WHITE GERMANS DON'T KNOW A THING ABOUT RACISM. THEY DON'T EVEN RECOGNIZE THAT THEIR IGNORANCE IS A LUXURY AND STEMS FROM A CERTAIN KIND OF PRIVILEGE. EVEN THOUGH THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I OFFICIALLY GIVE A SPEECH ABOUT RACISM, I AM EXPERT IN THIS FIELD; IT IS A PART OF MY LIFE, EVER SINCE I CAN THINK.
My mother and I just visited a pediatrician. I am a blissful four-year-old because the doctor just gave me a candy for my courage during our visit. We are on our way home when a group of young men approaches us from the other side of the sidewalk. Suddenly, they start to shout at my mother. They call her a Chinese whore. They tell her to fuck off. Then, they disappear. My mother clenches my hand. What happened just now, I don't understand. Only that these men were angry and my mother was helpless. She turns towards me with tears of anger in her eyes and asks me in Vietnamese: Why didn't you say something?
All men were white.
WHAT DID WE DO TO THEM? WITHOUT HAVING ANYONE TO EXPLAIN IT TO ME, I IMMEDIATELY KNEW THAT THESE WHITE MEN DIDN'T LIKE THE WAY WE LOOKED. HOW OUR SKIN IS BROWN. WHY DID I HAVE TO LEARN IT IN THIS WAY? I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN GERMANY, AS A CHILD OF VIETNAMESE IMMIGRANTS.
It's my first day in preschool. In order to get to know each other, we are supposed to tell a bit about us. It is my turn and the teacher asks me to tell everyone what I like the most. „I like to go to fae!“ The teacher looks at me, confused. I have to repeat the sentence. „FAE!“ Perplexion in his eyes remains. I also stare at him, befuddled. How boring is his life? He has never been to a ... fair? It's just later that I understood the situation. My teacher couldn't just understand what I said, because I spoke with a thick Vietnamese accent. After that realization, I was deeply ashamed of myself.
I LEARN THAT I AM DIFFERENT. OR RATHER, APPEAR TO BE DIFFERENT, BECAUSE OF MY LANGUAGE, MY ORIGIN, MY SKIN COLOR. I CAN NOT CHANGE THESE. BUT I CAN DENY THEM. I CAN ASSIMILATE AND TRY TO BLEND IN. I TRY TO BE PERFECT TO THE EYES OF WHITE PEOPLE. THEY WILL CONDONE MY BROWN SKIN AND BLACK HAIR AND THEN MAYBE ACCEPT ME AS ONE OF THEM.
In elementary school, a white girl asks me,„May I look at your eyes? They are so interesting, completely different from mine. You have this funny skin fold, it's weird!“
I am a teenager. While I ace German tests, I feel ashamed of my name, ashamed of the poor German of my parents. Why didn't they integrate better into German society? Not only am I ashamed of other Vietnamese but also of all People of Color. I feel collective guilt. If they commit a crime, loiter about, or act in stereotypical ways, they damage my hardearned white-friendly reputation. I strive to be white by all means. I am nice and pleasant and avoid being too ethnic. Sometimes, I even feel completely safe among white people, as if I was living in a post-racial world.
But then I go ...
... out on the street and a random man says that I don't belong here. Or, totally unknown people feel the need to greet me with 'konnichiwa'.
... to a supermarket and I hear white kids saying Ching Chang Chong behind my back.
... to a bar and white men ask me, why I speak German so well, knowing that those words hurt me.
Or, I am standing in front of a bar and a white man, whom I refuse to give a cigarette, gets so angry at me and he responds with the Hitler salute and shouts, „get out of Germany!“
Racism is also prevalent in a romantic relationship. My white boyfriend talks about the 'Fitschi-Markt (ching chang chong market)' on the border of Czech Republic, while I lie next to him, literally naked.
