I am always delighted by the extreme lengths people will go in Berlin to make sure that there are safe spaces for everybody. One of my favorite cafes, Tristeza, is not a queer cafe, yet the bathroom is plastered with stickers that say things like, "Smash Homophobia," "Space Invaders Against Transphobia," and "Whenever We Fist, We Win." There is definitely a giant movement toward integration of all people here. I wonder how much this has to do with what happened here in the '30s and '40s, Hitlers attack on Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and people with disabilities. Probably a lot.
I find the governments acknowledgement of these atrocities refreshing. When I think about my own government, it makes me a bit ashamed. I was at a party the other week and a woman asked me about America.
"My friend's daughter went to high school in America for a year," she said. "And she said there was nothing about what happened to the Native Americans in the history book. And when she asked about it, the teacher changed the subject. Also, is it true that there is a holiday for Christopher Colombus?"
I had to agree with her that honoring Colombus with his own National holiday was not far from celebrating Hitler's birthday, which NOBODY (except for the people you never want to meet) does. I did mention that what was once called Colombus day is now known as Indigenous People's day, but sadly only to the liberals and radical left. I remember being taught that Colombus did a really great thing by 'discovering' the Americas when I was in elementary school. Why was I taught this instead of being taught about the genocide he and his crew committed? American textbook companies, you sure like to point the finger of blame at other nations, but have you ever looked in the mirror? What is this crap we teach our kids.
Unfortunately, this beautiful bubble of tolerance I am living in here in Berlin is not where everyone lives. While the Jewish people are very protected here (because of that whole holocaust thing) and no one freely admits to anti-Jewish sentiments, there are a few groups that face a lot of intolerance. See, Berlin is a city full of immigrants, immigrants from other countries in Europe and the world. And one of the largest immigrant populations here are the Turkish. I had never been exposed to Turkish culture before moving to Berlin. You know how in California, there is a lot of Mexican influence (food, art, language, music)? Well, its the same in Berlin with the Turkish influence. And you know how there are a lot of stereotypes and deeply-rooted prejudices about Mexican culture in California/America? Well, it's the same in Berlin/Germany, but with Turkish culture. Me, I don't get it. I mean, Turkish people have skin that is the same color as mine, so how can anyone tell who's Turkish and who is white (and what does white mean, anyway. I have met Germans with a very strong anti-Polish sentiment. And Polish people are white, but in the balance of power, there is racism against them. Oy vey, this is getting complicated.)
I was smacked in the face with this anti-Turkish sentiment yesterday when I went to get a bank account at the Sparkasse at Kottbusser Tor yesterday. Kotbusser Tor is great. It's a part of Kreuzberg I really enjoy. There is a vibrant diversity there that makes me feel alive. Turkish, Arabic, and African influence all mix with German culture and make the air electric! But the woman who helped me open my bank account didn't think so.
They had one banker who was fluent in English, so I had to make a special appointment to get my account opened. This woman and I had the same birthday, December 19. I thought that was very cool. She was very friendly with a solid build, thick wrists and a pillowy bust, a fake tan and high hairline. She asked me some questions and I answered them and somehow we got on the subject of the area the bank was in. "This can be such a stressful area."
"Oh, I really like it. So many different cultures. I think it's exciting."
And then she launches into, "There are so many people here who have lived her for a long time and don't speak any German. Thirty years, some of them, and they just have their own communities and never have to learn German."
I know what she's getting at, and I don't want to go there. "I know some Canadians and British people who have been here 5 years and don't speak ANY German." I try to steer us away from the inevitable.
"Oh, know. Americans and English people always learn German," she prattles on, "but these Turkish and Arabic people, they just move here and then they don't even try."
Oh, lady, please shut up and just give me my bank account. Please? Do you understand that you sound like a fucking Nazi? You don't know if I am of Turkish decent. You only know that I am American, which means I could be anything. "All the Turkish and Arabic people I know speak excellent German," I say (and it's true.) "Myself, I'm having a really hard time with the language."
After this, we just sort of go on with opening the account, I make a 50€ deposit, and I leave as soon as I can.
But I am still thinking about this woman. What made her think it was okay to say all these things to me? Does she have any idea she is racist? Probably not. It reminds me about how I have heard people in Santa Barbara talk about Mexicans, or people in San Francisco talk about Chinese. I really wanted to say to this lady, "You go to another country and deal with immigration if you think it's so easy. Otherwise, shut the fuck up."
And the fact that it is okay with some people to not speak the native language of where you are as long as you are a native English speaker? That is just messed up! What makes English a more valuable language than Turkish or Arabic. It is nice to have a universal language, and I feel very lucky that it is my mother tongue, but there is so much culture in language, and by saying that English is valuable and Turkish is not, one essentially negates Turkish culture. And that, my friends, is racist.
I hope I haven't offended anyone with anything I've said here. Am I racist? I wonder. If any of this does not sit right with you, please comment! Let's start a conversation.