Thank you Genevieve for bringing up this topic! It’s one of those things that I think we can all only speak to our own cultures and experiences. But luckily we have a big variety of cultures and experiences so this discussion should be interesting!
I’m gonna start big picture with the stuff that IS universal. It’s universal to “other” a subset in your community, most often in a way to justify disparity and injustice. But the details of how that othering works is never the same. Every community has it’s own rules and prejudices and so on and so forth. These rules and prejudices spread through pop culture, for instance novels/newspapers in America in the 1800s, or films in India today. The wider the discourse spreads, the more universally accepted and “normalized” these stereotypes are.
Okay, now forget the universal! Let’s talk specific! As an American, the Black American community is what we are talking about when we talk about prejudice or racism or stereotypes. That’s not to say there isn’t prejudice and stereotypes against a whole bunch of other communities too, it’s all layers on layers on layers. But the Black community is a very special specific to the US issue. Like, even language! I use “Black” with a capital, but when I was growing up I was told to always use “African-American”, and before that it was “colored” and so on and so forth. And these language rules are a Big Deal. Like, it’s hugely important to use the right word and makes a big statement when you use the wrong word.
What I think sometimes the Black-White issue hides in America is that it’s NOT just black and white. Yes, the most important issue for us as a country is that issue. But there are smaller (meaning, more geographically specific) equally tragic injustices. For instance, I as a midwestern person just learned a few years ago about the unbelievably inhuman massacres of the native communities in California within the past century. But at the same time, probably someone in California wouldn’t know about the complex dynamics of the current human tragedy of the migrant bussing into Chicago.
And there are also the less tragic but universal issues. America absolutely has ethnic prejudices, and class prejudices, and religious prejudices, every flavor of prejudice. Oh, and racial prejudice against non Black communities too. Only, it’s easy to get away with “I’m not racist, I just assume all desis are doctors” because in America that’s the “less bad” racism.
One thing I am particularly aware of is the way pop culture will be banned, ignored, erased for racism against Black people. But American pop culture with issues about any other community tends to get a pass. This has gotten better in recent years, I think, but I also think it’s still focused on very specific kinds of pop culture. A modern streaming TV show has to be ethical in how it treats all people. A big popular action movie can still get away with crazy jokes and stereotypes about Muslims and no one seems to care. Our attention is sooooooooooooo hyper focused, it allows bad stuff to happen on the edges. On the other hand, our attention should be hyper focused because the one thing we are looking at is SO MUCH WORSE.
I guess it’s like if you are treating cancer, you still need to treat pneumonia. But at the same time, your doctors and friends and everyone are gonna be way more concerned about the Cancer because Cancer is just soooooooooooo much worse.
Okay, that’s all I can think of at the moment from my personal experience. Thoughts?
Pneumonia is still pretty bad, though. People still die from it.
Germans are most touchy about anything that might seem anti-semitic. We know we can’t afford it. But it’s also a largely theoretical concern, since there really aren’t that many Jews left in Germany.
Our biggest group of “others” are the Turks who came here in the 50s and 60s when we needed the work force. They tend to have darker hair and skin than the majority, and quite a few of the women wear headscarves. But just from looking at home individual, I could never tell for sure that they were of Turkish heritage.
Just like your American “Hispanic” category, actually. I just can’t see it. I remember at least two cases where I had to be told that an actress was a Latina.
As for Black people, Germany is only now starting to deal with them. We weren’t that big a colonial force in Africa, and we always managed to get rid of them before. Not just the Nazis, either. When after the war Black GIs had kids with German women, we sent those “Brown Babies” away to the US to be adopted by Black families.
So some regions of the country were almost entirely monochrome until at least the 90s. The east didn’t even have Turks until then. And I do think that those are the regions most fearful of the “other” – they just don’t have any frame of reference.
Exactly! It’s a “boy, if it weren’t for the cancer, I’d find the pneumonia really scary”. But when you do have cancer, everything else just doesn’t seem as bad.
How much are “others” present in German pop culture? If I lived in one of those homogenous regions, would I have been exposed to stereotypes before I was exposed to reality?
