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"What white people don't want to hear about racism but should know" by Alice Hasters: on mosquito bites, hunched shoulders and a watering can that should be emptied
Let's start with this: I'm white. That means I belong to the target group that is directly addressed by the title and invited to read the book. However, not because what is written resembles my life. My life and the author's are different, and primarily because of our skin colors. Alice Hasters writes, "As a white person, you have a certain ease. You just don't worry about certain things that I worry about." And in her 2019 nonfiction book, Hasters contrasts that very lightness with a heaviness she possesses as a Black woman that white people should understand.
"YOU'RE NOT AFRAID OF APARTMENT TOURS, FOR EXAMPLE, OR OF TRAVELING TO RUSSIA. I'M AMAZED AT THE CONFIDENCE WITH WHICH YOU WRITE JOB APPLICATIONS. OR THAT YOU CAN WALK THROUGH SMALL GERMAN TOWNS WITHOUT YOUR SHOULDERS BEING PERMANENTLY HUNCHED. I'VE NEVER FELT THE WAY YOU DO."
When Alice Haster's book came out, I wanted to listen to it the way I always listen to audiobooks or podcasts: while exercising, cleaning out the dishwasher, or driving. But I quickly discovered that didn't work: I just lay on my gym mat, stood around absent-mindedly with the plates in the kitchen, or my mind was no longer on driving but on her voice. Why? Because this book is not something for in between. Alice Hasters demands your attention and more importantly, she gets it. Through her pictorial use of words, through her vivid narratives, and through her impressive courage to break the silence, Alice Hasters creates the focus necessary to sustain the gravity of her book with remarkable ease.
"THESE SMALL MOMENTS, THEY ACT LIKE MOSQUITO BITES. BARELY VISIBLE, ENDURABLE IN ISOLATION, BUT IN SHEER SUM, THE PAIN BECOMES UNBEARABLE."
Hasters reports on a total of five areas of life in which those affected are repeatedly confronted with racism: Everyday life, school, body, love and family. In doing so, she not only provides insights into the history and origins of racism, but also writes about her own experiences. She talks about the particular conflicts she has to go through with her white boyfriend, about self-doubt, self-discovery and about numerous moments when she was asked questions: Questions about her origins, about her hair, why she doesn't straighten it, whether her name is Nancy and whether she can even get a tan in the summer. She writes unsparingly about her past and her present, about who she was and who she is now, how her own thinking has changed, in that she now openly names everyday racism and the thoughts of white people have remained. She describes how she was thought to be a good dancer per se, a thief, and a stranger. Mosquito bite by mosquito bite, she reveals intimate situations and thoughts. Furthermore, she emphasizes that racism is a system that is deeply embedded in our society. For example, children's books rarely feature Black protagonists, and in math book assignments, a Müller family always buys the fruit. Shampoo for Afro hair is not available in the drugstore, but for "normal hair" (according to the label) it is. In movies, Black actors usually play a supporting role and in a book, the skin color of a Black person is usually explicitly mentioned. German colonial history is almost completely blanked out in school and only writings about enlightenment and reason are dealt with by Kant, unmentioned is mostly the fact that he divided humanity into different races.
"BREAKING SILENCE IS FRIGHTENING, PRECISELY BECAUSE THERE IS A RISK OF BEING MISUNDERSTOOD OR HURT. THINGS HAVE TO BE SAID, EVEN IF THIS RISK EXISTS, SAYS LORDE. WELL, I'LL START WITH THAT."
Hasters begins by opening up in this personal way for one main reason: to make readers open up as well. With her book, she makes a powerful point that white people need to be honest with themselves and reflect on their own actions and thinking. Because if you generally classify black people as fast, that's racist. If you are surprised at a woman wearing a headscarf when she speaks German, that is racist, and if you touch black people's hair without being asked, that is also racist. Everyday racism is everywhere and often happens unconsciously, Hasters emphasizes repeatedly. However, if it is made known, those affected rarely meet with understanding and insight. The fear that one was really racist is far too great. Instead, those confronted prefer to reject the accusations directly.
"RARELY DO WHITE PEOPLE FEEL SO ATTACKED, ALONE AND MISUNDERSTOOD AS WHEN THEY OR THEIR ACTIONS ARE CALLED RACIST. THE WORD RACISM ACTS LIKE A WATERING CAN FULL OF SHAME, DUMPED ON THOSE NAMED. BECAUSE THE SHAME IS SO GREAT, THE FOLLOW-UP IS RARELY ABOUT THE RACISM ITSELF, BUT ABOUT MY ACCUSING SOMEONE OF RACISM."
So the title, which indeed sounds a bit cumbersome and quite provocative, hits the nail on the head: white people should read this book, even though they may not want to. They (and I am not excluding myself, of course) should understand which statements, actions, and ways of thinking are already racist and thus discriminatory in order to become aware of their own prejudices and change their thinking. This kind of self-reflection is ultimately the only way to change and thus improve. For it is long past time to pour out the watering cans of shame. And that, you have to do yourself.
"A DISCOURSE ABOUT RACISM IS NOT WORTHWHILE IF PEOPLE'S ONLY GOAL IS TO SAVE THEIR OWN BUTTS FROM REPROACH. IF YOU WANT TO FIGHT RACISM, YOU HAVE TO ADVOCATE CHANGE - AND THAT STARTS WITH YOURSELF."
Note: That black is capitalized in this article and white is italicized follows the author's lead. Neither black nor white refers to skin color or to a biological race, but is part of one's identity.