My mother is from Germany. My father is from Ghana. I am from Berlin. I’m a black German. Yet I have to ask myself every day: What’s everyone’s problem with me?
It’s not as if I’m frequently confronted about my appearance directly. No, it isn’t so blatantly obvious.
It usually happens subtly. It’s the looks I get. It’s the way that I am spoken to.
I’ve experienced it often when I ask someone for directions, particularly when I ask older people. Then come the replies: “Excuse me, I only speak German,” even before I’ve said anything.
Many people think that I’m a tourist or that I can’t possibly be from here. When I start to speak, they’re often surprised.
This both annoys and saddens me.
There are people in Germany who aren’t white and who have roots in another country.
Once when I was working at a convention, I had a long conversation with a man who was there. He explained to me that he frequently traveled to Africa and really appreciated the culture there. Suddenly he said, “You speak very good German, where are you really from?”
When I told him that I’m from Berlin, he asked again. “Yes, but really? What is your heritage?“
Maybe this isn’t real discrimination. Maybe he wasn’t even trying to be rude. But the fact that even today I must still repeatedly explain my appearance and where I come from both hurts and shocks me.
It’s the small things. People always want to touch my hair. Some even do it without asking. It happens in clubs, on the street, everywhere. “Wow it’s totally soft. It feels like sheep’s wool.”
You might think I’d be flattered. But no, I’m not. I just want to be left alone.
In so many situations, I feel exotic.
If someone is just curious, okay. But to be pigeon-holed like this is tiring. How often do I have to hear that I must certainly listen to a specific type of music because I am black, or that good dancing and passion are in my blood?
I’m shocked that I still have to explain myself in the year 2017, in a globalized, multicultural world. Even in a metropolis like Berlin. It’s not something new that there are people in Germany who aren’t white and who have roots in some other country.
Nevertheless, we have to repeatedly explain that we’re just Germans.
Sometimes I don’t know if it’s because I look different or just because people have prejudices. At the supermarket, I often feel people staring directly at me.
It’s sad that I always have to explain who I am, where I come from and how I look.
One time, I had a particularly harsh experience. I went into a drugstore and, from the moment I walked in, the cashier didn’t take her eyes off me, and followed me around the store with her gaze. I was extremeley nervous.
I felt like I was doing something forbidden, but I was only there to shop. After I paid, she wanted to check my bag. She said I had stolen a tube of lipstick.
I had a long discussion with her and explained that I hadn’t stolen anything and that she could also feel free to show me the security footage. She wanted to see my bag anyway. In the end, she of course didn’t find anything, but she also didn’t apologize.
The worst thing is that part of me has gotten used to this. I try to make the best of such shameful situations. I try to explain my background and hope afterwards that the person behaves differently next time.
I also catch myself again and again trying to approach strangers with extra friendliness and kindness. I often feel as if I have to shower people with politeness so that they will see that I’m a normal, decent woman.
I try to show an extra good side of myself and not confirm any prejudices that people may have.
I would love to say one thing to everyone in Germany who doesn’t seem to understand: People can be German even if they don’t look German. I wish more people would accept this.
It’s not a problem if someone sincerely asks me how I self-identify. But it’s sad that I always have to explain who I am, where I come from, and how I look.
And this is not only sad for me, but also for the people who treat me with such disrespect.