AT WORK, AT MY BOYFRIEND'S PARENTS, AT UNIVERSITY, DURING AN INTERNSHIP, DURING PROTESTS AGAINST PEGIDA, EVERYWHERE I AM DIFFERENT. HAVE I NEVER BEEN GOOD ENOUGH, EVEN THOUGH I ALWAYS CATERED TO WHITE PEOPLE'S NEEDS, EVEN THOUGH IT INTERNALLY TORE MYSELF APART? WHITE MEN AND WOMEN ASK ME, WHERE I AM FROM. THEY ARE NOT SATISFIED, WHEN MY REPLY IS GERMANY AND KEEP ASKING UNTIL THEY CAN FINALLY HEAR WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR. THE THING THAT FITS INTO THEIR WORLD VIEW. SOMETIMES, THEY DON'T SIMPLY ASK. THEY MAKE RANDOM GUESSES. „CHINA? THAILAND? KOREA?“
THEY WANT TO KNOW, IF I DO ORIGAMI AND KARATE. THEY TOUCH MY HAIR WITHOUT PERMISSION. THEYARE SURPRISED WHEN THEY HEAR ME SPEAKING GERMAN IMPECCABLY. THEY MISPRONOUNCE MY NAME. THEY ALWAYS DO.
I START TO QUESTION MY PSEUDO-WHITENESS. AFTER ALL - I AM NOT WHITE. THEY DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT SKIN COLOR, BECAUSE IN THEIR MINDS, THEY DON'T HAVE ANY. COLOR DOESN'T EXIST FOR THEM. BEING FREE FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF RACISM, THEY AGGRESSIVELY TURN THEIR REALITY INTO THE UNIVERSAL ONE, BY DENYING EVERY OTHER REALITY. THUS, IF SOMEONE DOESN'T AGREE WITH THEIR UNIVERSAL TRUTH, THE PERSON IS WRONG. TO THEM, RACISM IS JUST A MATTER OF PERCEPTION.
„Maybe they just wanted to talk with you, when they say 'nihao' to you.“
„People are just curios.“
„Why are you so sensitive all the time?“
At the beginning of my 20's, I realize that white people don't have a clue, what racism is. I also come to understand, that I cannot discuss racism with most of white people and frankly – I don't want to anymore. They just don't listen. Or they try to reinvent my experience of racism. They feel qualified to be able to talk about racism impartially, as if they aren't the part of it. They think my judgement is affected by emotions.
BUT HOW CAN I NOT BE EMOTIONAL WHEN RACISM IS IN FACT BASED ON EXPLOITING PEOPLE'S SELFWORTH? AND HOW IS WHITE PEOPLE'S INTERPRETATION ABOUT RACISM OBJECTIVE, WHEN RACISM IS A SYSTEM OF DISCRIMINATION, OF WHICH WHITE PEOPLE BENEFIT? NOTHING IS NEUTRAL ABOUT RACISM. PEOPLE WHO DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS ARE THE PART OF THE PROBLEM.
I am in the middle of 20's. I recognize my brown-skinned self and this sharpens my perception of society. I don't hold back anymore. I don't cater to white feelings anymore. All alarms go off, as soon as I sense the slightest frown of disapproval because of my skin color. I don't owe a smile to white strangers, because everywhere there are white people, who can deeply hurt me with just one word. Not being used to People of Color defending themselves, white people like to play mind games: „Aren't you to blame for your experiences, because you like to see yourself so 'different' from others? Just don't feel offended. All right?“
ONLY WHEN IGNORANT, PSEUDO-PROGRESSIVE, SECRETLY RIGHT-WING WHITE PEOPLE DON'T EXCLUDE ME WITH UNCONSCIOUS OR MERCILESS RACISM ANYMORE,
ONLY WHEN THEY DON'T DENY MY EXPERIENCE, MY REALITY, MY EXISTENCE ANYMORE,
ONLY THEN I WON'T FEEL OFFENDED.
BECAUSE ONLY THEN - NOBODY OFFENDS ME.
by Thi Ngoc Han Le