowing? How many BiPoC have doubted themselves and their abilities when they got a rejection or no answer at all, thinking they are not good enough, when the real reason might have been simply prejudices and racism, something that can be hidden and can’t be proved at all. There are people defending the architecture office, saying that they might have had bad experience with people of that ethnicity and that they have the right to decide who they want to employ. So you are saying that because there might have been one bad experience that it is okay to project those on the rest of the group? So is it okay to call you, your mother, your brother, your father racist because someone once had a racist experience with someone of the same skin color as you and with a German name as you? If an applicant fulfills all the requirements, why wouldn’t they be at least invited to an interview? If you still think they are unfit for the position, you can reject them after you have talked to them and got to know them. However, this applicant got rejected outright with the words “Please no Arabs” without any chances to prove themselves. Careful, your racism is showing. The office’s explanation is just a pathetic attempt to save their face and reputation.
Censorship of BiPoC on social media and other media
The hate crimes against BiPoC are often described as individual cases, committed by a deranged person. However, the reality is that the far-right and racists are much more organized and they are not as dumb as people want to believe them to be. To think that these groups only consists of people without any education, plan or strategies is naive. It is a whole network that knows how to operate in order to push their agenda. You can see this on Twitter for example, where many people speak out and where a lot of the discussions take place.
During the corona virus outbreak the Vietnamese journalist Nhi Le (Twitter: @nhile_de) spoke out against the racism that was happening. She got banned for her tweet and Twitter claimed that the tweet was against Twitter guidelines. She received a lot of support after that and a lot of people copied her exact tweet to post again. More people got banned, but there were also people who didn’t get banned. This shows that these ban happen arbitrarily and Twitter deletes Tweets and or bans people when enough people report the Tweet or account. There has been several cases of activists or other people who speak out against these kinds of issues who were banned because they allegedly didn’t follow Twitter’s guidelines. However, many times hateful comments prevail and even if you report it, nothing is done. This silencing by reporting people and therefore getting them banned is happening systematically. Germany issued The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG, German: Gesetz zur Verbesserung der Rechtsdurchsetzung in sozialen Netzwerken, also known as the Facebook Act) and it is a German law aimed at combating agitation and fake news in social networks. It was supposed to regulate hate and prevent the spread of false information on social media platforms. The law requires platforms such as Twitter to check reported tweets and delete them if necessary. Before this law came into effect, there was a lot of critic. People say that the deletion of posts will happen without putting them into context. As a lot of people feared, the law has backfired. The far-right started to use that law to their own advantage. As the right wingers and racists know how to organize themselves they managed to build a network to support and push their ideologies. Looking for Tweets from BiPoC and reporting them en masse is one of their strategies and it works. Activitists who speak out about these political and societal issues such as racism and hate crimes got banned by Twitter and aren’t able to return to the platform. By doing that BiPoC and their supporters lose their voices in this debate and the politics have done nothing to prevent that. The terrorist as well as many others are being radicalized through the internet, through social media platforms and other networks, through racist content you allow to continue to exist and to be spread. The law has failed. The German judiciary has failed.
In the mean time the government as well as the media give racists more screen time and more space to speak about their views and opinions, instead of giving that space to people who actually need to be heard. They don’t offer people who experienced racism a bigger platform to speak. They let the very people who spread these hateful sentiments speak to the press and the public. It is always the white who get invited by mainstream media to talkshows, to interviews, to talk about the topic, to give their opinion about the topic, while there are so many people who are certainly more qualified to speak about it. People who belong to the marginalized communities, people who can speak about their own experience and feelings. People from the affected communities who have been trying to raise awareness with their activism for years. Books by white authors only get on the lists of must read books of the year. White podcasters are invited to events and debates, while content by BiPoC-podcasters are overlooked. The media landscape is dominated by white people and you can’t deny it. They don’t give the affected the same exposure. They don’t give the affected the same screen time. BiPoC have to build their own communities who care about what they have to say. They have to put in a lot more effort in order to be heard. They have to create their own platforms in order to be heard. They have to organize events themselves in order to be heard. They have to promote themselves in order to be heard. They have to put in more effort in order to afford to be heard.
