Germany is so white

Every time I travel from Brazil to Germany it strikes me how “white” Germany is. And I am not talking about the snow in winter, I mean the colour of the skin of many people in Germany. When travelling from a diverse city like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro to Germany, even in a city like Berlin – which is considered to be culturally very diverse – it is striking how few faces with colour you see on the streets. Of course that has something to do with the neighbourhood in which I lived, Prenzlauer Berg though once a thriving and cultural diverse place became a natural habitat of the upper middle class white people who prefer to work in creative industries. You can see (few) people of Asian ethnicity in the Eastern Part, remedy of the strong relationship between socialist East Germany and Vietnam, and many Turkish and Arabian people in neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg and Neukölln. You might even see some black people here and there. But still this is nothing compared to the diversity and plentitude of skin colours you see on a normal day in Downtown São Paulo or on Rua Augusta.

When it comes to skin-colour, Germany is overwhelmingly boring and it seems very ironic that despite the few “differences” in public there are increasingly strong political/populist movements against foreigners. And as a sad side note: black characters in games and puppets of PoC (people of colour) are sorted out in Germany by the producers, because they are of the opinion that they won’t sell. And so family with one (or more) people of colour have created a shamefully small positive-list of puppets and games with PoC adequate figures available in Germany.

The colours of Brazil

Brazil on the other hand is a colourful country. No doubt about that. You just need to go to a street market and have a look at all the various fruits that grow year round. But this is also true for Brazilians. Looking at ethnic groups in Brazil, almost half are considered “white”, a little less “brown”, followed by 8% “black”, 0,5% “yellow” and 0,4% indigenous (according to the census from 2011.

These races and the according skin colors are not evenly distributed though. Generally the south with many immigrants from Europe has a bigger share of white people than the northeast, where many African descendants live. (See slide 5 of the PDF). But races mix and this is another beautiful thing to see in a city like São Paulo: couples of people with various skin colours: Black and Asian, White and Black, Brown and Yellow. You can see all colors in combination. This might lead to the conclusion that Brazil is a country where race does not matter which is unfortunately not true. But let’s look at Germany first.

Racism in Germany

In Germany I have made some negative experiences with racism myself. Since I am white and European looking, it was never directed against me. But at the end of the 90s in Berlin my Spanish teacher told me, how afraid he was to visit some of the schools in the eastern part of the city, especially at night. There were some “nationally liberated” areas – which means some stupid right-wing Nazi groups successfully scared all foreign looking people away while the police and politics were not able or unwilling to prevent this. Some years later a German but Arabian looking friend of mine was yelled at while we were canoeing in Eastern Germany by a skinhead. Unfortunately recently and as a result of the economic problems in Germany as well as the fear-mongering around terrorist threats, xenophobic groups are becoming more and more popular in Germany again, attacking the homes of asylum-seekers and foreign looking people on the streets. Being surrounded by too much white people seems to cause irrational fear in these idiots.

Racism in Brazil

Compared to Germany Brazil seems like a safe country, where you can travel and live safely regardless of your skin-color. And Brazilians are in fact a lot more used to ethnic diversity – many times Brazilians have told me proudly about their origins (for example “I am 50% European, 25% Arab, 25% African but there is also some indigenous influence in my family”). This is a nice experience when you come from a country where many people try to hide their origin from a foreign country. But unfortunately there is racism in Brazil, way too much. You just need to look at the female or male Brazilian top-models. Even though less than half of the Brazilian population is white, the majority of them are. Look at the famous Soap Operas, Politicians, successful business people and you will see the same. Whereas many of the poor children and teenagers who took part in the “rolezinhos” last year were people of colour.

It is a similar story as in many other countries. Black people in Brazil are less educated, have a shorter life expectancy, earn less but are more often unemployed and more than twice as likely to be killed as a white person. A racist would take this as an indication of black inferiority, whereas all it really shows is of course a systematic discrimination in education and social issues in people of colour.

Choosing the “race colour” of your child

Knowing all this about racism in Brazil I was surprised to find out recently how the race of a person is determined nowadays. And once again I have to admit: I did not expect Brazil to be so modern and progressive.

In the hospital I stayed, when a child is born an administrative clerk will visit the parents (and the child) to take all information, and produce a yellow paper that contains all these information to register the newborn child at a local cartório. For this the clerk asks about the name of the child, the names of parents and grandparents are taken from a valid ID and then he or she asks: “What race colour do you see in your child?” Then the parents choose the race of their child. The administrative clerk is legally not permitted to choose or object the choice of the parents.

What an awesome idea. Two white parents can have a black child (with a pretty white skin-colour). Or two black parents a white child (with a pretty dark skin-colour). Of course this does not solve the problem of racism, because it’s not the race, but the actual skin-colour that leads to prejudices. But I like the concept. Especially since the skin-colour of many newborns is red but you can’t select “red” as a race in Brazil. So you have to guess the colour of the skin of your child, depending on the skin-colour of their parents. In Brazil you have the freedom to choose (something Rachel Dolezal applied only one step further).

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