“I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose” – Mesut Özil
Do you know the most racist thing I hear on a semi-regular basis? “When I look at you, I don’t see race.” Yes, you do. I’m 6’5 (197cm), 18 and a half stone (119kg or 262lbs) and I have long hair. What I hear when someone say “I don’t see race” is a desire to erase the parts of me that society have affirmed for my entire life. It’s not just that comment. Here’s a list of racist comments that I regularly hear:
- I bet you’re a good athlete
- You’re so exotic
- You speak so well
- I bet your Mrs is satisfied/I bet you’re hung like a horse
- I wouldn’t want to meet you down a dark alley
- I’m not racist my (insert name of relative) married/goes out with a black person
- Where are you from? London. Ok, but where are you REALLY from?
- When an area becomes gentrified: it used to be rough around here, but it’s good now
- I don’t like how “PC” the culture has become
Mesut Özil has chosen to stop playing for Germany. He detailed why in a series of posts on Twitter, thoughtfully and forensically highlighting the racial problems that he has encountered, best summarised by the quote that leads today’s post: “I am German when we win, But I am an immigrant when we lose”. The responses to his posts have been fascinating. Take Lothar Matthäus, who, when asked if he thought DFB (The German Football Association) had a racism problem, answered “absolutely not” and then went on to name other black and minority ethnic (BAME) players, as if that proved no racism. Do you know one of the most insidious things about racism? It silences those that know most about it, whilst those that benefit from it or know least about it speak as if they are an authority on it. It is patently ludicrous to deny the experience of a disabled or LGBTQ+ person and yet it seems it is fine to deny Özil his experience. Except it’s worse than that.
Look at this from convicted criminal and Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness:
Özil has been playing s*** for years. He won his last tackle before the 2014 World Cup…All he is doing on the field is playing cross passes. Now he hides himself and his crap performance behind this photo.
Now some might ask what Hoeness being a convicted criminal has to do with his job as president of a football club, and to them I would respond: what does Özil’s immigrant history have to do with his performance and why is it mentioned when criticising his performance? Hoeness deliberately conflates two things (Özil’s performance and what he has said about race) to infer Özil is playing the mythical ‘race card’.
Let me tell you something about the race card. BAME people rarely play it, even when they have justification. It is a stain that you can never get rid of. “Oh here we go, playing the race card again”. It is the herpes of insults. You never get rid of it. It leads to ridiculous situations where people of colour will look for any reason other than race to explain racist things. I’ve done it. I was walking to a casino with some friends a few years ago. The local team had beaten Arsenal during the day and the city was jubilant. As we were walking, a car slowed and wound its window down. “How’d you like that you black Arsenal c**t?” a couple of things: unless the Arsenal kit is a plain white t-shirt and jeans, I was wearing nothing that marked me out as a fan of the team. The other thing: the winning goal had been scored by a Black Brazilian. RIP irony. I laughed it off, because I was supposed to – didn’t want to make things awkward. Unlike Özil, I wasn’t brave. Yes I said brave.
Another story to highlight how ingrained racism is. Whilst a teacher, a colleague told me that in a GCSE biology lesson, the subject of my genitalia had come up. A pupil had commented on how big my penis must be (you know, because all black men have giant penises). The social expectation was that I laughed it off. It didn’t matter that I found it grossly offensive, that it leaned in to outdated stereotypes and that it perpetuated the ‘black superhero’ narrative that is used as justification when black men are gunned down and police officers say things like
“When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” Wilson, who is 6′ 4″ and 210 lbs., said of Brown, who was 6′ 4″ and 292 lbs.
Özil is unbelievably brave because racism is alive and well and saying as much will have you shouted down.. I used to teach 1984 and would make the point to my pupils that Orwell failed in his vision for the future as the tyranny was overt, whereas today it’s covert. Germany talks about being a place of tolerance and yet:
Özil is a German of Turkish descent speaking about the racism he has experienced from Germans. Those that criticise him do so despite things like this:
Police had long suspected that the killers were ethnic Turks in the victims’ communities, earning them the nickname the “Bosphorus” murders after Istanbul’s famous river. The derogatory term “doner murders” – in reference to kebabs – was used by some parts of Germany’s press…
Why did the German authorities – who relied on paid informants from within the neo-Nazi community and stand accused of institutionalised racism – seemingly do so little to protect [the victims]?
Racism is the elephant in the room. Actually it’s more like Lord Voldemort. Some people are so afraid of it, they won’t even say its name. But as Özil and Harry Potter found out, not being afraid to call evil by its name is the first step to overcoming it.
I know my LGBTQ+, disabled and other oppressed minorities empathise with me on that.