Model minority and the principle of performance
Coming back to racism against Asians I would like to quickly touch on the topic of the so called model minority, which is a term often used for the Asian population, who is usually perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average. It might sound positive at first. However, believe it or not, positive racism exists. There was a comment under a tweet saying “I really don’t know anyone in Germany who has a problem with Asians… They are friendly, they go to work and don’t try to force their religious beliefs or culture on other people and they also don’t demand to get any other special rights. In contrast to others..”. The term model minority is often seen as controversial, because it is said to pitch minorities against each other, implying that the non-model fail to assimilate and succeed like the model minorities do and therefore they fail to integrate into the society they are living in. The view described in that tweet basically says that Asians are well integrated, because we don’t meddle, because we mind our own business and aren’t as vocal about our problems as the other minorities. We are tolerated by this society, because it is assumed that many of us tend to have a higher education, “contribute” to the society and don’t cause trouble. A lot of us tend to avoid confrontation and therfore we aren’t “loud”. Our parents want to lead a quiet life and don’t want to attract negative attention, after everything they had to endure in order to build their lives in a country whose language they could not speak. Asians are praised because it is assumed that we are good at mathematics, that we have good grades in school, that we have jobs. Our worth is connected to our performances in and contributions to this society.
However, do we lose our worth as soon as we fail to perform and fit into your frame of expectations? My mother always tells me, that I have to be better than the Germans, because otherwise I won’t be seen as worthy of their respect. They will see and treat me as the vermin of their society, as a leech living of their country and citizens. I will be nothing in their eyes, if I can’t fulfill the society’s expectation of an Asian person. This has been burnt into my brain and it has caused so much anxieties during my school years and during my time in university. I feel worthless and useless every time I fail at something, every time I make a mistake. I watched an interview with the two Vietnamese Podcasters Minh Thu Tran and Vanessa Vu (from the podcast Rice and Shine) who talk about the Vietnamese community in Germany. They say: “You can’t get far in this society when you don’t do well in school. When you immigrated, have black hair, everyone thinks your food smells […] and then you even have a foreign name and on top of that you are bad at school, then you lost. I feel that we are almost only measured and evaluated by society based on our performance, because we are “the smart Asians”. At some point you internalize that so strongly that you think that as soon as I am not that smart anymore or when I’m not performing as well anymore I will be worthless and I will lose my right to exist in this country. We can only talk about integration seriously, or it has really succeeded, if we can be as lazy as Germans.”.
You might question these feelings and say that we are the ones who put this pressure on ourselves. Then let me tell you about the content of the manifest of the person who shot nine people.
Natascha Strobl (Twitter: @Natascha_Strobl), a political scientist, broke down the content of the manifest of the terrorist who killed nine people and shared them on her Twitter. In one part of their manifest the terrorist divides people into those who contribute something to society and those who do not. These “ethnic groups”, whom the terrorist calls by name, should be destroyed because these groups are not capable of great contributions or performances. The terrorist sees themselves as someone who contributes a lot and who is better than everyone else. The people who the terrorist deem as unproductive or less productive are parasites of the society and this principle of performance or achievement is recurring in the rhetoric of the right wing groups. It has been observed that this manifest has many overlaps with speeches from the right-wing party.
It is not an individual case. It is an ideology that exists and there are people at this very moment who want the society to live by this ideology. They want to determine which “life [is] unworthy of life” (German: “Lebensunwertes Leben”). This phrase is a Nazi designation for the segments of populace, which, according to the Nazi regime of the time, had no right to live, including disabled people or those who were ill (Lifton 2005). However, this principle is still prevalent today amongst these circles. The worries and anxieties I described above don’t just come from nowhere. This is our reality.
I could write a lot more about this topic, but this would go beyond the scope. There are already many people and activists who focus on and speak about these topics. What you can do is share their content. Show that you care about what the affected people have to say. It is important to listen to their voices and hear about their experiences. Pay attention to what they are saying and try to understand. It matters how you react when you witness discriminatory and racist behavior in your social environment, also when members of the marginalized groups are not present. Even if you don’t agree with the rhetorics, by staying silent they think that you agree with them and that they are free to spread those sentiments. It can be your parents, your girlfriend or boyfriend, your friends, your brother or your co-worker. If you stay silent and don’t speak out and take a clear stand, you give racist sentiments and discriminatory behavior more space to cultivate. So many times BiPoC are left alone when they are attacked, verbally or physically, in public. BiPoC know when you look away or ignore the reality. To us it means that you don’t care. You don’t care what happens to us. Because you don’t want to deal with it as it brings you discomfort and you want to avoid any confrontation. BiPoC have to deal with this everyday whether they want to or not. They are not given the choice.
Do you understand how lonely and isolated people feel when they are rejected and hated by their own country? We are also human beings in this country. We are citizens of this country. We have the right to speak and to be heard, irrespective of our social status or cultural backgrounds. This is the country we grew up in. This is the country where we find our social belonging in. This is the country where we attend school and university. This is the country in which our parents built up a life from nothing. This is the country we hoped to have a future in.