“No, I meant where are you really from?” on being black and German

“No, I meant where are you really from?” on being black and German

Media Diversified

Ella Achola
School of Oriental and African Studies, London

“No, I meant where are you really from?” is a micro-aggression I am all too familiar with when my simple answer of “Berlin” is perceived as insufficient to a query that blatantly illustrates how my brown self is read as out of reach of possible German citizenship. It is usually asked with a slight sense of exasperation, perhaps a hint of irritation, at the fact that I had oh-so-obviously not caught on to what I was really being asked. That I may not want to answer such a question within the first three minutes of a conversation with someone I have never met before does not come to mind.

In 1986, May Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye engaged in a conversation that was long overdue. They opened up the debate about being black and German, two characteristics, which were and still are often read as inherently oppositional.[1] Be it a question about our fluency in the German language or someone yelling “N****rs out!” micro-aggressions and racism are still very much reality for the 500,000 black Germans today. One example involves a pub in the Berlin borough of Kreuzberg where the owner recently banned all black people from his premises in a supposed effort to curb the dealing of drugs…

…It is this lack of understanding that I find most frustrating. Whilst explaining to a white German man that it annoys me to be asked where I ‘really come from’, he responds that it is mere curiosity and not intended to be harmful. Telling a white German woman that I find it offensive for her to use the old terminology of Negerkuss (n****r kiss) in reference to a type of sweet now called Schokokuss (chocolate kiss), she insists I should reclaim the word. That I might not want to suppress my feelings and cater to their curiosity or reclaim such a term appears irrelevant.

My feelings also seem irrelevant as I watch the film ‘Serial (Bad) Weddings’ in a tiny town in Germany, a movie that attempts to highlight racism and encourage critical awareness. ‘Serial (Bad) Weddings’ is a French film that features two (racist) Catholic parents who lament the fact that their four daughters all choose to marry non-white men, a Jew, Chinese, Arab and Ivorian to be precise. The (white) audience loved it, laughing at every (racist) joke and assured that their everyday racism is not that serious of an issue after all. In the midst of their laughter, the film made me uncomfortable. As the product of an interracial marriage I cannot laugh when the white French mother cries at the thought of ‘mixed-race’ children. Having been asked whether I was the au-pair of my white niece, I cannot laugh at how this same white woman has nightmares of being identified as the nanny of these two brown children now part of her family…

…With time I learned that there is no one way to be black and a woman, and that being black and German is in no way a contradiction in terms. In fact, I have acquired the power to create a combination of the traits that is unique to me. I can be black, a woman and German and all three characteristics can define me equally…

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