Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m asking the same short question all over again. Still? Racial profiling and resentments? In the year 2016? Still? Burning refugee shelters? Still? Old clichés and preconceptions? Still? Yes, ‘still’… and I can’t really say I’m surprised about the rise of conservative and reactionary movements in Europe and a certain amount of racism. But I’ve gotten tired and helpless by now, partly even resigned. Still? After everything humanity achieved and went through? Yes, unfortunately. The good news: humanity will eventually overcome racism one day. The bad news: it isn’t sure whether we might experience it in our lifetime and the road towards tolerance will be repaved with a lot of pain and suffering, I’m afraid.
A small step from ignorance to hostility
I grew up in a provincial village near a small town in the East of Germany, shortly after the Wall came down and the country got reunited. I spent a big part of my adolescence in this small town area. Believe it or not but I grew up with racism on a daily basis, even if it sometimes was on quite a subtle level. Due to over four decades of cultural isolation the people of the former German Democratic Republic weren’t used to cultural plurality, external influences and all sorts of intercultural exchange. Capitalism came over those people like a hurricane after 1990, eventually too quickly and reckless as we now know. The way those people in the East of Germany got exploited by the west deserves a whole different observation but to cut it short: it wasn’t helpful in their personal progress. I remember when I hung out with my ‘friends’ back then at the village and how they referred to people of different origin, giving them nicknames I won’t list right here. They weren’t pleasant. And not all of those who used such names were stereotypical Nazis. They just didn’t know any better but it’s a small step from ignorance to hostility. Over the years those stereotypes became tightened opinions. It’s even weirder when you consider the fact that the federal German state of Saxony still – up to this day – got the lowest percentage of foreigners in the whole country but seems to be the most hostile territory in Germany at the moment.
To a certain degree and on an abstract level, I understand a few of those people although this is a weird thing to say, considering the fact that they insult and attack refugees, burn down their quarters and demonstrate in the streets of Dresden under the ‘Pegida’ moniker with obvious racist and hateful paroles. And that of course is NOT tolerable on any level, so don’t get me wrong. Still, not everyone who’s voting for a right-wing party is a Nazi; it might not even be the majority.
Those people are afraid and frustrated and are looking for someone to blame. They could blame the politicians who exploited them, cut the social services and gives them no perspective but that’s tougher and way less simple than blaming those who are even more miserable than them.
Most of these people are scared of many things. Society has changed so much in the past 26 years since the Berlin Wall came down. Digitalization and globalization changed the job scenery forever, making it difficult to keep pace. Old rules don’t apply anymore, the media landscape changes, gender roles are redefined and suddenly all the young people go vegan and gluten-free: imagine that from the perspective of such a person in their mid 50s. People tend to long for stability and something to hold on to and intercultural exchange isn’t helpful for such a purpose. Still, it’s inevitable and sooner or later we all need to accept this.
Populists play the race card and want you to keep it simple
The example of those East German people is symptomatic for racist fears. The reasons might be different in every country but racism is often used as an outlet for something else. Personal frustration, social injustice or a lack of education – you name it. The danger comes from those who take advantage of those fears and even encourage you to go this demonic path. Whether it’s Germany’s AfD, Great Britain’s UKIP, Marine Le Pen in France and, of course, Mr. Donald Trump himself: Those people use your fears to gain power, they don’t want you think in a complex way and question national and global politics. They want you to keep it simple, blame others and not them. When we look for societal problems we don’t need to look to the right or left for those to blame but for those at the top. And whether it’s Angela Merkel, David Cameron and maybe even the National Rifle Association in the USA – a lot of decision makers are aware of that.
Nobody is born a racist, maybe that’s why I never got the concept of racism, even though I grew up in that region. My first crush was the only black girl in school. I couldn’t care less back then what colour her skin was. It never mattered and only now I understand how tough growing up in that small town in the 90s must have been for her. Never ever did I understand hostility against foreign people, anti-Semitism and all these things. Maybe that’s why I moved away in the end.
Racism isn’t a disease that can’t be treated; it’s a question of attitude, education, reflection and tolerance.
You don’t need to get along with all foreign and new things, different traditions, food, religion or whatever – nobody can pull that off in an instant and it’s totally fine to remain sceptical towards a few things. I never understood the concept of Sushi but whoever likes to eat it shall do it. What might be strange to you is totally normal for another person and the other way around. There’s a human being behind all these things after all. And yes, that person can be an asshole but not because he’s part of a certain ethnos or religion. That assumption is bullshit and everybody knows that.
You can’t turn back the wheel of human evolution and therefor racism has to vanish
Today’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a hurtful reminder that racism is still alive in many parts of the world but also to remind us that humanity already came a long way. We’re not quite there yet, obviously. The digitalization allows us to have access to global information; gaining knowledge our parents and grandparents didn’t have before. We can travel the world with a minimum amount of money, learn new languages, and experience different cultures right in our neighbourhood or abroad.
The stereotypes might not go away over night but every generation takes small steps to a more intercultural society, simply because you can’t turn back the wheel of human evolution. We are one world in the end and the current refugee crisis in Europe only confirms that. You can’t ignore that anymore. The world’s conflicts are our conflicts and that realization is as overdue as it is painful right now. The road is still long and it might even get uglier before it gets better but the only cure against racism is tolerance, knowledge and not getting too hysterical about society’s current changes. One day, we’ll overcome racism until then we have to fight against it on a daily basis in small, moderate but dertermined steps. Yes, still.
Please note: All articles in the EDITORIAL section are based on the personal opinion of the writer.