Resisting Diversity

Aunt Jemima, the house slave)
(I know it has been a while, but bear with me, there are simply some topics in Germany that I can't keep quiet about.)

About a year ago, I read The Little Witch to my son and there is a scene in which German children dress up as African Negroes for carnival.  My son, five at the time, was shocked, confused and visibly hurt that it was considered amusing for children to dress up as Negroes.

I have written before about how my children have been confronted with depictions of black people as silly, something to laugh at and be set apart from the rest.  And time and time again, I have been told that I have overreacted or I am simply being overly sensitive, or that I have tried to apply my American culture into a German context.

But a few weeks ago there was a brouhaha about a publisher taking outdated and offensive descriptions of black people out of that very book, The Little Witch. While I applauded the decision I am not surprised by the flurry of editorials that slammed it, labeling the decision political correctness having gone too far.

It reminds me of the same mentality I witnessed with the reoccuring "habit" of Germans showing up in blackface, defended by the "I didn't mean it to be offensive" narrative or the "It's not our history" distancing technique. Even after eleven years, I still can not understand Germany's self-imposed immunity from offensive behavior?  How can such a quickly diversifying country still believe it is exempt from acknowledging the plight of others, whether or not it was within a German border?

No history of slavery?  No excuse.
No real experience with colonialism?  Also, no pass.

Aunt Jemima's make-over as a modern black woman.

I am always reminded in situations like these, about my book tour a few years ago.  At every reading there was a person who felt obliged to ask, "But Germans are quite open minded, don't you think?" And I never had to say a word.  There was invariably one white German parent who had adopted a black child or a person married to a black man or woman who said, "I never knew how bigoted my people were until I adopted a black child or dated a black man or woman".

Maybe it is easier to explain to a white German child, Oh that's how people were called back then.  They made fun of black people, put them in cages and stared at them and they were slaves in some places and oh, some people don't treat them well.  But that's all different now.

It is something else entirely when you have to explain to a black child that the Neger in the book, who is supposed to look like us, is an old depiction but not entirely unrelated to the way we have been unfairly treated, in real life.

For those intellectuals who say German literature has been compromised or that political correctness has gone too far I say, "Germany, welcome to the 21st century."

Photo: flickr


Riding While Black

This term, along with "driving while black" or "black man on campus" have become a normal part of American vernacular.

I don't know one African-American man (working class, middle class, corporate class, east/west coast, south, midwest, young, old) who has never experienced harassment by the police at some point in his life.  They were all believed to be guilty of a crime, or, simply looked like a perpetrator of some sort, based on the profiles policemen are trained to be on the lookout for.

Racial profiling is as American as apple pie and it is also, apparently, a new feature of a slowly diversifying Germany.

This week a 26 year-old black man just won a  case against the German federal police for racial profiling. Born and raised in Germany,  he recalls being stopped by the police on several occasions, riding while black on the regional train.  He was asked to show his ID card to prove that he was not an illegal immigrant, at least 10 times in the last two years, he says.

But one day this black German college student didn't feel like showing his ID.  Why me?  he asked the policemen on the random check, his white fellow Germans ignored by the officers. (some of the other passengers, by the way, criticized the police).  When he refused to show them what they wanted, they told him to leave the train.  They searched his bag.  They asked him if he spoke English.  They pushed him even though he didn't show restraint.

It is not surprising, I'm afraid, that it happened.  But that this young man sued the police, (despite being told by even his friends that he'd never have a chance) and won, is a grain of hope in all of this.  He didn't gain any money.  His name wasn't even mentioned in the article I read.  He made a simple point and gave Germans an opportunity to look in the mirror and see their identity changing.

Photo: flickr


Eye of a Storm

It seems absurd to be watching personal i-reports (or whatever CNN's brand of firsthand accounts are called) about the place in the world I love most, being washed away, burned and smashed by Sandy's violent gusts of wind, while I make rice crispy treat eyeballs for my sons' Halloween buffets tomorrow morning.

Not for the first time, I feel torn between where I wish I could absorb my thoughts and energy  and what real life, that everyday thing, is forcing me back to face.  An eye on home, a foot somewhere else.

Isn't that what life for the expatriate, the immigrant, whatever one calls us, is all about?  Or am I confusing the insanity of life at a certain age, in which one finds one self lamenting over a failed marriage yet must contemplate whether raspberry gelatin ice cube molds will look like bloodied eyeballs to second graders?

My stomach churns at the thought of my cousins in New Jersey, my aunts in Queens, New York, my loved ones in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and I have just put Rocky Mountain Marshmallows, for the love of god, into a saucepan, in a kitchen, in an apartment, I no longer share with my German husband.  The reason I thought I was here is no longer, yet my half German children expect costumes and trick-o-treating and sweets in the morning.

New York appears to have taken a beating again.  And, like the last great shock to my beautiful city, I have watched it from here.  I have mourned from afar.

At least the rice crispy treats turned out well.  Thanks to exports, the artificial things still taste the same, no matter where I am.


Coming in from the Cold

I have not died.  Nor have I returned to the United States.  Full-time employment as an editor has left little time for blog writing.  But a couple of events have prompted me to dig out my old password and pay a visit to currentsbetweenshores:

1. Barack

When I first started this blog four years ago, I had an extraordinary feeling of hope. An American kid of an immigrant, a kid like me, who went to good schools, had every opportunity in the world, yet grappled with identity, became someone I never imagined people like us ever could.

