Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Digression, Brief

Stepping outside of my experience at the Bild newspaper: had the unfortunate experience of reading a headline from the Tageszeitung. If you don't speak German, yes, it is what it looks like.

The paper called the White House Uncle Barack's Cabin, a reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin". It's generated much discussion in the blogosphere.

I'll just say upfront I am disappointed in the Tageszeitung. And not even because I think they are abandoning their liberal/left credentials. It's the hypocrisy. Germany doesn't get American sensitivity to race. They think we're racist, they think we're backwards. The other side of it is they think we're too politically correct. But most Germans don't know black Americans, and most Germans live in a homogenous society. And yes, Germany is still very homogenous, despite enormous growth of immigrant communities, they still lag behind the US. The largest minority, Turkish migrants, runs at about 10 percent. And most of them are unseen outside of the country's metropoli (though on my last visit to my hometown, Pohl-Göns, where I grew up in Hessen, I saw a huge Turkish wedding take place. PG is a tiny, conservative village. I bumped into a former neighbor of ours who talked about 'the coloreds' moving into town. He seemed resigned that the Germany he knew, a mostly white, Christian Germany, was gone.)

Even if communities of color were a significant part of the German landscape, the history is still different. Turks, or recent African immigrants, or Russians were not brought to this country in chains, enslaved, tortured, exploited. They were compensated for their labor at the very least. We have never paid our national debt to progeny of those who were a part of building America, who suffered great injustice and indignity, and who died in American wars for a country that didn't even recognize them as a human being.

I don't think the German press would like it if a Jewish chancellor (how awesome would that be?) were elected in Germany and an American paper ran headline that read "There's a new Führer in town" above an image of the Reichstag. These things are sensitive.

So I'm disappointed in the taz because they claim to be small, they claim to have a conscience, and then they publish something that implies Barack Obama is a sell out to the white establishment. That his achievement as an African American running for president is the result of catering to white sensibilities. There is certainly a place to have that discussion - his ability to attract white voters, Latino voters, etc - but to play on the darkest period of American history - from 1776 until 1863 when slavery stained the fabric of this new experiement - spits in the eye of Senator Obama's campaign. It also sadly shows to me that Germans, even on the left, have a long way to go when it comes to being sensitive about living in society that is the majestic colorful tapestry of the United States.

It also another reminder to me that the American Left hero worships European liberalism (liberalism in the American sense!) without truly understanding the lack of depth missing in German intelligentsia about the United States. American Studies departments are growing in Germany - I think this is a great indication that Germans are curious about the US (I wish more Americans returned the curiousity!) But the same way Germans would like to see more American sensitivity to their issues, the press, as agenda setters, need to scrutinize their own insensitivity - and perhaps learn something that will improve integration in Germany?

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