Are Jews afraid of African Americans?
Who is he anyway, this black man the nursery rhyme speaks of? A chimney sweep, an African, a devout Jew, in the black costume of the ancestors? In rhyme, if I remember correctly, this strange question is followed by a clear one: Nobody, nobody is afraid. Strictly speaking, the question is more interesting than possible answers, because it points to a discomfort, of course it disguises a problem, and finally it solves the mystery in the most banal way by not referring to anyone and nothing happened. The fear of the black man is a fear of the stranger par excellence, that is nothing again- can be recognized. Suddenly people are no longer identical with themselves and their environment. Suddenly he stands next to it, outside, becomes a Outside-Sider, also for foreign countries. Is that the reason to call for German beer in Hawaii and to demand German cosiness on the Italian beach? Shortly after the fall of the Wall, a woman said that she had finally visited Italy. It had been nice, the water, the sun, but on the weekends the joy had subsided: Too many foreigners had come to the beach.
In the distance there are always first impressions. If they remind us of what has long been known, then we call our feeling familiar, think it would be like at home, until finally reality suddenly ends the dream and shows us out of the role of the outsider, which in this case also belongs to us . Depending on our temperament and tolerance, we feel betrayed by this country and its people, disappointed about our assumed belonging. The stranger now becomes a problem. In order not to suffocate in the abundance of new impressions, we prefer to use ready-made judgments; pre-judgments allow us to quickly identify alarmingly unknown events, make it easier to look the other way, and ease the pressure to explain. We can master any unknown situation with a solid prejudice. National stereotypes flourish without being contradicted, foreigners are becoming a collective term and associating anonymity. When it becomes concrete, we are dealing with 50 nations and 200 ethnic groups, with traditions, customs, rituals, habits and experiences that are completely different from what has been hitherto in the th
ringer forest was considered the right thing to do. Now the total is added up again, and the Mohammedans, Copts, Buddhists and Jews become foreigners who cause problems, who don't like the meat and don't believe in Christmas Eve. Then strangeness has moved in again, and unease on all sides, there is talk of ingratitude and German xenophobia. How long does someone stay a foreigner? 15 years or 30 or just two? I know people who have been in Berlin for decades, but they are still not Berliners, these Lebanese and Russians, at least that's what the neighbors mean. It is more convenient to measure the world according to your own standards than to expose yourself to its excess. Why is it so difficult to recognize the alien in its inherent logic? Why are people reluctant to accept the strange rituals? They are important to those who practice them. For non-Jews, the Seder table, if they even know about it, is a romantic festival. For Jews, it passed on the change from slavery to freedom, 3,300 years of history, told as if everyone who heard about it had been there. Respect should belong to the unfamiliar, for new insight is gained from it. The familiar norm what for normal is viewed, is no longer exposed to a question: What is eaten is what is on the table, what is on the table is what has always been eaten. This narrow-mindedness is also inherited, while the ability to recognize equal validity diminishes. I learned my first German words as an emigrant child in Leipzig. It was also here that I was a stranger for the first time in my life. I've since had an inkling of what it could mean to be black among whites when social tensions need a scapegoat. A racist utterance is walking on a tram in Berlin: "Africa for the apes. Germany for the Germans." In Berlin no effort is made to get rid of the sentence, but racism violates the German constitution. If the Vietnamese are hunted, the police do not know what to do. The newspaper says that criminals are more often foreigners, reasons are given for irrational xenophobia. Violence against foreigners has become public, while counter-violence is privatizing. Security used to be a state concern, now it costs your own money. Foreigners should actually take care of private protection, like the new companies and entrepreneurs. Our problem consciousness still does not perceive reality.
When I arrive in New York, when I get on the subway, I move seamlessly into the new world: I immediately feel that I am a white woman.
