Behavioural Racism in Germany (and how we can overcome it)

Foto: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

In today’s society, many of us claim that we are moving forward in humanity. We claim that the protests, petitions, and support for anti-racism laws has made the world a better place to be in. We believe that we are close to diminishing racism but are we really there yet? The sharing of my experiences in this article will perhaps bring us a step back from that feeling.

Germany is one of the most diverse countries in the world, being one of the busiest international markets and established global hubs. Thus far, Germany has advocated for and advanced in human rights as compared to many other countries. Anti-racism laws have been in place to protect people who come from different ethnic groups. The laws aim to integrate everyone living in the country to promote racial harmony and abolish discrimination. Such laws have been enforced to stop racial discrimination in schools, workplaces, and public places, with the thought that every human being is equal regardless of skin colour, religious beliefs, and cultural/social background. What has been established may have forced a stop to racial discrimination, but has it actually changed the way we treat people who are different from us? This is where behavioural racism takes place. Let me share about my experiences as an Afghan migrant in Germany to give you a better understanding of what behavioural racism means.

Incident 1 – Public Transport Ticketing Office; During my second week in Germany, everything was unfamiliar to me. Being alone, I had to navigate my way through the German Public Transport System to explore my new living environment. I could not understand the sign boards, leaving me with no option but to approach the ticketing officer to ask for help. I spoke in English as I only knew a little Deutsch then. Before I managed to finish my sentence, the officer screamed at me saying, and I quote, “Speak Deutsch! You are in Germany! Don’t speak to me in English!”. I explained my situation to her, and it took some time for her to cool down before assisting me.

Incident 2 – Swimming Pool; I went to the public pool for a swim. I noticed a middle-aged woman looking at me (her caucasian features suggested that she was German). I did not bother at first but she continued to stare me down. I thought of being courteous by smiling and saying, “Hallo!”. However, her reaction shocked me. Almost instantly, she yelled at me, “Who are you to say hallo to me?!”. I was startled and thought that maybe she was just having a bad day. A few moments later, I saw her making friends with other Germans in the pool, speaking Deutsch to each other cheerfully.

Incident 3 – Bus Ride; I was on my way home in the bus and I had the chance of sitting beside a jovial black lady. She engaged in a conversation with me (in English) and told me that she was born in Germany. As we were talking, out of the blue, an elderly German lady approached our seat and started finger pointing at us, shouting in German, “What are all these foreigners doing here?! Go back home! Back to where you came from!”. I could not understand what she was saying but of course the German-born lady understood whatever she heard and translated it for me. She then told me not to mind the elderly lady and explained to me that she has experienced this one too many times.

The incidents above happened recently and it depicts clearly what behavioural racism is. It tells you that though there are anti-racism laws to protect you from discrimination, there is almost no possibility of protecting yourself from the people in the society you supposedly live in. After all, the actions of the people in said incidents were not wrong or considered a crime in the eyes of law but yet after those experiences, I went home shattered, insulted and feeling shunned by those people. In those moments, I felt that I do not belong in this country and it hurts to know that even Germans who are deemed different from the rest get such treatments.

Foto: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

Is there a solution to this? Is there hope for equality? Can racism ever cease to exist? We know that it is innate in humans to associate with people who are similar to them. Like the term, “Birds of the same feather flock together…” we tend to group ourselves in almost every situation just to feel comfortable. We constantly find others who look like us, act like us, talk like us and steer towards those who believe in what we believe in. Sure, there is nothing wrong with this, it is only natural. The question here is, at what point does it get bad? It becomes a problem when you suddenly find yourself in the minority. You may find yourself segregated, isolated, ignored and outcasted. All this equates to behavioural racism.

„The world is not threatened by those who are evil, but by those who allow evil.“

Albert Einstein

How can we change this? It is easier said than done. Why are some people more racist than others?  This is where the “Nature Vs Nurture” theory comes in the picture. We are born to classify ourselves. Psychologically speaking, we feel more connected to what is familiar to us. Through nurturing, we are exposed to the world where we come to an understanding that there are people who are different from us. We explore beyond our ecological systems and see the uniqueness in each and every being. With that, I can say that racism stems from “Nurture”. When we are brought up and exposed to things that narrow our mind, our vision becomes limited. We listen to what the people in our community tell us. The views of people in our immediate environment are passed down to us. What they think becomes what we think and what they feel becomes what we feel and the cycle repeats itself with the next generation. Without giving a chance to others by learning about their cultures and beliefs, we disregard them because it is not how we know the world to be.

Regardless, I am thankful that there are now anti-racism laws so that racism cannot be excused but what else can we do to prevent behavioural racism? I think that this is the integrity and responsibility of each and everyone of us. These two life skills would help us adapt inclusivity much easier;

1) Perspective Taking

When we put ourselves in the shoes of others, we can exercise empathy and treat them how we would like to be treated. Take Jean Piaget’s theory of mind as an example. The “three mountains task” tells us that when we refuse to look from different points of views, we will not be able to achieve awareness resulting in ignorance.

2) Social Acceptance

For some, it is not easy to break away from what they are accustomed to. We have come very far such that people from different walks of life move around the world to study, work or even explore. Social acceptance is the ability to accept and tolerate differences and diversity in other people or groups of people. When we are open to others, we not only benefit them but ourselves too. We get to learn, grow and progress as a society.

At the end of the day, no one is born a racist. We picked it up as we go along in life and meet people. As individuals, we should remember that no matter where we come from, we all bleed the same red blood and we need each other in one way or another. It is the parents’ job to create awareness in young children to better understand the world they live in. It is the teachers’ job to teach children to accept others for who they are AND it is each and every one of our duty to remind each other that we are all equal in humanity. Someday, we will reach an understanding. Despite it all, I am hopeful.

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