Well, we do consume quite a bit of American media. Though we may not see the same things. For me “Hitch” was about a guy who happens to be Black and a white woman.
Other than that, I think for the longest time any non-white person in Germany had to look really hard for any kind of representation.
With all this history of keeping the “other” away, our racism is very often of the type that asks: “No, but where are you REALLY from?” That’s what I read in books on the topic and that’s what I hear from our Desi friends downstairs. “Oh, but your German is so good.”
The one thing I remember about the Turkish worker issue from my college German classes is that even the second generation who were born in Germany were not given citizenship. Which fits with the “where are you REALLY from” question. America has that too of course, but different.
Yes, Germany still doesn’t think of itself as an immigration country. Which is why citizenship is still defined by “blood” and not place of birth. Baby was born here, to a mother who has lived here since childhood, and she’s still an Angolan citizen (doesn’t make it easy to get official papers for her, either).
The combination, at least in my youth, made it very easy to grow up thinking of all people as just people, but at the same time never questioning the subconscious idea that Germany is the country of the Germans “by blood” (and others don’t belong here).
This is great discussion topic.
I like your pneumonia/cancer analogy for this post, but I am going to respectfully disagree with the conclusion. Pneumonia is a major cause of death in cancer patients and at times the primary/leading cause of death with some forms of cancer. Treating cancer without treating the pneumonia will still lead to dire consequences – death.
I think that applies here. Let’s discuss India for example. As you mentioned in one of the responses to Genieveve, there are all kinds of prejudices based on caste, north vs. south, religion etc. However, to me it is equally important to look at the caste divide as it is to look at the religious divide in India and vice versa. Without that, it is easy for the entities like the government, to focus on one (e.g., reducing caste divide) while continuing to spread the other (e.g., religious divide). I think when we stay hyper focused on whatever has been deemed as “more bad,” it gives the enablers of the divide the ability to slowly and steadily increase atrocities in the “less bad” until that becomes the new “more bad.” And then we continue to play wackamole instead of getting ahead of it.
I get that we have limited number of resources. However, I think it’s also easy to focus on what gets the most media attention. However, to me, it is important to go beyond the surface and look into what else is happening that isn’t getting noticed or at worse being subverted purposefully. Monitor and treat the pneumonia along with the cancer because if not, the pneumonia can sneak up and be the thing that kills you.
I can give you a very local example that also fits your analogy. Chicago is dealing with a “NIMBY” issue with the migrants that Texas is bussing to us. Specifically, some of the traditionally Black neighborhoods and their alderpeople have been aggressively against housing migrants in their communities. It’s a hugely complicated issue because the city of Chicago has treated these communities horribly, since basically forever, so it makes sense for them to distrust the city. Even if you say “well, it’s just because they have the space”, the reason they have empty buildings available is because of huge civic inequalities that have gutted their services and populations. But on the other hand, as of right now, there are children sleeping on police station floors and there’s a huge empty building where we could put them. Is this one of those times when you say “Okay, cancer has to take a backseat, because pneumonia is suddenly at risk of killing you. Once we fix the pneumonia, we can afford to go back to the cancer”? Or do you say “pneumonia seems really scary and urgent right now, but we can only treat it while also addressing the underlying cancer”?
(you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but I’m honestly curious, your region is also getting migrants, yes? Have you had similar NIMBY issues or is this just a Chicago thing?)
I don’t know if the issue in DC has been communities pushing back against housing migrants in their communities so much as DC saying it is at capacity at shelters and hotels that have housed migrants and the Mayor stating they have no more resources to house migrants. However creating more affordable housing in wealthy areas and NIMBYism has been at the forefront for the last 3-4 years in DC but also surrounding counties in VA and MD. And YES it is complicated!!!
For example, I can speak about my county in VA. It borders DC’s NW sector, which means it serves as a hub to the 20 somethings who live in the apartments in the metro accessible areas and old family houses in the woody areas without any metro access. This means people’s options are either renting apartments or buying million dollar homes (builders keep buying old houses killing the trees and building giant monstrosities) for the most part. Therefore, there was a legitimate push to increase middle-income housing. This also disproportionately affects the Black and Latin community, therefore, the advocates pushed for increasing racial equity in Arlington through increasing middle income housing. They proposed removing all single family house zoning for the county, which the board approved unanimously.
