Last week the US Ambassador to Germany, Philip D. Murphy, wrote this remarkable open letter to German jerks who had racially abused his staff. It’s well worth reading, either here or on the Berlin Embassy’s website:
There are jerks everywhere.
There are jerks where I come from in America, and there are jerks in the heart of Europe, here in Berlin.
A jerk is someone who shows no respect for other people, because they dress differently, talk differently, or were born with skin darker or eyes shaped other than the local standard.
Ultimately, jerks are people with such a deficit of character and self-respect that they feel a need to belittle and intimidate others to fend off feeling small, scared and insignificant themselves. So we need to help them change the way they think and the way they feel about themselves. But first of all we need to stand up to them. Because words and deeds do have consequences.
I was painfully reminded of this recently.
A group of U.S. Embassy staff and friends attended the Hertha game on August 26th. They had a great time during the game, and were pleased to cheer on the home team. One of them was African-American. After the game, as they were walking away from the stadium, two men came at them and accosted our African American colleague. One jostled him and the other doused him with beer and directed a deeply offensive racial insult at him. The Embassy group tried to calm the situation, but it became clear that these individuals, along with an approaching group of their friends, were bent on violence. The police arrived quickly and confronted the thugs, and the Americans left the area. No one was left bleeding or bruised, but things might easily have ended differently.
You can’t just let these things go. Regardless of where incidents like this happen, whether it’s in America or Germany or anywhere else in the world, we have to stand up and say it’s wrong.
This week in Washington, D.C., a national memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King opened on the Mall where the famous freedom fighter spoke to hundreds of thousands at the height of our civil rights campaign – half a century ago. Dr. King remains a wonderful example for all of us. He saw things that weren’t right and he refused to remain silent. He had the courage to take action to change things for the better.
For many Americans, regardless of their political views, the election of Barack Obama was a triumph over our own history, a victory over the petty hatreds of many generations of our own jerks. It was a milestone, but it wasn’t the end of the story. Racism is still present in America. We still have our jerks, the small people who need to prove themselves by lashing out at people they perceive as different. And so we Americans have to keep working to make thing better. The same is true for Germany. Society – whether American or German – cannot look the other way and hope that somehow magically bigotry and racism will disappear. We have to speak out and we have to take action.
Racism is not a thing of the past, neither in Germany nor in the U.S. It remains a very modern problem, and increasingly so as populations move around the world in search of better lives in these tough economic times. Racism must be confronted firmly wherever it rears its head – whether along a country lane in America or on a sidewalk outside the Olympia Stadium or anywhere else in the world where jerks think that they can hurt people and get away with it.
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