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German youths with a migration background. Being German today is more, deeper, than being a colour or a name / © Hertie Stiftung

Being German is more than being White

Frankfurt-based published author and musician Che Chidi Chukwumerije writes on what it means to be German even when your roots are thousands of kilometres away. “Being German is more than being a colour. It is being a type. It is being a part-bearer of Germany and Germany’s future within you,” he says.

Being German is more than being white – as hard as this may be to grasp for someone who is fully genealogically descended from the Whites of the Germanic and other European peoples. And also as hard as this might be to conceptualise for someone who is descended from the ethnic groups of the African continent.

Children of migrants, however, in the second and further generations, may sometimes – but not always – be in a better position to more easily perceive the self-evident and natural truth of this reality. Being German is more, deeper, than being a colour or a name. The nation has a heart, and it pulsates with the love of those who call it, intimately, Home, each in their own way; who identify with it; who carry within themselves the urge to protect it, its history and its values, to develop it and move it forward, to interpret it from the depths of their own personal authenticity.

One of the most incisive challenges that face people who do not seem to be fully descended from the White stock of the Teutonic tribes – as impossible to measure as this may be – is to experience their German-ness being questioned, the authenticity of their citizenship being attacked, their loyalty and love for their home being subjected to scrutiny, and their sense of belonging being trampled underfoot or conditioned.

It takes many forms – be it divisive politicians who publicly try to awaken resentments against German footballers of a different background, or be it cowardly citizens who shoot on darker-skinned Germans, or be it the encountering of a glass ceiling in the corporate world.

Eventually it all crystallises into experiences that make the so-called “German of migrant origin” feel that he or she is systematically or instinctively excluded from certain opportunities or from deeper degrees of appreciation and acceptance, either due to distrust or dislike.

Some people react to this challenge by succumbing to the temptation of going through extra lengths to prove and justify their right of belonging, either by demanding for acceptance or struggling to be twice as good in everything. Some other people’s reaction to this subtle wall of rejection might be in turn to mirror this wall by transmitting the negative experience inwards into an exercise in self-rejection. And then there are those whose radical reaction may be a partial or even total rejection of their host nation, Germany, leading to the curious instances of children or grandchildren of migrants – in a kind of cultural trauma – suddenly reverting back to the cultural background, the seat which their parents once left behind. This creates the impression of a desperate scramble for an illusion, because in spite of everything, they still find it hard to totally detach from Germany in form and in attitude.

If being German is then not about being White or bearing a certain type of name, what then does it entail to be German? Some will tell you it is about an ascribing to and a living of certain “values”. You will hear of “punctuality”, “hard work”, “tenacity”, “exactness”, “discipline”, “perseverance”, “straightforwardness” and similar things. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it is not as simple as that.

True, these values and virtues are highly prized in the German soul from time immemorial, but in truth they cannot be germanised and apportioned to only one people. They are human qualities that can be lived by all peoples who so desire, each in their own way.

Conversely, within our German societies you will also find those who do not embody these but rather other characteristics – and yet they are German too. Apart from that, following this line of thinking is what often leads to the “herrenmenschen” mentality, the sense of superiority over others, a poisonous inchoate emotion that carries in its heart the seed of future defeats or disappointments. For values are goals that are continually striven after and served, never owned and mastered.

The global mixing of races and cultures that began hundreds of years ago with the self-propulsion of White peoples and White cultures into all the corners of the earth, continues in its ramifications to press organically forward, irreversible, and keeps on surprising mankind in every new century with the challenges and demands, opportunities and mysteries it presents us with.

And also for the German of part or full African origins, the challenge is not in trying to be like others, or in making a contrived effort to be what you already carry in your soul. For what we carry in our soul is the true essence of being German – it is our love for Germany, our deep inner connection with her, her values, history, language, nature, culture, mentality, mystery, her basic law. It is one of the many puzzles that the global dispersal of races has produced. Just as the White South African is at home there, so is the Black German here. And our most special contribution is exactly that which makes us, to some, so seemingly different: our Blackness.

We should not hide it, we should show it. We should not denounce it, we should celebrate it. We should not deny Germany our uniqueness, we should share it with her. Don’t wait for anybody to accept you as a German; you accept yourself as a German. We accept ourselves as Germans. There is that beautiful saying: if no one will give you a seat at the table, bring your own chair along – and enough food for all. Sharing is learning, is refining.

We have a role to play in the upholding and further building of this society, it is a duty. And what we need to accomplish that will be awakened in us by the society itself, if we are bold and innovative and refuse to allow our spirits to be broken. Thus we grow and acquire new parts, by sharing of our origin. Change is happening fast and no one knows what’s coming next, but we can be a part of it. And by claiming and asserting and living our German-ness in the process of transformation, we stop being people waiting to be accepted and acknowledged, and become part of those acknowledging and ushering in the future.

Being German is more than being a colour. It is being a type. It is being a part-bearer of Germany and Germany’s future within you. It is a love you cannot describe.