I've never thought of that in Berlin. My clothes, my hairstyle, the way I sit down and look at the passengers, who usually speak Spanish, it could all be the same as anywhere, but I know what only I seem to notice. Blacks get in, later Asians. White women, men in well-fitting suits. This is Wall Street. Now I've got used to it. When the train is deeper into Manhattan, devout Jews come along to read the short-sighted tracts of the Lubavitch or another Rebbe, from the corner I hear nissish words, while otherwise, I drove about 40 minutes, the English palavers against Spanish prevailed. As soon as the subway leaves Midtown to the north, blacks get on again, men and women, Asian and Puerto Rican, and Spanish is spoken loudly again. Above the window front, billboards advertise in what is now the second national language. In America I have an idea of what it means to be European. Back in Berlin, the city seems artificially brightened. Once in New York early on Friday afternoon two boys of about 13 rushed up to me and asked, "Are you jewish?", "Are you Jewish?" In the first moment I am amazed, in the second I nod, and in the third they want to know whether I will light the candles on Yerev Shabbat. Then they hand me a leaflet with pious sentences and run on. Koreans sell fresh vegetables on the same corner for 24 hours, the ambulant umbrella trade is now said to be in the hands of the men from Ghana, and the Chinese look different in Chinatown than in the stock exchange district, where they watch the stock market news with slanted eyes. Because of the war and victory in the Gulf, Italians in Little Italy have stretched garlands with small US state flags across the street. All over town, black men in particular are begging for a few pennies. Poverty visibly has to do with skin and origin. A confusing city, an ethnic conglomerate in which there is coexistence and competition, New York, which offers every people in the world a piece of home.
In Berlin, Turks sometimes sit in the S-Bahn compartment, completely strangers, completely to themselves. The women, with headscarves covering their hair like the pious Jewish women, lower their eyes when a man looks them in the face. Only when they are young can it happen that they think, like everyone of their age, that a part of this well must belong to them. I am amazed to see debates in which German students think that women's headscarves should be removed, that they stand for male oppression. What if, therefore, Turkish girls, on
German way pressured, break the custom? Who can help when these women lose their own culture? There is a tension between adaptation and self-assertion that has at least two sides.
Turks are foreigners. Are Turks Always Foreigners? There are Germans in Germany, and if you are not German you have to be a foreigner, even if your place of birth is Berlin, Hamburg or Leipzig. People have their citizenship, which in Germany can usually only be thought of as one nationality: German. In this ethnically homogeneous area, ethnicity has folkloric value. But I know of an Indian who now has a German passport. He is a German, his wife and his children are German. The fact that they still remain Indians is not just revealed by the turban. American friends of mine made it too. Now, after 30 years in the GDR, the Polish Jews who fled to America from the Nazis and became citizens there have become New Germans. It had to do with housing and pension, but they always speak English to each other and say "the Germans" when they mean their new compatriots. A country is as good as its passport.
The black man's problem is not a theoretical one. Isn't everyone black in their own way, when marginalized, when my and your national discretion is served, when exceptional laws break the same law for everyone, when Vietnamese are deported, Africans are denounced and Polish tourists are attacked by the mob roaring in German, when the public does not pretend to know what needs to be done? The problem in this country is not the foreigners. It is the general human inability of locals to accept that true wealth ultimately comes from spiritual diversity. I call the problem mental tightness, which has been armored with cold. The question now is how this cycle can be interrupted if even the mayor of Frankfurt / Oder thinks that the Poles are to blame if they flood across the border in a disorderly manner instead of insuring themselves against German sensitivity. There is intellectual consensus between East and West on making such statements, but there is obviously an administrative consensus on making such statements. The media and local politics are never innocent, incapacity in office is guilty.
Who are they, these people from all over the world who want to establish new existences and establish themselves? It is easy to tell why they come. How they are received is a broad field. It is easiest for those from the EC area. Equal rights for everyone, an anticipation of Europe, only the hostilities are a reminder that investments must be made in this matter too. You come because travel is a human right, because wealth has a pull, because peace offers a future. Asylum seekers and resettlers, refugees and job seekers, crooks and family fathers, disappointed people and adventurers, the list goes on and on. The energetic leave their ancestral soil, it has always been, they have to learn a language and a new culture. That's how I think in the East, and I forget that the second generation of those born here has long been around, standing between cultures whose double loyalty sometimes tears them apart. How seriously is the loss of their own values taken, which are difficult to reproduce in a narrow, alien world? And why is it so difficult in Germany to provide bilingual education for residents and foreigners when the number of school classes makes it necessary?
Ethnic niches are a retreat into the private sphere, in the East there is a lack of semi-public opinion, the tradition of the country teams, the home associations, the associations and clubs of those who do not want their history to be taken away. Assimilation is only a of possibilities. Employees of different ethnic backgrounds are striving for the German market, and employers will increasingly do so. In the east this fact is not yet part of the day-to-day events, but in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg the district office invited Soviet Jews to a consultation who want to set up their own businesses in the city. It affects people as well as people: the level of satisfaction has to do with success. Successful people handle their personal problems better. But xenophobia and social isolation remain what they are: reasons to be afraid, to establish counter-violence. Uncertainty spreads among immigrants when the debates about the right to stay and residence, the allocation of quotas for integration, the law on foreigners and hatred of foreigners do not take into account the point of view of those affected, when the subtle discrimination does not indicate the right to object because there is no clear law for it. It is a truism that authoritarian upbringing underpins hostility towards people with different attitudes and lifestyles. That this style of upbringing belongs to the German tradition, that authoritarian upbringing in the GDR is part of the
Everyone knows it was the order of the day. People suffer from a lack of democratic tradition. If you don't want to hear, you have to feel, as the saying goes, and that's how it is meant. It is convenient to blame the circumstances for everything, to describe the unpleasant as a side effect of the turning point, those who are turned around are no longer responsible for themselves and others. Unemployment and a lack of housing, as is often argued, are the reasons for hatred of foreigners. But that can't be right, because there is xenophobia everywhere in the world, but it is expressed in quite different ways.
