My parents are both white.
To this day, we barely talk about racism. It's difficult. I often wonder why it's so difficult. But I think I have an idea.
We all get racially socialized because we grow up in racist structures. But most of us are not aware of it. We think that racism presupposes intention. It doesn't matter whether we have good or bad intentions. With the way we live, what we say and how we think - we are racist.
Because my parents never taught me what racism is, let alone explained that racism exists in Germany, I inherited their white spots. White spots are things we don't see, that are out of our field of vision. For that, I think, we are not to blame for in the first place. However, if we should be pointed out, we should listen carefully and reflect.
However, we often do not do this, at least until we are affected ourselves at some point.
Maybe you know that. If you are abled-bodied, you move effortlessly through the streets of the big cities and only notice a big change when you become parents. Moving around with your children in a stroller suddenly presents you with challenges that were unknown to you before. You may even think of other groups of people who are also restricted in their freedom of movement by the infrastructure of the cities - such as elderly people, people in wheelchairs or people with walking disabilities.
In the past, my white spots led to my not recognizing racism and often referred experiences of discrimination to me personally. At my school at that time, an exchange with a Senegalese school was planned for a certain school class. Since I was in another school class, I asked my headmaster if I could still travel with them. He replied: "Yes of course, you are our alibi!". My girlfriend looked very irritated and I suspected that something was wrong, but my parents did not react surprised when I told them the story and did not go into it further. To be honest, I did not understand what he meant. It wasn't until about 15 years later that I understood that my headmaster was making racist remarks. Because of my white spots, I realized very late that racism is not only individual discrimination, but a construct that runs through our institutions, our educational facilities, our politics and our entire social life.
Racism leads to the fact that I was limited in my career, that I did not get apartments, that every single contact with the police was painful and expensive, that I endured countless microaggressions, that I always had to be on my guard, that maybe the next discrimination was waiting for me, that I always try to adapt to a white norm and to articulate myself well, to wear my hair "neat" and not to get too angry in order not to be called an "angry black woman". The list is long.
After the racially motivated murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the many other black people, the Black Lives Matter movement reached a new peak and became very loud and present. Especially in Germany, the world's largest BLM protests outside the USA took place. The abundance of news and posts in the social media weighed heavily on me. In addition to Covid, homeschooling and the immense stress that lasted for months due to far too little time for work and study, there now followed a period in which trauma was reactivated and old wounds were torn open.
I talk on the phone with my parents almost every day. Nevertheless, I could not talk to them about my worries and fears during this difficult time. Any experience of discrimination was talked down, relativized or I was not believed. This often tore my heart apart. After long and exhausting conversations I was reproached why I never talked about such experiences. Well, do you still ask yourself why?
In Germany there are discussions in the media and politics about whether there is racism in Germany. A colonial history, two lost world wars and the global disgrace of National Socialism led to racism being sidelined in the right-wing extremist corner and being forcibly associated with evil intent - until today. This makes it so terribly difficult to talk about racism in Germany, which is simply not an issue for many people.
In the USA, on the other hand, I experience a discourse on a different level. Here, the news are talking about the fact that the President has made racist remarks. The question here is no longer whether racism exists, but rather how to combat it.
White spots hurt, white spots traumatize, white spots kill. And this often goes unnoticed by the white majority - not only in the USA and Germany, but all over the world.
I am aware that without help it is difficult to recognize the invisible. It is certainly also not easy to look back on a life and acknowledge that one has always acted racist. Racism is not an easy or pleasant subject. But it is absolutely necessary to deal with it!
My appeal is therefore: Take action. Now. Make sure that you make your white spots visible, that you educate yourself, that you lead unpleasant discussions, that you recognize and use your privileges to help those who are oppressed. It concerns us all.
More about me and my anti-racism workshops can be found here.
Sources at the author.