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Anti-racism groups slam 'Black Like Me' film

Kristen Allen · 22 Oct 2009, 13:03

Published: 22 Oct 2009 13:03 GMT+02:00

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Schwarz auf Weiss: Eine Reise durch Deutschland,” or “Black on White: A journey through Germany,” premieres on Thursday, and is the product of famous undercover journalist Günter Wallraff’s year-long odyssey as a black man.

The film highlights shocking instances of discrimination and near-violent racism that Wallraff details in his book, “Aus der schönen neuen Welt: Expeditionen ins Landesinnere,” or “From the Brave New World: Expeditions in the Heartland,” which was released on October 14.

“In all of the months that I was on the road as a black man, it was not seldom that I felt my dignity had been taken from me,” 67-year-old Wallraff wrote in an article for Die Zeit last week of his experiences undercover as Kwami Ogonno. “It’s difficult to decide what was worse, to experience open aggression, cold rejection, or false, condescending friendliness.”

Click here for a photo gallery of highlights from Wallraff's film.

The problem of latent racism in Germany reached international attention in July when United Nations’ special rapporteur Githu Muigai’s said the country needs to do more to tackle daily discrimination against ethnic minorities after a fact-finding trip. And while Wallraff's critics agree that it’s important for Germany to address the country's undeniable problems of xenophobia and racism, many aren’t sure that it’s a white man’s job to deliver the message with the help of a theatre makeup expert.

“We already had this blackface story back in the 1920s in the US,” director of the Initiative for Black Germans (ISD) Tahir Della told The Local.

“It came about because blacks weren’t allowed to perform in clubs and theatres, so whites dressed up to caricature them – rendering them voiceless with no access to cultural life. Mr Wallraff is using the same form, playing a role he’s not entitled to and preventing those who are really affected from having a voice.”

Meanwhile professor and musician Noah Sow, who works with media watchdog Der Braune Mob, or The Brown Mob, accused Wallraff of earning money “on the costs of our suffering,” news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Wednesday.

Wallraff is well-respected in Germany for several similar undercover investigations, ranging from acting as a Turkish guest worker in 1985 to infiltrating the news room at tabloid daily Bild to highlight questionable journalistic practices. But the question remains whether his notoriety will aid in delivering a message that has been unwelcome coming from minority writers.

“This is an issue that many work to expose every day within Germany,” Della told The Local. “He is of course white, with a certain prominence and reputation for standing on the correct moral side of the disenfranchised. When we attempt to address it the problem is denied and placated. The question is whether this grievance we have will be heard and he’s doing us a favour – but I tend to think not.”

In addition to being offensive to Germany’s black community, Wallraff’s adventure in blackface makeup is not as original as the country’s audience may think. A non-fiction account of a white man travelling as a black man in the segregated American south, entitled “Black Like Me,” was published in 1961 and has since become required reading in many US schools.

A wholly different context means that almost 50 years later Germany has only recently begun to grapple with its own race problems and the fact that it has become an immigrant destination - even as much of the population remains overwhelmingly white.

“It’s difficult to count how many black Germans there are due to census issues, but let’s just say there are enough for our voice to matter,” Della told The Local.

Story continues below…

But it’s hard for many Germans to recognise that racism exists in their country, particularly in light of residual Holocaust guilt, he added.

“Maybe it’s because racism is considered to be a problem only in other countries,” he said. "Germany thinks it made its mistakes in the past and learned from them, but this is wrong."

Ultimately the problem can’t be solved without direct interaction with the disaffected, he added.

“Wallraff could have used his prominence to do something with us together and reach a larger public, but he didn’t,” Della concluded.

Related links:

Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

10:14 October 23, 2009 by aswinarun
All of Humans originally came from Africa. So we are all the same. If every person looks at another person for what they are then there will be no issues.

I don't believe we "all came from Africa" What complete rubbish.

"All of Humans originally came from Africa. So we are all the same."

Perhaps the dumbest thing I have read in a while.

These facts are true, might not be digestable for some..

But also the facts of Mitochondrial DNA proves that too...just had a glimpse in the wikipedia and found this..


And also important to note down here is we all come from genus Homo...


So for those who dont believe this... just read & enjoy :)
12:11 October 23, 2009 by in veritate
After the ludicrous acceptance by some of Aftonbladet's claims against the Israeli's, and now disbelief that humans came out of Africa, I really think that the Swedish education system needs a mighty big uphaul - especially the teaching of logic and analytical thinking.

What on earth do they teach you over there? Anyone with an opposable thumb and an internet connection can research facts. And if one can read ... there are libraries ... (assumably in Sweden).
15:21 October 23, 2009 by LancashireLad
I remember I was in mid-town Atlanta about 15 years ago. This area is predominantly, as-good-as exclusively black. I was there with a colleague, a British born Sikh. I was basically the proverbial cue-ball. There was not another caucasian (OK, white) face to be seen anywhere.

Now, nobody could have cared less that I was there. Nobody gave me a second glance. Nobody showed me the slightest trace of malice at all. They all just went about their own business. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever for it, but ...