I cannot imagine how the vehement German no to a municipal right to vote for foreigners would come about. I also cannot understand why in the first free and last people's chamber of the GDR only Alliance 90 and PDS voted for it, which is why the SPD joined a grand coalition of rejection. Will these MPs ever hold an account for it? Germany is such a rich country with so many small cities. In Germany-GDR, people struggled with their own identity: citizenship of the GDR, nationality of German. The Sorbs stood for a tolerance that was not to be taken seriously, regional provincialism flourished, and yet there was that elementary solidarity about which I would like to know what actually became of it. People remain more or less the same in all the twists and turns, there is a potential that no one wants any more, that no longer seems to be aware of any tasks.
When Turks say today that they have always been Kurds, it hardly matters in everyday German consciousness: the passport decides, and there is nowhere a Kurdish country with Kurdish citizenship. We could interfere here. But we don't. Ethnic disasters are part of our evening entertainment.
Germany is not a multinational country, in Germany there is no colonial serenity towards people who are different. That doesn't mean, of course, that I glorify colonial history, but it has to do with habits, with the experience of a Commonwealth and the Maghreb culture, growing up with the foreign is different from seeing its purpose primarily as a tourist. Germany advanced the national idea 60 years ago to the ideology of the annihilation of other peoples, biologically argu-
mented and racial acted. Those who did not fit into the Aryan pattern had to be singled out, later exterminated. Racism in German led to Auschwitz. The Nazis left behind a Europe almost entirely free of Jews, a Europe with almost no Sinti and Roma. It is a Europe of borders, from which the borderless should become. Will there be a German Europe or a European Germany? In Germany the protests are already getting louder, the call for better limits, while the dismantling of borders means the free flow of capital, commodities, including labor. You have to see it dialectically again. In Germany one does not think of the fact that around two million people left post-revolutionary Russia to settle more west, nor that America owes its progress to seven million Germans who went overseas. Immigration and emigration take place between suction and pressure. It has always been like that. In 1990 around 5,000 Soviet Jews came to Germany, the media coverage suggests that there are hundreds of thousands. Around 400,000 ethnic Germans came in the same period, much less was known about them. Asylum seekers made the headlines, the East is topical, but the repatriates and asylum seekers are drawn to the other parts of the country and rightly so: everyday life is not exactly friendly to them here. Life remains largely unaffected by these things. I fear that we largely do not know anything about the idea of Europe, in the wake of which the Spanish and French can make themselves at home in any small town. There is a greed for a quick transition, but the experience of involuntary failure slows down. Unemployment and fear of the future blind us to reality and also to the suffering of others.
In Berlin, the Vietnamese are selling cigarettes out of diplomatic suitcases, always hoping that no one will chase them away, no police will ask for a business permit, no storm troop of black-uniformed youths will want to deprive them of their right to stay. In Berlin, even the beautiful Asians look grayer than anywhere else in this world, more depressed, and the few dark-skinned children do not belong in everyday life as a matter of course. That has to do with the spiritual climate, but not with the weather. "Foreigners out" is written on some of the walls, and on Hitler's birthday neo-Nazis shouted in unison in front of Stepan Lewin's window their "Jews out".Stepan is a Russian Jew and came a few months ago; now he is called a quota refugee. When he went to the front door of the Marzahn dormitory that night, where the Jews were looking for apartments and
Waiting for work, the youngsters ran away. You could have beaten up Stepan. Not a single window was opened in the new building opposite. Stepan originally wanted to go to America, that was 10 years ago and it was not possible to leave, then the quotas were full and he heard that Germany was taking unquoted Jews. The USA is a country of immigration and Germany does not want to be one, even if 4 million non-Germans have moved here in the meantime. America quotes entry by country and opportunities. In Germany there are complicated rules of residence. America decides at the border whether someone can stay or not. Germany leaves the applicants waiting in uncertainty for a long time, as if that would drive out immigrants. Stepan, the electrical engineer, has found work as an electrician. He told his colleagues why he, the Jew, came to Berlin as a tourist with his wife and child from Moscow and stayed with a suitcase full of things. His colleagues actually think he is Russian, he is always a foreigner, the fact that he is a Jew was a stranger to them. They thought Judaism was a religion, not a people.
