EmbrACE Magazine

When Four White People Talk about Racism on National TV

15/02/2021

About the author

Wiebke Aepkers is a second-year IBCoM student, currently living in Rotterdam. She used to be the Marketing manager of last year’s Arts & Culture Committee. In her free time, she likes to read classic literature, watch K-Dramas, and order Garlic Twisters from Dominos. Is a Master of procrastination, of starting heated political debates when drunk, and of finding hidden gems on Netflix. 

When Four White People Talk about Racism on National TV

…and now another one is writing about it.

Two weeks ago, the German TV channel WDR hosted a discussion that ended up sparking one of the most intense national shitstorms of recent years. Besides the moderator, the discussion featured a bunch of German C-celebrities, among them formerly popular, now retired and somewhat forgotten gameshow host Thomas Gottschalk, semi-well-known romance actress Janine Kunze, and “Schlager”-singer Jürgen Milski, notably all-white Germans. They were invited to talk about a variety of topics, including a discussion of whether or not the name of a popular German sauce (yes you are reading this right) should be renamed due to its use of a racial slur. What qualifies these people to give their “expert” opinion on such a topic you may ask? Turns out, absolutely nothing. 

After not even a minute, the discussion drifts off from the specific example at hand to four white people passionately complaining about how hard their lives have become now that one was suddenly expected to care about political correctness. The whole discussion ended up being a prime example of what could be called a mix of white ignorance, denial, and self-centeredness in a country that prides itself on being oh-so inclusive and open-minded. While the speakers differed slightly in their opinions on specifics concerning freedom of speech, the consensus of everyone involved was the same: Any POC who took offense in some “harmless” slur should just please give us poor white people a break and simply stop being so incredibly sensitive.

Describing this discussion as painful to watch is a grotesque understatement. Every sentence spoken by the participants revealed yet another blatantly ignorant and simply uneducated argumentation process. It included pretty much every textbook example of what NOT to do ranging from “I am not racist BUT…” to “but my intentions were not to hurt anyone” and an all-time classic “I have many colored friends and they don’t mind if I say it”. 

Amongst the most obnoxious moments during these 40 minutes was when Kunze compared some of her everyday struggles of getting comments from men for being a “pretty dumb blonde with big boobs” to the discrimination that POCs face in this country. 

Also notable is the fact that the discussion took place in front of a live audience from which one could hear approving applause after yet another problematic statement. This once again highlights that the displayed mindsets are in no way an exception to the norm but instead wide-spread and generally accepted views on race amongst the white middle-aged/elderly population of Germany. It just so happens that this demographic makes up the vast majority of the country.

Even though I do not want to spend a lot of time breaking down the flaws and contradictions of the speakers' argumentations, (that should seem quite elementary considering my audience) I did find one reoccurring line of argumentation that was particularly ironic: Every single speaker in the discussion sooner or later mentioned “feeling uncomfortable” in the context of being asked to restrict oneself in their choice of vocabulary as a valid reason for not having to do so. However, as soon as the POC perspective attempts to draw on a feeling of “discomfort” (obviously an understatement) resulting from the use of a slur, the very same argument is just laughed off as being “too sensitive”. 

The hypocrisy is just so painfully obvious and exposes a pattern that, I would argue, is present in a lot of European countries: The priding of oneself on inclusivity and high education standards but then failing to adequately educate on the fundamentals of racism by systematically excluding minority groups from the discussion, even (or maybe especially) when the discussion is about them. In Germany’s case, I think that this failure can in part be traced back to a particularly prominent notion of “Selbstgefälligkeit” within the country. This term loosely translates to an inflated optimism in oneself that leads one to ignore substantial, sometimes obvious flaws. It would explain why the country struggles so much with actually admitting to having a problem with racism (or sexism for that matter). And of course, following the logic that there is no problem, why should there be a need for education on something that doesn’t concern one? 

After all, one positive thing that came from this discussion was the intense backlash the panel faced on the internet the days after it aired. It shows that people are indeed becoming more aware of the problem, at least in younger generations. And while I condemn excessive hate and singling out specific individuals, I do think it was important for the speakers of this discussion to finally get called out for their ignorance. This hopefully ended up becoming a learning opportunity for them and others watching, which might even inspire them to seek out their own discussions and consult with POC voices present in their personal lives.

In my opinion, and please feel free to reach out to me if you think otherwise, there is no excuse anymore for not being educated about topics such as racism or sexism. After all, the internet provides us all with an almost inexhaustible number of sources and personal accounts that can be utilized to become aware, to understand, and to learn. Something that I also only recently realized is that, as a white person, not being “interested” in talking about politics (including the politics of racism) is a privilege in and of itself. I do not have to be interested because I have the privilege of not being affected by it, while POCs do not necessarily have that choice. And like advocated in the recent BLM movement, “not being racist” is not enough anymore in today’s political climate. Only being actively anti-racist is what can actually contribute to working through structural and systematic racism. And indulging in privilege in the form of uneducated ignorance for the simple reason of comfort or laziness definitely does not seem to qualify as anti-racist…

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