“Go Back to Africa!”

“GO BACK TO AFRICA!”, he yelled.   I was shocked and angry and hurt and ashamed, each an individual feeling, but all experienced at the same time.  It was our first day in Karlsruhe, Germany.  The sun was shining brightly and my husband (CH) and I had just left the hotel, excited to explore this beautiful new city on foot. We had the promise of new possibilities in our minds and I was acutely aware that we might be walking through our new home for the first time.  After a few blocks, we stopped to check out a menu posted outside a local pub.  It was, of course written in German, so I was staring intently at the words, trying to translate when I heard the man yelling.  I turned to CH and asked him what was said because I didn’t hear it clearly.  I saw this man still looking at my husband angrily as he walked away.  He was an older German man of fairly slight stature.  We were instantly transported from our carefree day into a place neither of us wanted to be.  How dare this man do this to us. How dare he verbally assault us this way.  But he wasn’t really directing his anger toward me, only my husband. My white skin protected me from his scorn.  That even made me more angry.  Why would this man feel it was OK to call out another person like that in broad daylight in the middle of the street?  After talking for a few minutes about how much the situation sucked, we both decided to “let it go” and continued on trying to enjoy our day.  It kept nagging at me though.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that could happen again at any time.  I was now on guard.

What bothered me the most was that someone had tried to hurt my husband.  That man doesn’t know how caring and loving my husband is.  He doesn’t know how smart and successful he is.  He doesn’t know that my husband is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.  He didn’t even know that my husband is not African, not that it mattered.  The fact is……that man knew nothing about my husband, except that he has darker skin.

I often hear on the news and in social media people saying that they are sick of hearing about race….wondering why people of color can’t just stop talking about it, thinking about it.  What I have learned by being the caucasian wife of a black man is that when you aren’t white, society requires you to think about race.  Not thinking about race can put you in questionable situations at best, dangerous situations at worst.  You could be walking down the street with your wife in a fabulous new country and BAM!  you are reminded that your race is a problem for some folks.

I certainly don’t think this bigoted man is representative of Germany.  I met many wonderful Germans on our trip and overall we were treated very kindly.  Racism and xenophobia know no borders.  Something similar happened to CH in our neighborhood in the US a few years ago.  We live in a nice upper middle class community that is more racially diverse than most and only 25 miles from from the center of liberalism, Berkeley, California.  CH was out walking our little dog one night and a group of young white men drove by yelling, “Go Home N!#*$r!”  I was blown away that something like that could happen in our neighborhood.  It still breaks my heart.  Just as on the street in Karlsruhe, I was shocked….shocked that it happened a block from our home and that young people in our community would do that to another human being.  I was angry that my comfort in our neighborhood was being challenged.  I was angry that someone would target a member of my family. I was hurt that the man I love was treated in such a degrading way.  I was ashamed because people that I share a heritage with could be so cruel.  I know that those young men in the car also aren’t representative of our community as a whole.  That is important to keep in mind, but it still stings when such an ugly experience happens.  To pretend that black people just bring race issues onto themselves and that if they only stopped thinking and talking about it, everything would be fine, is a lie.

So the world is imperfect….this is no revelation. We move on and don’t let others’ negativity determine our reality. I try to do what I can to be a good person and reflect the change I want to see.  However, you can’t deny it leaves a mark.  We are all a sum of the vast experiences imprinted on us.  As humans we are fortunate when we are still net positive.

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8 thoughts on ““Go Back to Africa!”

  1. Living now in South Africa we do a lot of thinking about race. Racism here is one of those huge elephants in the room – I assume that it has been such a huge part of life here for such a long time that it is always there, hanging in the air. But of course now it’s probably more hidden. Hopefully the incident you experienced will be a very rare one, most Germans I know of our generation and younger are wonderful people.

  2. sadly, people of all races including whites are victims of verbal and other racial abuse. It’s nonsense really. The color of one’s skin matters not, it’s their morals and behaviors that speak for them.

  3. In some cases it has nothing to do with color, it is just being different than the other person, I have been in Germany quite a while now but one thing always comes back to mind when I hear about Germans and how nice they sometimes are NOT… I was in Erlangen in the late 80’s in a bar downtown in the city near the Bahnhof sitting with an American friend that was visiting from the US, I frequented this bar quite often prior to this mind you never without any type of problem. Until that day when me and my friend are talking in English and on the table behind us I hear the Germans a group of 4 people talking trash about Americans, how ignorant we are, how pitiful and and and I wont go into details but I enjoyed the look on all their faces when I turned toward them and spoke to them in my Semi-Fluent German at the time and politely said “Jeder hat eine meinung und deins ist mir scheiss egal!” tranlslated Everyone has an opinion and yours isn’t worth shit to me. It wasn’t that I told him off that made me feel good, it was the result of the barkeeper noting I was upset, he came over asked me what was wrong and very unpolitely asked the 4 gentlemen on the table behind me to leave.

    So as you said not all Germans are ignorant however presenlty with the political refugee situation and the problems that are coming with it many Germans are not showing their best side of themselves, they fear job loss, crime increase etc. which is showing in some cities around Germany as we speak… not trying to stand up for anyone’s ignorance mind you, just trying to shed some light into the present situation within Germany right now.. Thus regardless of color if you don’t speak German and act or look like a German, you could run into issues right now.

    • Yes, I’m aware of that. Honestly I don’t care the reason people are assholes, just that they are. I completely understand people being concerned about the current refugee situation. I think most people would be, even those that know it is the right thing to do to help. However, there is a huge chasm between concern and being filled with the kind of hate and ignorance that would motivate someone to scream at a stranger in the middle of the street. I have no understanding or tolerance for that. I may not be able to do anything about the situation at the time, but what I can do is call it out as wrong. Not understandably wrong, but just wrong.

  4. Sadly, like every nation, there are small minded people. If you are able to follow the German news (maybe not yet if your German skills still need working on) you’ll hear about issues with the refugees being treated badly or attacked in some places. It is really a shame, as most Germans are very friendly. You can see that with how the refugees have been welcomed recently in Munich (you can find news reports from the BBC about it).

    • Yes, I have been following it very closely. It has been wonderful to see the kindness of the Germans that have been welcoming and assisting the refugees and the German Government that has taken them in. I do understand German citizens being very wary of such an influx of foreigners, but we are all human beings sharing this planet. I do hope the refugees will appreciate what is being done for them and do their best to assimilate into German culture.

      The US recently had refugee children migrating from war torn Central America. There were a number of US citizens that were horrible to these children. Yes, every nation has small minded people. I’m just glad that it always seems they are in the minority. Thank you for your comment.

  5. There is no excuse. None. Many Germans (especially the older generations) are quick to scold people for doing unthoughtful things (two families meet in the entrance of a grocery store and stop to chat, blocking the entire entrance/exit, crossing against the light in front of children, making a driving mistake, parking where one is not allowed to park…). But shouting at someone on the street just because of his or her skin color…Not ok anywhere at any time. The refugee crisis does not give the fortunate among us license to be a-holes. I cannot fathom people who go out of their way to hurt others and take pleasure in it.

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