|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But a few weeks ago there was a brouhaha about a publisher taking outdated and offensive descriptions of black people out of that very book, The Little Witch.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."