Let me be clear: White people taking a knee or raising their fists in solidarity with black people and people of colour is commendable.
Just like when people in England tear down statues of colonialists or when Berliners and Parisians take to the streets to protest against racial profiling and systemic racism.
These acts show that black people and people of colour are not alone in their fight for basic rights and equality. These are comforting signs that inspire hope.
But for such symbolism to produce real, long-term results, two things must happen. White people must continue their activism once the shock over and media hype surrounding George Floyd’s death dissipates. We must also understand that this is merely the tip of the iceberg. It’s not enough to call out acts of blatant racist violence and injustice.
Institutionalised racism that pervades society is much more perfidious and it is much harder to spot.This unconscious racism manifests itself in subtle acts or looks that are not necessarily born out of malice.
The elderly lady who tightly clutches her handbag when passing me. Or a stranger who addresses me on the street in English, assuming I don’t speak German. Or a young woman on the train who won’t take the last vacant seat because she would be sitting next to me, a black man.
Or when a student conducts a survey in the high street and ignores me, even as I walk straight at him. The cashier who does not bother to ask me if I’d like a receipt as she does with every other customer. The list goes on and on.
These are things black people and other minorities in Germany experience day-in and day-out and are left to wonder if they are coincidental or because of their skin color.
Of course, white people experience difficulties and injustice in their lives, too. But they will never wonder whether the problems they face are because of the color of their skin. This is a privilege.
Someone who has never experienced discrimination while house- or job-hunting, or during a police check, will never develop an awareness of this problem.
That’s why it is essential that white people reflect on their thoughts and behaviour.
That’s not easy. No one, aside from self-declared racists, will want to admit that they, too, unintentionally hold racist views. DW