I live in a town in germany where black people are not very common. The number of black people is growing, but still you can wander around town for hours without seeing a black person.
A former industrial town, it’s although very common to have grown up together with Poles or Turks, so racism is no big deal where I live.
That said, here’s what happened to me today:
I was at the store to get a replacement for a part that broke shortly after buying it.
The woman behind the counter asked me, if I knew which one of her colleagues originally sold me the part.
I just said “the black woman that works here”.
The woman behind the counter stared at me in disbelief.
“Did you just call my colleague ‘black’?”
Me, dumbfounded: “Well, yes. I did, but…”
“You can’t call someone ‘black’, that is racist!”
“Listen, I was just trying to describe your colleague. I don’t know her name, so I thought…”
“But why do you have to call her ‘black’ does the skin color matter to you?”
“Of course not, she could very well be pink and it wouldn’t matter to me. I was just trying to describe her. If you had sold me the part and your colleague had asked me, I’d have said that it was the woman with the red hair and the pierced nose. I don’t know her name, otherwise I would have used it.”
“But you can’t say ‘black’ that is derogative
“What? Derog… Listen, I did not call her a ‘Neger’ (the german equivalent to the infamous n-word), I only said she is black. If that’s offending to her, I apologize. But to her, certainly not to you. I’d rather have you giving me my replacement.”
At that moment, the black woman entered the room and asked if there were any problems, I guess because I talked a little louder at that point.
The woman with the piercing told her “This man here called you black, and I told him that’s racist.”
Black Woman: “First, you’re not getting paid for arguing with customers about other peoples business and second, ‘black’ is not racist.”
She then went on saying a few very derogative german terms for black people.
“This is racist. But ‘black’? No. I’ll take over here, you’re needed in the warehouse”
She was very nice and friendly and quickly replaced the part.
“I have to apologize for my colleague. She’s overly politically correct and even thinks that calling a Turk a Turk is racist.”
We then laughed together about that, but it really made me think about the whole political correctness thing that’s going on in germany and left me with the uneasy feeling that someone could think of me as racist, just because I said “black”. Normally I do not worry about these things, but the feeling remained.
I asked the black woman for a suggestion to avoid using the skin color as an identification mark for black people in the future, if you don’t know their name.
She had no idea what else could be used. She describes people by their physique, hair color or piercings/tattoos and for her, referring to a black person as “black person” is just logical.
I think that political correctness is a good thing, to a certain extent. It shouldn’t put people in a minefield of words where using a wrong word makes your social credibility blow up in your face. People should try to work these things out in a way that all involved parties feel good about it.
If a certain word or term is regarded as offensive, it has to go, no discussion about it.
But it can’t be right that people not affected by certain words decide what’s appropriate and what is not, without even asking the affected party.
So it turns out that I am not a racist at all, at least I think so, but the uneasy feeling still lingers that people could see me as one, just because I don’t want to be seen as one.
I thought about it quite a lot today and decided, the secular misanthrope that I am, to not give a flying fuck.
If someone is offended by my language, let him or her tell me and I will apologize. I will not engage in preemptive obedience.
But I would be interested in your comments, especially if you’re black or regarded, in the broadest sense, as foreigner where you live.
If you want to criticize my lack of knowledge of the english language, keep in mind that I am german. That would be racist of you. 🙂