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Black In Berlin: If Europe Was Graded On Its Race Relations, It’d Fail

White and non-white relationships in Germany and the rest of Europe aren’t as good as locals want you to think. The progressiveness Europe clings to when comparing itself to the United States bares some inconsistencies though some countries in the EU have universal health care, a death penalty ban and recognize same sex marriages. All these things are great but when it comes to acknowledging racism and its impact on the growing multi-cultural population of Europe, I would have to give them a collective D-.

A few examples (click the links, they’ll help)

  • In Finland a chocolate covered marshmallow treat went by the name “negerkyss” (negro kiss) up until 2001. Although the name changed to “Brunberg Kisses” the chocolate company still uses the offensive logo of two stereotypical African cartoon characters barely clothed with bright red lips.
  • In modern day Netherlands on December 5th, Sinterklaas (Santa) is accompanied by his servants Zwarte Piet or Black Pete. Black Petes are commonly portrayed by white Dutch adults who wear black face paint, bright red lips and afro wigs. If the imagery isn’t offensive enough, to add insult to injury the Black Pete’s typically speak pigeon Dutch in a Surinamese accent, jumping around like utter baffoons. Santa is, of course, always white and in a position of authority.
  •  Another holiday culture foul is committed when groups of children in Germany go from door to door pretending to be the Wise Men celebrating the birth of Jesus. They sing and ask for donations for charity while wearing costumes. One kid gets to paint his face black because it is believed that one of the wise men was from Africa. We (as in Christmas celebrating Christians) can ignore the fact that Jesus most likely wasn’t born in the winter time but ,wait oh wait, in the interest of historical accuracy Germans have to have one black wise man? Really Germany?
  • Most recently in my city of Berlin, a theater group decided to cast a white man in blackface as the lead black character in the play “I’m not Rappaport.” The theater maintains they have no racist intention and that basically, in Germany’s most cosmopolitan city, they couldn’t find one suitable black actor who spoke with a “perfect” German accent. I call shenanigans.

Racism denial aficionados usual spam the Internets and dinner conversation with the following gems and after my eyerolls I usually give replies like these:

If you don’t like the traditions of the Netherlands/Germany/etc, you can just pack up and leave.

Well, what an intelligent and truly original argument. Anti-immigration rhetoric really doesn’t do well in painting anyone as an unracist, just sayin’. Telling someone to GTFO is probably one of the most xenophobic defense mechanisms I have ever heard. I really get it, you want to be allowed to be as bigoted and insensitive as you want in your own country but we are in modern times and the gates are open. Not only are borders disappearing but there are brown and black Germans, people who find these things just as offensive as an politically correct, uber-sensitive American such as myself. Many claim they don’t hear criticisms coming from the inside, I would argue that they aren’t exactly listening and simply don’t want to.

Europe is not North America. Europe does not have the same cultural context of America in regards to blackface and minstrel shows therefore our black face isn’t racist.

Not having the same racist history as America doesn’t make you exempt from committing racist acts in modern day. Just because Europe doesn’t share the same history of minstrel shows, it does not mean it is immune to the influence of them. How do you suspect that the same image of black people that disseminated across America is still common place globally and dancing like an idiot around Santa Claus? Europe can no longer seek shelter in their “this isn’t America” cocoon. Act accordingly by accepting that people find it offensive and change. Painting one’s skin or mimicking ethnic traits of a minority as a general rule of thumb is not cool. It’s debasing and unnecessary! FACT.

It is totally harmless and it’s strickly for the LOL’s.

Harmless to you, that’s your privilege as a member of the majority culture! In many instances these “portrayals” of dark skinned people are the only depictions of minorities that some people will ever see. There simply are not enough black people to provide balance to often negative messages these images send. I think of the effects on the psyche of a child, especially one of color growing up bombarded with this imagery. How will they grow up feeling about themselves  if they constantly see year after year, dark skin people acting a fool for Santa and learning that it’s only cool to have dark skin when you can wipe it off.

It’s not racist/offensive.

Sigh. Germans, Dutch, Danes, French, Brits, have all looked me dead in the face and told me something that offended me was not racist. Like a little kid with their fingers in their ears, they just aren’t hearing it. I think Europeans have an aschewed understanding of racism. Hell, even Americans have a hard time discerning what is racist and what is not and supposedly we wrote the book. The problem is that many believe racism is an American anomaly and when they envision racism they picture active violence, flagrant misuse and abuse towards a certain group. They don’t understand that racism isn’t always making white and blacks use different water fountains or hauling  state deemed undesirables to concentration camps. It’s not always so blatant and brutal. It can also be subtle, passive, subliminal. Pertuating archetypes that present an entire race as inferior imbeciles, dehumanzing an entire race of people to some one dimensional shade of grease paint  and using a white German for a role because you simply don’t think a non-ethnic German can do a good enough job are all manifestations of racist sentiments.

I am just being an over-sensitive American?


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