By Hilal Sarikaya
During the last few months, the protests over the death of George Floyd and so many other African-Americans made me think a great deal: why did the policemen commit crimes when their primary responsibility is to protect everyone from any kind of brutality and violation no matter what color their skin is? Why does skin color and ethnicity matter anyway when it comes to safety? Even though I have always been a person who knew the power of raising one’s voice, I was afraid of speaking up. So, I had to suffer several injustices and accept discriminating remarks until I decided to say what is on my mind.
As a daughter of Turkish and Macedonian parents, I have to admit that most people who know me by face rather than by name think that I do not have a migration background, such as the woman whom I used to meet when walking my dog. The woman, who has a dog as well, once told me to be careful because someone scattered rat poison around an apartment in our neighborhood to “kill” the dogs. I really appreciated her help until she added, “No surprise. Lots of foreigners, Turkish and Arab people, live here. They don’t like dogs as we Germans do.” At this moment, I could not believe what I was hearing. I had never felt such a rage and disappointment before. How could she blame innocent people for such an inhuman action just because they had another ethnicity? I had lots of questions going through my head, but I ignored her racist statement and walked away. Later in the evening, I could not stop thinking about the woman and the way she thinks about foreigners or, as she said, Ausländer. I recognized that it really affected me since I always regarded myself as German and not as an Ausländer, and Germany as my home. Also, I never forgot about my roots: I am German, Turkish, and Macedonian. But most importantly, I am a human being and I do not want to choose one specific country to identify with.
When I met the woman again, I did not dare talk to her about her remarks. I somehow pushed it to the back of my mind and tried hard to forget about it. I was not proud of it, but I wanted to avoid unnecessary conflicts. The woman and I were engaged in small talk and our dogs were playing together when suddenly my dog barked at a man who wanted to cross the street. If you knew my dog, you would also know that this was nothing unusual because my little dog is a bit fearful and therefore barks a lot to warn people not to come too close to us. Unfortunately, the woman next to me, who as a dog keeper should have known more about dogs and their behavior, said that her late dog had always barked at Ausländer and added that she had not liked them at all. My whole body started trembling and I knew I could not keep silent anymore. I thought “now is the time to speak up!” and so I did. “You are being racist!” I shouted and went on “You cannot blame a specific group of people for everything bad. What you are doing here is not okay. You are also discriminating against me because what you don’t know is that I have Turkish roots!” She surely was shocked and did not expect my emotional outburst – well, me neither. Having turned red, she apologized maybe about thousand times and the whole conversation became awkward. The only thing I could do, and did, was to end the conversation and slowly walk away.
At home, I kept on thinking about her racist statements and my reaction. I remembered that a teacher once was not able to read my handwriting and thought that I wrote au instead of the French partitive article du. I knew that it was hard to distinguish between my handwritten a and d, so I told the teacher that it was supposed to be a du, but she did not change anything. Of course, I was angry, disappointed, and felt treated unfairly, but I was also convinced that it was not really worth my time and energy to fight for a few more points in my French class test. This time however, it was something different and I felt the urge to speak up and shout out what was on my mind. It was a great feeling and I slightly felt like Rasha, a character from a work by Moustafa Bayoumi who, after having been unfairly arrested during the times surrounding 9/11 just because she was Arab, sees the cruel counselor from Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn again and tells him that he “needed to learn a thing or two about respecting others.” Rasha emphasizes the importance of speaking up and, in the last few sentences, describes how anxious, but at the same time satisfying the moment was.
Raising your voice is easier said than done which is why a little anxiety might be part of it. But no one in this world should keep quiet about injustices and discrimination. Racism is and has always been omnipresent and lots of people are not even aware that their statements are racist since most of the time it is associated or limited to physical or verbal violence, such as racist words like the n-word. Racism, of course, is more than that and even the simple question “Where are you originally from?” is a form of everyday racism. It is therefore important to make people aware of their racist statements and behaviors, and not to tolerate racism and discrimination of any kind since underestimated racist comments may one day result in a bigger racial discrimination case. So, I am happy that I overcame my fears and dared to speak up. It was a good feeling and just felt right. I finally began to understand that not saying anything is saying a lot and accepting the situation as it is. If I had kept silent, I would not have been any better than my prejudiced neighbor, and this is not something I want. So, if everybody dares to stand up to racism, there is at least hope that, sooner or later, we will see the changes we want to see.