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Lessons in Berlin: Black Experience

Living in the USA, African Americans are the dominant Black population in America. Sure we have a lot of others, but I did not have many Black friends from other places while growing up in California. In fact, I can only remember two: one from West Africa, and the other from the East. I knew little about their experiences. I learned more about the experience while living in Berlin in the super minority of people who were of African descent living in Berlin. I learned that things were certainly not all good for those who had the unfortunate circumstance of having the “wrong passport.” The hassle of not being able to get a job, finding a place, down to traveling within Europe. It all seemed much harder. Some of my African American friends would try to separate themselves from the African community, but I could not ignore the glaring differences in treatment by Europeans after they discovered I was from the USA. I had times where I was questioned relentlessly at airports, before my passport was ever requested, then as soon as I took it out, their whole demeanor would change. I started to wonder how would I be treated if I didn’t have the coveted “blue book” or the “red book” for those from the UK.

There were times when before I would even speak, people would place me in whatever box. Only one person has ever guessed correctly where I came from. (A Turkish man at the Farmers market- I was shocked). In the States, it is about race, but here there certainly is a divide in culture, and national country of origin.

I met many people from the continent of Africa while living in Berlin, which always made me wonder where people were looking when they said they did not notice a larger African community in Berlin. Trust me, it is here, but I also found many people here self segregate on racial and nationalistic lines. The largest group seems to be coming from immigration, but there are many people who were born and raised in Germany. Every group had their gripes. I sat at meetings filled with Afro Deutsch people, where I learned calling someone biracial is extremely offensive, because in German race translated into breed, and of course no one wants to be thought of in that respect. I met a few that knew nothing of their African side. I learned that there was not even a non offensive term from people who were both African and ethnic German until the 1980s. I met groups of guys here while hanging in Goerlitzer, that were here just trying to make enough money for their families back home, or to simply survive. Stories of long boat trips, stints in jail, all the for opportunities found in Europe, which many found upon arrival were few and far between. I met central and S. American Blacks who ranged from old rastas to college students. I met old Black American jazz musicians, living here for 20 or more years. All with interesting stories on how they found their way to Berlin.

I also learned that my issues with the country were not just figments of my imagination. People complained about staring, about other Germans being surprised that they spoke German, despite living here their entire lives. Their thoughts of not feeling accepted by both groups. It was nice to hear about the lives of others. I had to check my own privilege, and realize that despite even the worse experiences, that I still had it better than some. That just made me want to change that, rather than find some sort of pride in my condition.

With all these exchanges with my fellow melanated brothers and sisters, I felt a since of belonging. That despite our differences, we faced similar circumstances, and we can create safe spaces to uplift each other no matter where were from in the world.

  • Dai

    Jolly well said. “Biological race” should be consigned to the history books, like “flat Earth”.
    Great Britain’s our real name, not United Kingdom.
    Write about your new boyfriend. Don’t tell him about it. It’s part of your gender’s privilege.
    Always nice to see what the Butler saw, so to speak.