It is 1995. A 13-year old boy in Germany is playing basketball in his room. The walls are plastered with posters. Michael Jordan (life-sized), Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaq, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Sean Kemp, David Robinson, and many more are all watching him play. He dreams of moving to the US one day, this great country full of opportunities, culture, skyscrapers, and Coca-Cola. A country that had overcome slavery, ended racial segregation, defeated Nazi Germany, and landed a man on the moon.
I finally visited the US for the first time in my life in 2018, when my family and I went to see my sister and her family in Harlem, New York. And I was both amazed and shocked at the same time. Amazed by the sheer scale of the city, the enormous vibrance, and the cultural richness that surrounded me. What a beautiful place to be.
But I was also shocked by how obvious it was that this society is in a constant state of fear. Shocked by how obvious it was that late-stage capitalism has pushed gentrification and social inequality to the extreme, leaving so many people behind. And shocked how obvious the structural racism in this country really is. I experienced it first-hand when I crossed Malcolm X Boulevard the very first morning to get a can of coffee at the grocery store across the street. All of a sudden, a guy came up to me yelling that I should “get my ass outta Harlem” or he would beat the shit out of me. I decided to quickly go into the grocery store instead. The other day, we saw a guy on Broadway verbally attacking and insulting two women wearing a hijab. Both incidents were nothing compared to what black people in America have had to endure for decades. America isn’t that beautiful for many people.
Today, after yet another black man has been killed by a police officer, the US is on fire. Again. Many people are angry. And rightfully so. But although the US seems to be a broken country at the moment, I have always admired the strength and resilience with which US citizens have fought for justice and to bring about positive change. The country has always had a strong civil society. That’s what gives me hope that change is still possible and that the US somehow finds a way out of this. Just listen to this speech by Michael Render aka Killer Mike and you’ll know what I mean.
Racism isn’t only an American problem, though. All across Europe, refugees are being attacked and racist parties, who are willing to let human beings die on the Mediterranean Sea, are on the rise. We must not let them take control. Fighting racism is a constant struggle and each and everyone of us has to do their part. By speaking up when someone casually says something that is clearly racist – because some things are not okay to say. By helping people who are in need of help. By showing racists that they are wrong and in the minority. And by voting. Because every voice counts.
This is the fourth post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.