“Racism does not exist”

It is far known that there are radical right wing political positions are rising all over the western world. In Germany I believe they never really ceased to exist, just were out of sight. In post-truth, internet fast-pacing days along side with the Trump era, it seems easier than ever to distillate extremely non progressive views, often even hate speech — sometimes implied, sometimes directly — and be considered normal. In the past elections a couple of months ago, for the first time since the end of WWII a far right party entered the Bundestag, with overwhelming 13% (the far left “Die Linke” had 9%), and became the third most voted party.

People affirm that Berlin is different from the rest of Germany for its peculiar history but also for being extremely more progressive than the rest of the country. After the election results, I had myself thinking “where are these people who voted for Afd?” — looked at people on subway stations for days, wondering — and the only conclusion I got is that political views do not have a specific face — they can be everywhere, even be your neighbors, for instance.

This week I restarted my German classes after vacations in Rio, and its always been great. We don’t have the same teacher all the time, it may vary from week to week, but I was mostly lucky with all of them, even receiving a Christmas gift from one: a book from Hannah Arendt about politics. So last Monday when one of the new teachers arrived, I had already noticed he was slightly different from all the past others. In the first five minutes a classmate asked him if he had grown in East or West Germany. Alongside with the answer, that was West, he said: “Two Germanys are better than one”, and laughed. All classmates laughed as well, and I got a little confused wether he was being serious or making a joke — even if being an extremely questionable joke. At this moment I remembered of some of Zizek’s sayings — the fact that he despises most of nowadays political correctness and puts “shared obscenity” and dirty jokes as a way to overcome possible conflicts, or as he says: “a wonderful sense of shared obscene solidarity”. I wondered if the teacher had ever read Zikek and was trying to bond with us with this type of humor. But personally it didn’t work. As I instantly grew apathy towards him, I tried my best to stay focussed in class and ignore his comments. The following morning he brought a satyrical article about Angela Merkel. He knew the day before me and a classmate had attended a seminar about her at school, and made us read loud the article as an exercise — that among other things, questioned if she had “mental problems”. The magazine is called Titanic — which I came to know is made by the same general staff in charge of Die Partei — an incredibly confusing political party in Germany, who apparently hide themselves in a satyrical tone to justify absurd agenda, such as building the wall between the two old Germanys again. I realized he could be affiliated from this party or something. It fitted quite well his humor and comments.

But the worst part came on Thursday. He talked about his love for Switzerland, preaching how democratic and equalitarian it was, and I replied saying it was not quite like that: it can be a super elitist and racist country. Then, the bomb: “Racism is an idiotic term invented by the left wing. Racism does not exist. There is only xenophobia”. Of course that sounded like gunfire to my ears, and I confronted him by saying I could not believe he was saying those things, even more being in a teacher position. He answered calling me “charming”. I told him to swallow his vanity and not to try to undermine my arguments by being a sexist asshole, and that I felt truly sorry for people like him still exist.

What made me think afterwards was not even the content of his words, because we all know these people exist. What had me thinking was all the hard work we have to do in order to make things change: it’s demanding, tiring — specially being women, we have to always prove ourselves better in order not to be perceived only by our gender. I understand women who simply won’t go into that matter — its easier to live, specially if you’re not directly impaired. But this is not my case, and I often get advice from people around me (mostly men and older people, I must say) that I should just follow on with my life and let these types of absurds pass by. The thing is I am not like that. I and deeply believe women were always taught not to confront and be silenced, and this is one of the reasons patriarchy is so strong. What that guy said was ridiculous, but would have he answered “charming” if he had been confronted by a guy? I honestly don’t think so. And by confronting him I also gave an example to my classmates, empowering them to do the same when an injustice is perceived. We have got to build environments that bring people together and stand by each other when oppression comes, even if it comes from above. Specially if it comes from above.

I don’t believe I made him change his mind. But I definitely made him understand he cannot diminish people and get away with it. He will think twice before saying those things in public again. Girls, that’s why we need to know all the strategies they use: the soft power and the manipulative arguments, everything. Knowledge is our best ally. Stay strong.