Battling everyday racism, yellow fever and prejudices, I write about becoming German and what it took to create an identity of my own.
Only eight years old and terrified of dying.
Twenty-five years ago, on Saturday 22nd August 1992, the earth burned in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, Germany. For five consecutive nights racists unleashed their aggressions and hatred without any repercussions from the police or public.
Worse still, more than 3,000 onlookers cheered, whilst those halfwits set an apartment block ablaze. More than one-hundred Vietnamese workers, including a TV crew, were still trapped inside the burning building; no one helped. The rioters continued, targeting homes of foreign workers and refugees. The ruling party at that time, the CDU (ironically, the “C” stands for “Christian”), was quick to shift the blame to economic migrants who were allegedly disturbing the peace.
For months, when I closed my eyes, all I could see were flames, all I could hear was the crashing sound of Molotov cocktails and a crowd of laughing people, united in their hate. I was certain that, sooner or later, our house would be the next one to burn. My sleepless nights were bombarded by thoughts of how to escape a smoke-filled building.
During that summer I realised I was not German. At least not in the eyes of those drunk Nazis with their proud beer guts, bad hairdos and East German accents. Once my eyes were wide open, it was painful to keep up with the reality of being a PoC in the diaspora.
Obviously, I am comfortable right now and I like living and working in Germany. However, I have to reside myself to the fact that non-PoCs do not understand my struggles; I wonder whether non-PoCs will ever be able to understand my experiences. There’s part of me that really doesn’t expect people to ever comprehend them, but here goes.
I will never forget the moment, when my English teacher at school imitated “chinky eyes” to explain what “almond eyes” meant. Or the regular yellow face skits on TV shows, ridiculing East Asians by making fun of their facial features and accents. Most of those comedy characters were played by actors who are now household names, but what sort of bigot engages in anti-racism campaigns and is outspoken about their support for diversity, after performing such offensive nonsense? Huh?
As a child, all I ever wanted to be was ‚white’. Every doll, every character in a book, star in a movie and every role model was white. Crippling self-doubt was harsh and often accompanied by anger issues. However, as cliché as it sounds, music helped me. Music and a healthy dose of self-acceptance.
I studied the violin, so growing up I was surrounded with a multicultural group of fellow students and teachers ; there was simply less space for racist numbskulls in my life. The musical community was a loud, colourful mixture of every country possible;
in this environment it didn’t matter if you were yellow, white or black – nothing else mattered, only your performance. This was the respite from racism. I welcomed the archievement-oriented society of the musical world and used it as an escape. It was down to the music that I didn’t end up being bitter, abrasive or apathetic.
Being constantly exposed to micro-aggressions has left its mark.
I liken it to being poked constantly with ultra-thin needles; either you’ll begin to bleed or you become numb over time. I’ve had complete strangers asking me “Where do you really come from?” expecting a detailed analysis of my whole family tree . I usually answer with “From home!” which rarely leaves them satisfied. Seldom do they realise, that this seemingly innocent question isolates us from our fellow citizens, makes us foreigners in our own homes and crushes any hope of acceptance we’ve ever had.
Integration is not a one-way street, baby.
Instead of being asked where I have ‚come from’, I’d rather be asked „Where are you going?„. I’d rather explore if our paths are the same, or whether they are crossing or even being redirected to opposing places.
Lately, since I started working as a general manager for the local Green Party in Germany, the insults have piled up.
“I don’t shake hands with the likes of you.”
“Do your dogs taste any good?”
“Go back to your country!”
“My ex-girlfriends were all Asian, I love Asia.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you could pronnounce the ‚R’.”
„You all look the same, how do you recognise each other?“
„You are so exotic, I think it’s fascinating that you are from Asia.“
“Ching, chang, chong.”
“I hope you get bombed back to North Korea.“
“You are not as gentle as I thought you’d be. Not like an Asian.”
“Your German is pretty good — for a chink.”
Well, these are just excerpts of rather ‚tame‘ insults I’ve had to endure all my life. At first glance to you, they may not seem that aggressive, but the vast amount of verbal offences are taking their toll and are contributing to a crushing weight on a PoC’s soul.
I think that we all are racist. We all have prejudices.
Yes, let’s face it, in modern society most cultures have racist attitudes.
Some people are just better at battling against racism by applying knowledge, experience and empathy. We are not born with the ability to label and prejudge others based on the colour of their skin, we learn this, it certainly gets pounded into us every day. At school, through the media and the role models we follow. If we can learn how to be racist, we can also ‚unlearn‘ it.
But am I a real German? I simply don’t know, because despite being born and raised here, I don’t think I am quite there yet — and I’m not sure I ever will be. I don’t believe that I will ever reach complete acceptance and I will never blend in.
But guess what? That’s okay! I’ve now come to terms with what and who I am. I have my own, unique identity and I will be the best, damn German I can be.
Someone who lives in two worlds. Someone who values the education, the peace and opportunities of this country and who wants to cherish and share that knowledge with others. And someone who is obsessed with pretzels and a pretty Dirndl.
Growing up German is a three part series, in which I talk about my experiences in 90s Germany. Battling everyday racism, yellow fever and prejudices, I write about becoming German and what it took to create an identity of my own.
Edited by Zoë Brinn and Piet Zorn from HogWordsUK.
(1) A Neverending Quest
(2) Alone in the Diaspora
(3) Mine. Yours. Ours?