on racism in Europe

Apparently Europeans have been congratulating the U.S. on getting over its racism and electing a black president. Excuse me? Is this the pot calling the kettle… well, black?

A little perspective, just in case you’ve been hearing that Europe thinks we Americans are racist… yeah, they kind of do think that we have a problem, and that they don’t, which mystifies me, quite frankly. I will certainly not deny that the U.S. has a long and ugly history of racism, and miles to go before we can say we’ve gotten beyond race, but we’re making better progress than some people I could mention…

I’ve maintained for some years now (i.e., since long before we elected a Black president) that Europe is about 30 years behind the U.S. in race relations. Maybe 40. Racist physical attacks are no longer socially acceptable here, but even college-educated professionals still think it’s perfectly okay and not at all racist to, say, offer a black person a banana, or make fun of African names. Remember Sarah Palin thinking Africa’s a country? Yeah, here they’re like that with Asia – Germans routinely wander into Thai restaurants and wonder where the sushi is. My kids bring home worksheets from school about American Indians, and the pictures often show a teepee with a totem pole standing next to it. Sigh. And of course, we talked to the principal when Ignatz was in elementary school about the religious segregation, and he said it was a matter of scheduling. We pointed out that it has the effect of separating the Turkish kids from the others, and he argued that the intention was not segregation, but administrative convenience, and therefore it was okay.

In his speech in response to the whole Reverend Wright thing last spring, Obama said it’s a mistake to see race in America as a static situation – not only have race relations changed over time, they continue to change. And I do see evidence of that in the U.S., people asking questions, examining their own assumptions, and maybe thinking about changing them – I think Obama’s candidacy accelerated this process, but it was already underway before that. By contrast, here in Germany, when I point something out as racist, people tend to pat me on the head. They say they don’t mean any harm by it, and seem to think that excuses them, but they don’t show any willingness to learn, or any reason to change their behavior. Meanwhile, the French keep their racial minorities in ghettos, the Italians are fingerprinting all the Roma just for being Roma, and I don’t even know where to start on the Swiss or the Spanish.

Not sure how I want to conclude this. Just, if a European accuses you of being racist by virtue of the country you live in, feel free to laugh in his (or her) face. Obama’s election has started people asking questions here, and that’s good. But they have a long way to go.

Song du jour of the day: A Change Is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke.

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2 responses to “on racism in Europe

  • Melanie

    As a Canadian, I feel so smug. Until I start thinking about our Aboriginal people, or Indian immigrants, or “Asian drivers” or…

  • Isa

    Danny Dyer recently did a documentary series about football hooligans [soccer club gangs]. Here is one of the episode excerpts, covering the Netherlands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eebSAyNbPmU Watch out for language! Definitely NSFW (not safe for work) or children’s ears. Before I knew about this, I asked my husband if we could go sometime to a football game. I thought it would be a great idea! He told me about all of this & how even the crowd sometimes chanted racially-laced songs or threw comments [and sometimes objects] at players whose color was different from their white skin.

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