No, Germany is truly not a multiethnic state, nor is it a multicultural country. Diversity is my hope, with which no federal election can be won. But why is it like that? A survey on xenophobia in the ex-GDR showed that Austria, France, Denmark and - an East German peculiarity! - the CSFR, the Netherlands, Greece, Hungary, the Soviet Union, that should also be different in the case of the whole, Italy and the USA are countries that the respondents in the winter of 1990 were very, or at least relatively, likeable. Turkey, Poland, Romania, Algeria, Mozambique, Cuba, Angola, China, Chile, and Nicaragua shared a strong or more moderate aversion. How does Turkey get to this negative peak? There has never been any experience with Turks in the GDR. Have the Turks become synonymous with foreigners? Has the collective term gained apparent prominence through the previously abstract word Turkey, has the national stereotype penetrated everyday life without being asked? Can you export prejudices? There are no easy answers, most people have differentiated views on the subject. One has to clarify where the undecided population majority is drifting on questions of integration, instead of just staring spellbound at the militant minority of German nationalist groups. Reason is powerless against brutality. Official Germany is requested here. Am I wrong, or do I really hear so little of solidarity from German politicians?
Experience has to serve: If the Soviets, Czechs and Hungarians are not attacked irrationally as foreigners, then contact and knowledge, familiarity with the country and its people speaks for the fact that normality assumes everyday life. When people talk about togetherness, I would like to know where it should take place if there are no children with a different religion and culture sitting next to the locals in East German schools and the teachers don't know what homesickness means. It is not enough to let the doner kebab do the job to gain sympathy for Turkey. We need each other in this world, also on German soil. That is only true for those who have developed this need. No, I don't believe in this thesis that Germans and foreigners have to come to terms with each other, I just believe that people of different nationalities and ethnicities treat each other have to. If a wall of nationality divides the law, folklore will be mistaken for integration. On German television, the number of announcers who look different is low:
Why is there no black news anchor, no Turkish, no Yugoslavian, no one from Asia, who speaks the language, is well versed in politics? Is that just discrimination or just common practice? In the east, the children of the African fathers did not necessarily have to go to the army, nor should they go into competitive sports.
Before the unification, 4,489,100 were living in the west compared to 191,190 foreigners from the east. The number of westerners is unlikely to have been affected by the unification of the state, but in the east it was pretended that foreigners were to blame for the dilemma of the foreseeable future. A disgusting xenophobia has set in everywhere, openly and covertly it has several faces, is racist when it comes to Africans and Asians, recognizable non-Europeans, xenophobically nationalistic towards Poles, Turks, Romanians, against Arabs, Cubans, Sinti and Roma and others . Moral appeals are useless, the stomach reacts to the stomach, the head cannot deal with this senselessness. Will the century be drowned in nationalist strife because that is how it began? I have no visions for a quicker and friendlier solution if it is not even possible to discuss the municipal right to vote for foreigners without hysteria.
If we stick to East Germany, let us maintain that attacks on Polish tourists still do not provoke mass protests, that the new Aliens Act definitely defines different categories of being a stranger
and good political behavior demands that the German sense of family fail when Turks and others, including Soviet Jews, want to bring their old parents or their over 16-year-old children. Perhaps that also leads to the lack of stability among unemployed Turkish youth. Solidarity has remained a foreign word. There can be no question of sharing when the possession of the superfluous becomes the norm, while the greater part of humanity suffers from a lack of the bare minimum.
So who's afraid of the black man? "Black is beautiful" was the slogan of the students and active citizens in the USA in the 1960s. The turn of the GDR towards the east of a unified Germany was not accompanied by such slogans. The world of the other was temporarily hidden. The new freedom turned into fear of the freedom of movement of others. Borders closed was the swift call of unity, and it was directed to the east. Today 20 percent of all asylum seekers, resettlers and refugees come to the new federal states, the Altländer administration has created its picture of a strange justice. As always, people are overlooked and not asked. In the east there was only wanderlust. Now the distance comes to the front door and disturbs. But at home and abroad belong together, are this world. You could also say: There are other locals living outside the country's borders, for whom everything else is foreign and Germans are foreigners.
© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | May 2001
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