Who am I as a white person to say this or do that? What are people gonna say if I stand up and use my voice? What can I do? Am I educated enough to talk about that?
The last few days (today it’s June 7th, 2020 - 14 days after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man was killed in police custody), I have seen so many terrifying, disturbing and brutal videos and pictures, read articles, watched documentaries and started listening to audio books - about racism. I am asking myself again and again: What can I do? How can I contribute to this? How aware am I of daily racism around me? How racist am I actually?
Growing up in a small german village of around 500 people, I was hardly ever confronted with racist situations - not me as an affected person nor as a spectator. So I guessed, young and naive as I was, racism does not exist (anymore). It's all in the past. Just one of the many chapters in my history class at school. Nowadays I know, it is not. We face racism every day. Anywhere. Racism is not limited in time or region.
As most of you know, I have lived and worked in Namibia for half a year and have had racist experiences myself - how often? Maybe 3 to 5 times in 6 months. On the street I was stared at or touched by complete strangers who walked past me. Sometimes I was insulted. So how must people of color feel who are exposed to racism every day? ...who are afraid to go jogging? Or afraid to be rejected at the club entrance? Or afraid to walk home alone at night? Or… They don't benefit from these privileges (and yes, those are clearly privileges) like us white folks.
Some of my Namibian school kids or friends asked me if there were also black people in my town. "Ehm, sure, I mean, yeah of course." - "How many?" - "Ehm...good question." I honestly could not answer this question, as I had never consciously paid attention to it. I was surprised myself that I didn't have an answer. I then said that there are black people as well but I cannot say in percent whether there are many or few.
I have never really paid attention to whether there are light- or dark-skinned people around me, no idea who is walking through the city. Just people in my eyes. Human beings. But since my stay in Namibia, my point of view has changed. Today, I pay much more attention to who crosses my path in the city - without ulterior motives, but simply for my own interest (and also to train a little bit my eye for diversity).
So, the question that comes to my mind repeatedly, What can I do? I am still learning but I am willing to learn. If I don’t ask you about your personal experiences with racism then it’s because I don’t want to hurt your feelings or make you feel uncomfortable. But that’s probably exactly what needs to be done - go through uncomfortable situations to better understand how POC feel and how I can help.
And again, What can I do?
self reflecting my own behavior (e.g. where is the line between black humor and racism? How often have I already asked black people or POC where they are from?)
educating myself by reading, listening and talking to black and white friends
and, especially as a nascent (history) teacher, I can have such a big impact on my pupils concerning racism (starting with more teaching time on colonization, slavery, racism then and now up to racist bullying)
(photos by Rici)