Barack Obama was more than just a black president to me, he symbolized who I believed America and the world would become; greatness that comes when races, cultures and mentalities mix.

I couldn't hear often enough that he was a son of a Kenyan and a mother of a white woman from Kansas.  I was raising kids that looked like Barack Obama and, finally, the world was handing them a role model.

Admittedly, Barack Obama has not been a perfect president but he has been a revolutionary one (healthcare reform, education) who has stood up, with grace, to an unprecedentedly racist, absurdly critical and vicious Republican congress.

Barack is riding on a different platform than four years ago but he is still the first president who is, to me, the most familiar, trustworthy, capable and worth his word.

2. A Buschgirl Fan

I recently received an email from a black woman with Ghanian parents who was raised, in of all places, Bonn.  Bonn used to be the capital of West Germany and hardly the happening, almost-metropolitan city of Berlin, where she now lives.

This young woman thanked me for writing Buschgirl because it rang true to her.  The experiences I had as an American were no different than the ones she had, despite having been born and raised in Germany.

Her email reminded me why I started all of this, why I felt it important to include these experiences in a book and, at one time, frequently blogged about it.

3. An ad

This ad on the Swiss railway ("Against Homesickness") was sent to me by a German man who asked, "Don't you think this ad is weird?"

My answer?  Of course, it is.  Why does a woman who looks like this have to call home someplace OUTSIDE of northern, German-speaking Europe?  (please refer to number 2).

What does that mean?

Buschgirl is back.


"Blacks Out!"

This was not allegedly shouted in a redneck town in the southern USA or in a deserted eastern German village, or in a football stadium in Poland, but in a nation created for a persecuted people.

Israel has an immigration problem, or, as Benjamin Netanyahu says, "a problem with infiltrators".  This tiny Middle Eastern country has become a destination for Africans, mostly from South Sudan, fleeing conflict, poverty and the other list of maladies that accompany political upheaval. Last year, South Sudan split from Sudan, after decades of war.

These infiltrators are amongst the thousands of Africans that no country wants. After all, they don't speak the language, they can't do much but live off the state and are technically not Israel's or anybody else's problem, right? Besides, the war in Sudan is technically over, why can't these people just stay where they are?

How to deal with it? Round them up, arrest them,  interrogate any African on the street and ask to see his papers, publish statistics showing how crime rises when African immigrants infiltrate Israeli borders (be sure, however, to distinguish that Jewish Ethiopians do not carry these dangers) and be sure to impress upon the idea that a tiny nation can not possibly accommodate even more people.  

Many countries have taken similar measures and xenophobia towards immigrants is not unique to Israel.  However, while editorials have often pointed out the historical irony in Israel's immigration policy,  I find it even harder to stomach the current audacity of the Israeli government building illegal settlements on Palestinian land and then talking about African "infiltrators".

Infiltration of Africa was possible, legal and acceptable for European people for centuries, yet now there are laws that protect those same pioneer infiltrators and their economic and social interests. We can't turn back the clock and give back Africa all the riches stolen through colonial rule, but shouldn't there be laws requiring a minimum investment in economic aid in Africa for every infiltrator that is deported from Israel, Italy, Spain or Germany?

I'm not talking about dumping unwanted subsidized grains into African countries, but agricultural development programs, job creation programs and things that actually lead to sustainable living. While there is an abundance of NGOs doing all sorts of great things in Africa, there are still inhumane practices that keep poor countries poor.

Why, for example, should stock market junkies living in rich countries be allowed to  speculate on prices of staples like grain and rice, thereby causing food price instability in poor countries?  Just one example. . .

Why is modern day exploitation of Africans perpetuated then we sit back and ask, "What do the Africans want here?"

Photo: activestills


Leaving for Love

Ever since I started this blog I have received regular emails and comments from smart and educated black women from the United States, Canada or the Caribbean telling me that they have met German men and are considering moving to Germany to be with their partners.

They have read about some of my experiences and say that my accounts give them reason to doubt making such a move. Will I find other people of color with like minds? Will his family accept me? What will it be like if we have children? These are questions that I can't answer for anyone. But I can say, from my own experience that . . .

. . . love changes. . .it can grow but it can also be tugged at from cultural clashes, misunderstandings or merely just not getting each other.  The greatest love, I have learned, does not and should not stay quiet just because the soul is culturally stifled.

If you leave, my sisters, please don't leave with even an ounce of regret as that tiny ounce will spill into liters over time.  Come, if you want, because you hope to experience a new life, a thrill, an opportunity without strings that belongs to youth.

It may seem obvious, but know that you will grow older here.  You will raise children in a country where you have not been a child.

If you find your identity seeped into your surroundings (especially if you live in a culture of flava) then a move to Germany can certainly challenge that. The love you feel for your partner won't be enough, ever, to quell that loss.  You have to look for your soul food market, wherever it is.  Sometimes it's in the multiculti blocks of Wedding or Kreuzberg, sometimes it's in the quiet of a yoga studio.  Of course, of course its within, but that path can be hidden by foreign leaves.

Photo: flickr