Racism and ignorance

Sadly, racism is, more often than not, synonymous with ignorance. You don’t believe it? I’ll explain.

In my last post, Chemnitz and racism, I touched on my experiences in a bid to start a conversation about this sensitive topic which many would rather ignore. Fair enough, I got a lot of positive feedback in what is, until now, my most widely read post. Thank you guys!

What this means is that whereas not many people are willing to go on record about it, a majority are aware that racism is almost always lurking in the shadows, and that it’s only a matter of time before it rears its ugly head. That I got reads from close to 30 countries is not a coincidence but is rather, testament to the fact that this is an issue of interest the world over. I have watched the post steadily rise up the search engines and is now not too far away from anyone trying to gauge the racial tolerance levels on these streets.

However, it is from the questions and reactions that it dawned on me just how closely related racism is to ignorance. Ignorance here simply means lack of information.

Some of the local (Chemnitz) guys who engaged me seemed genuinely surprised that the situation could have been that way.

“Do you hate the city?” “No.”

“Did someone physically attack you?” “No.”

“Then what are you talking about?” “People have hurled racist insults towards me.”

“Come on, just don’t listen to them. Idiots are everywhere?”

And just like that, the conversation ends. Idiots are everywhere so how would you use this to vilify one city? Funny enough, from this group, almost all admitted to having little or nothing to do with foreigners. To them, they were merely, ‘those guys’. They have seen them but that’s as far as the story goes. These are the same ones who mostly think that every foreigner is a refugee, not that there is nothing wrong with being one.

Others were however in sync with the post, stating that it was a fairly accurate assessment of the situation on the ground. Of these, it turned out that most had had considerable contact with other cultures. A trip to Africa, an exchange programme in India, a vacation in Hanoi, a voluntary expedition in Mexico, you name it. No, I am not talking about Mallorca! We all know that this is Germany’s 17th State.

These were also quick to mention how their outlook changed from their respective overseas engagements. They were, more often than not, of the opinion that many people are just ignorant of other cultures. They admit that most of the fear of foreigners is not entirely based on facts but rather from media stereotypes as well as feeding off from political negativity, most of which is advanced by the now well established Afd political party whose campaigns were littered with racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic slogans.

Then there was the third group of people who quickly turned defensive, finding fault in my article and claiming that I had not facts. They said that until I sought opinions from the every Tom, Dick and Harry from both the city and the neighbouring Ore Mountains, I had no right to speak about a matter a heavy as racism. One respondent was of the opinion that, even though I came to Chemnitz to study, I was obviously doing no such thing. Where did I get all the time to talk about racism? Was my course not engaging enough?

This respondent went as far as feeling sorry for all his church friends who regularly sent money to Africa, and even found time to take offense with my trip to the Emirates Stadium (I support Arsenal and have once toured their stadium), claiming that I should have used the money from the trip to help poor children back at home. How could someone who sends money to Africa be racist? It was also said that East Germany could not possibly be racist owing to their communist DDR history.

It seemed to me, therefore, that many people have no clue on racism unless it has directly affected them. It is baffling how quickly discussions about racism turn into allegations. To many, those who dare speak about racism simply do not want to adapt to the local culture.

Many were annoyed, not by the fact that racism is so blatant in Chemnitz, but by the fact that I had dared to speak about it in a manner that burst the bubble that is their city.

In my time here, I have attended several presentations from people who have returned from trips to Africa and the script is so similar it could be easily automated.

Here is one.

Get some pictures of hungry looking kids, ensure that they are wearing their best smile (obviously because they have barely any clothes), make sure that the goodies you ‘donated’ are within the camera’s field of view, line up with them, have someone take the shot and post it on social media with endless captions of how much you alleviated the children’s pain. Congratulations! You are now a certified, ‘Let’s save Africa’ member.

How could anyone possibly call you a racist after all you have done for the continent?

Sadly, many people replay this script, sometimes ignorantly, and the few who dare to do it differently are seen as rebels. These are, with pitiful concern, quickly reminded how much they have changed since they went overseas. They are told that they seem to be no longer comfortable here. No longer at ease.

Could it be that ignorance is easy and comfortable?

Till next time,