Özil, national identity and why I’m disappointed in Germany

Mesut Özil. Photo: DPA

While I don’t believe what Mesut Özil did was smart, the deed is done. The star footballer didn’t think anything of having his photo taken with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, a month before he was due to represent the German national team in the 2018 World Cup.

Born in Germany to Turkish parents, the midfielder refrained from immediately commenting on the controversial photos. Instead he chose to do so after Deutschland crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage and the tournament ended.

In a series of tweets responding to the nationwide backlash, Özil announced his retirement from international football after criticism of his performance, citing “racism and disrespect” from the media, fans, politicians and the high-profile German football federation.

“I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Özil said, before going on to question, “I was born and educated in Germany, so why don’t people accept that I am German?”

Özil’s case discouragingly highlights how national identity is regarded in the country I’ve come to call home. Guardian columnist Afua Hirsch is on point in her opinion that “Germany has decided dual allegiances are no longer convenient.”

Hirsch questions why people of colour have to ditch their national heritage at all. She ends her column by asserting “the one thing no one can take away is what we decide about who we are.”

Unlike Özil, I’m an actual foreigner here; his saga has got me seriously thinking. No matter how long I end up calling the country home, how good my German language skills get or how close I feel to the culture, I will never be considered German.

What’s more, if I ever decide to have kids here — heartbreaking but true — I worry that their identities will be doubted, probably due to their “immigrant background.” They may be asked ridiculous questions like ‘where are you really from?’ even if they identify as German.

Read also: It’s time we stop asking ‘where are you from?’ in Germany

Mesut Özil. Photo: DPA

Racism in its various apparent and latent forms exists in my native Canada too. But looking back on my youth and early adulthood as a minority in Toronto, I can’t recall a time my identity was questioned or I was forced to choose one over the other.

Though I have always identified as Canadian, the times I showed pride in my Filipino roots it was celebrated rather than criticized. In this vein, it’s truthfully hard for me to accept what Özil went through reveals about my adopted country.

The underlying tone I get from Özil’s entire statement is his disappointment in what it means to be German. “I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t,” he said.

This saddens me. At a time when the country needs more than ever to embrace multiculturalism and show it is an inclusive place where one can have multiple identities, Özil’s experience signals a step backward for Germany.

Read also: Sharing stories of everyday racism, #MeTwo takes off in Germany