Great. However, the county have done nothing to increase transportation or other infrastructure that is needed to support people who might now buy these houses in the middle of nowhere with no public transportation besides badly run buses or ride shares. Our part-time nanny lives in one of these areas and doesn’t have a car. Her options to get to our house (which is 2 miles from her house) or her regular job at the hospital (1.5 miles) is to walk (which is horrible in the hot and humid summers, or frigid winters, take multiple buses which takes her 45-60 minutes, or get an Uber/Lyft. So, once people have realized it is not worth buying these houses because they are still expensive and they have no disposable income for anything else like transportation, they are not buying the houses. So builders go back to building million dollar homes. So now, the county is trying to figure out how they can work with builders to force them to build this multi-family homes but again, still without infrastructure. Also, they can’t dictate prices so builders are still pricing these houses to be pretty darn expensive. Oh and now seniors who own many of these old houses in the woody areas are complaining that they are getting pressure from builders to sell. It’s all a mess!
Side note: If you are worried about our nanny, which I know I would be reading this, we pay for her car transport, which is the least we can do. 🙂
This year I have been mostly driving my kids to school, due to weather, laziness, or fighting… but Sometimes I CAN’T, and in those times they have to walk, bike, or scoot two miles. It is two miles downhill, so the scooting to school is a piece of cake, but the two miles home is less of a cake walk. When they complain I remind them it is only two miles! That said depending on your roads, if I was your Nanny, rather than car transportation, I would want a bike. But, I’m not your Nanny.
Yeah, I’ve walked two miles. But I don’t know if I’d want to walk to miles to get to a physically exhausting job, and then have to walk home again. Especially not if it’s one of those places with no sidewalks and 4 lanes.
Wow, I just had this same conversation with a friend in the Bay Area! Exact same issues of affordable housing outside of the public transit zone. It’s crazy how the same flawed solution is being proposed in both places. And the real problem is that the city was designed for affordable housing to be by public transit, and now those places have become crazy expensive instead of affordable.
One of the things that I’m really curious about is how the word race is used outside of the U.S. – My native students think of race as genetic, probably because certain tribes require you to have a certain percentage of blood (ie Native DNA) to be members. But I have a hard time thinking of all white people sharing similar genes outside of their skin tone genes. Nor do I think of all Black people as being genetically all that similar either. Nor am I that confident that a Native person from the North West of North America has a lot of gene similarity with someone from the South East. And in the official race designations my students agreed with there was a simple Asian, to encompass all people in India, China, Japan, all those people are one race…
Margaret you said America had a clear concept of race, but I will admit I don’t understand our own concept. I understand racism, but not actually race.
Eva-e I left Berlin when a bunch of kids were shouting the N-word at a Turkish man on a bus and the bus driver and everyone else ignored them. Then I moved to a small town where at a recent community meeting a reporter said it was no big deal when folks said the N-word because it was said all the time. (I really dislike this reporter, and community members did push back). Out of the frying pan into the fire!
What are the official race designations you refer to?
Well, the German word “Rasse” is only ever used for cat or dog breeds anymore. Even in Olde books or songs that use the shorthand of black, white, yellow and red Man, the word race isn’t necessarily mentioned alongside it.
Which doesn’t really make it easier to talk about racism. Though you all have got me thinking that maybe it’s the wrong word for what we have anyways. It’s more of a general aversion to anything foreign. And we do have the perfectly fitting word “Fremdenfeindlichkeit” for that (“xenophobia”, but without needing to use Greek).
I’m a little surprised about the “N-word” incident. Not because of the insult (sadly), but because we have our own specific slur for Turks.
I was surprised the N-word was used for a Turkish man as well. The official designations according to my students were White, Black, Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander. The whole thing came up when I read, out loud in a book, that the four directions were sacred like the four races. I wonder if those four races were White, Black, Yellow, and Red? And is Red for all indigenous tribes? Are the Inca of Peru considered Red? It is all so weird.
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