It’s all very well to try to expose what you believe to be the latent racism of the German people, says Eckhard Fuhr. But let’s at least be fair about it. Germany remains a largely homogeneous nation, and Germans have little experience with black people—the country has fewer than 200,000 black immigrants. Yet the acclaimed undercover journalist Günter Wallraff still wanted to test German reactions to them. So, posing as a Somali immigrant named Kwami Ogonno, he “blacked up” and traveled around the country with a concealed camera.
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The resulting film, Black on White, is indeed “painful and embarrassing,” and some of what happens to him—being called “nigger,” for instance, and being turned away when he tries to rent a room—is disgraceful. Yet many of the reactions have more to do with his appearance and behavior than the color of his skin. In his ridiculous Afro wig, Wallraff looks more like a “scarecrow” than a real person, and the situations he gets into, such as trying to get a woman in a bar to dance with him and boarding a crowded train full of soccer fans, seem designed to provoke.
He could have achieved much more simply by talking to black people on camera about the racism they encounter all the time. Black writers and filmmakers have been describing German racism for years, but it seems people only deem such accounts noteworthy when they come from a white man.
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