.. it was still very intimidating.

I certainly had no conscious feelings whatsoever of being in any danger, so why was it intimidating?

It was a real eye-opener for me.
18:29 October 23, 2009 by Johnnysurf
Listen up people - the dude may have looked funny and wierd, but what he attempted was a lot more than many would to see how it actually "feels" to be descriminated against because of your race.

Yes, there are plenty of Black Germany who can tackle the issue, but Whites, and other races oftem try to "paly it down" somehow. It is totally different to listen to someone talk about it, or even see a good documentary about it, than te EXPERIENCE it. Maybe he could have done a better job on the look, but he did a commendable thing.

I read the book "Black Like Me." All of you should read it as well.

Yes, Germany are behind in this regard, that is why approaches like this are neccessary for some.

The Bible teaches us that we should all treat each other with the same dignity, care and concern that we would like to be treated ourselves - not matter what our race is, and also no matter where we all originated from.
00:17 October 24, 2009 by locally
Whenever they(Wallraff and his likes) haven't got anything else to do,they just dig up something about race to get attention.

Out there are lots of things to get the world's attention to,for example poverty and lack of Education in the Developing countries.

And here is a White dude in the name of journalist making fun of himself by painting himself.

Wonder if he attended a journalist or comedy school,cartoon school perhaps if any.
00:47 October 24, 2009 by Teuton

Stop whining. Seriously.
05:48 October 24, 2009 by SusannahM
Didn't any of you see / hear of the film "White Chicks" from 2004? If not, look it up on IMDB. It was considered hoi polloi hilarity here in the US. I must admit, I am tired of the proverbial double standard - it is acceptable to have two African American men paint their faces to be Caucasian females a la White Chicks, it is acceptable to have a group named 'The Brown Mob' and so on, and yet this goofy old white guy dresses up trying to be black and many scream offense. Yes, stop whining.
17:39 October 24, 2009 by Nosam
Shouldn't he be singing "Mammy". How silly will one man act for his 15 minutes of fame? What tripe. There is NOTHING anyone can do or say that will sway the way I feel about MY own race. I taught my Children about their race and they will do the same. It's quite normal human behavior.
17:39 October 24, 2009 by locally
susannahM, you should know the different between movie comedy and Documentary.
05:11 October 25, 2009 by kiwikraut
This can't be taken serious, no no no ! Just by looking at the clown's outfit and makeup any lateral thinking person would instantly know that this is a fake !

So what's all the fuzz about !? This Wallraff wants to make a funny movie with a satirical and critical backround, something for people to think about a bit lightheartedly, nothing else ! Might once again confirm the reputation of the germans, no sense of humor !
12:33 October 27, 2009 by Dizz
None of this debate about means detracts from his intention or the end he was trying to achieve which was to bring into a public debate a social phenomenon that is denied by its perpetrators, often downplayed by its victims and generally avoided by everyone in-between.

Now hold on before anyone preaches that even the loftiest goals cannot justify any and all means. I know that. My point is that sometimes this kind of "exaggerated reality" or charicature, a sort of cartoonish over-simplification and selective emphasis is simply a communication tool. Like Japanese Kabuki masks.

While it is fair to debate the wisdom and sensitivity of choosing to paint himself black and while it could be argued there are other ways to get the data, I think there is nothing like first hand experience. Even if you fail to educate anyone else at least it opens your own eyes to how the other half lives and it cannot fail at least to change yor own conduct, one way or another. And frankly who can deny, especially amongst those of us who have experience of living in societies other than Germany and are therefore able to compare, that Germany has a significant problem with xenophobia in all its shades up to and including outright hatred? Wallraff's quote in the article covers it:

¦quot;It¦#39;s difficult to decide what was worse, to experience open aggression, cold rejection, or false, condescending friendliness.¦quot;

I haven't read his book or seen the film. But I am not white and I have certainly experienced that other form of discrimination, over solicitousness on behalf of the do-gooders and various attempts to dress me up as mascot to vouch for their magnanimity and even-handedness. It is just as condescending and derogatory as being spat on by a skinhead, trust me, and worse for being genuinely well intentioned.

Coming back to Walraff, I wondered if through his experience he was able to gain the insight that in xenophobia both parties are victims and that society as a whole is then denied the possibility of achieving its full potential. Germany needs to acknowledge and address this trait, expose it and understand it, and then consciously try to overcome it. In the TT forums we foreigners often laugh and sometimes cry about the German tendancy to be "always right". Snap judgements and sweeping generalisations abound here. Its not just against the "obvious" groups, the blacks, the browns, the arabs and the yellows. Its also against East Germans and Eastern Europeans. Its against gypsies. Its against the Yanks and the Pommies. Its even against other people of the same race and ethnicity but different social backgrounds. Its in dyed-in-the-fibre of their fabric of society and it is harming them the most.
08:10 October 31, 2009 by Johnnysurf
@ Dizz,

So very well said.
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