Reflecting my own prejudices and actions in everyday life
The idea for this entry is sparked by a conversation I just had with a colleague, so I had to write my thoughts down quickly.
Actually, no. I had an “encounter of the third kind” on the train a few days ago which shocked me. And after the talk with my colleague, I am more shocked that I am still shocked about this.
I live in a very multicultural environment. I am not saying that racism is okay if you’re just not used to seeing people of a skin colour/cultural background that isn’t German and white (from my POV), but it’s not a secret that people in rural areas, where the percentage of “foreigners” as they like to call people here is significantly lower than in big cities, are more prone to be hostile.
It’s just another cliché, sure, but I have grandparents (old, white, no foreign ancestors, used to live among Germans) and the first foreign people they got know where either bombing them in World War II or were immigrants from Southern Europe seeking working possibilites in Germany. There you have it, hostility at it’s finest: The “Immigrants/Foreigners are all bad people, trying to steal from us” -blabla
I would always cringe while my grandfather loudly announced some bullshit about “those Turkish folks” or those “Italos” while eating pizza or kebab (totally German inventions, for sure). It was almost comical: Taking what I want from their culture and making it my own, but don’t say I have to respect the pizza guy. He has got to do his job and deliver some food, that’s what he’s good for.
I grew up in probably the only German household without any foreign ancestors/relatives in our street. Other families were mixed, German fathers and Italian mothers, Turkish grandparents or maybe the whole family, including children my age, came to our town from India. I grew up not understanding how some people (even in my own family) would say this isn’t normal, right or they should “go back to where they came from”.
I am not saying I was raised to be colourblind. I am not advocating that. I am very aware of the fact that everyone looks different, has different living circumstances and that your heritage and your appearance defines how people may treat you.
On to my strange encounter: I was on the train, going back home from the farmer’s market, when two security people (female and male) entered the train to check our tickets. Behind me sat, I could only guess because I only heard his voice, a young man who may have not been German. He spoke good German, but with an accent. He didn’t have his monthly ticket, but he knew that he had to validate it at a special service point because otherwise he would get fined. 4 times was the magic number the woman decided on for explaining him how to do that. 4 times in a row. After he confirmed, right after the first explanation, that he knew what he had to do.
They left, I turned around, only to see that the man was black. And I felt ashamed for thinking: WOW, this just happened? Because you only have to turn on the news to see and read things like that, everyday, everywhere. And things much worse than that.
My colleague and I talked about this, witnessing situations in which cashiers, doctors, service people of any kind, officers, etc. start to talk really loudly and like they are talking to a four-year-old because they just assume the person in front of them won’t understand.
It once backfired, she told me, when a young muslim woman wearing a headscarf spoke perfectly clear German and told the receptionist at a doctor’s office not to shout at her because she was capable of following her normal pace and volume of talking.
Since the ticket incident, I started to actively reflect on the thoughts I have about people that look like the might not be from this country. Or their parents. Or grandparents. Because obviously, you can’t be German if you’re black, Asian, have a longer beard, wear a headscarf, have darker skin than “pale-as-a-polarbear” etc. Because all Germans are white, blond, tall, and blue-eyed. Look at my picture again. Oh no, she must be foreign (I am white and tall, though, but obviously not the cool, Nordic type, so where is she from?!)
Do I discriminate? I do change sides on the street if I see a group of men at night. But I never thought, oh, they must be foreign, they are probably dangerous. If you want to, call me sexist. I change sides because they are male. I wouldn’t do it if it were a group of girls, for sure.
I don’t think about actively discriminating anyone. I don’t say anything negative about people in relation to their heritage. Why would I? But: I work in a service job as of right now, and boy, do I get annoyed if someone really doesn’t speak my language, although residing here for a longer time. Sometimes I want to shout at them, “Why can’t you learn the language of the country you’re living in?” I feel ashamed, but I don’t sugarcoat it. I try to be compassionate all the time, but I fail. There you have it, you could probably say that’s racist behaviour.
Isn’t it tiring to discriminate? What do people get out of hostility? What’s wrong with how they were raised? How did their parents talk about other people at home? (Probably like my grandfather did).
But it’s not only the upbringing. My father isn’t a racist. It’s also education. And compassion. Not believing populist poiliticians who fear the apocalypse if one more refugee sets a foot on this precious land. Learning that foreign cultures are more than food – and the negative sides you hear about. Talking to neighbours and learning from them.
Understanding that there is difference between being perfect all the time and hating on people. We can all better ourselves in this department. We can all learn something more everyday. We go abroad and experience being foreign by ourselves. Think about how you want to be treated in a place where you’re the stranger.
What would you say about your own prejudices and daily behaviour? What role does racism play in your life?