YOUNG GERMANS AND URBAN GLORIFICATION

by Candice Nembhard

In recent years the discussion of gentrification and globalisation has become almost unavoidable – and for the most part, these terms have now been resigned as popular buzzwords in pseudo-intellectual conversations. As glib as this may sound, I shall do my best to explain.

While many a piece has been written on this subject, this is in fact not my primary focus. My intention is not to deny the lived and consequential reality of western mobilisation, but rather look towards the supporters and benefactors of this growing socio-economic practice. In particular, a generation of young people who are forgoing academic careers in favour of acquired/inherited wealth and personal development. More specifically, I will focus on my experience in post-Brexit Germany.

it’s not hard to fall for the popular belief that Berlin is a utopian paradise. For fear of being unclear, it isn’t.

According to a recent study conducted by Zoopla, renting in London is almost half of the cost of a monthly mortgage repayment, and more and more young people under the age of 25 are steadily becoming accustomed to a life of house shares and constant moving. This is perhaps even more the case in Berlin, where high demands for apartments have caused rent prices to rise by nearly 10%. For anyone who has tried to rent or even sub-let in the city, you will understand the damned reality of short leases, unreliable contracts, and unforgiving landlords.

Having been living in Berlin for the past six months, I have noticed a popular lifestyle choice adopted by many young German nationals under the age of 30 – a lifestyle that includes appearing immune to economic and political stresses yet glorifying narratives of struggle and personal misfortune.  In a city famed for its underground nightlife, cheap tuition and governmental subsidiaries, it’s not hard to fall for the popular belief that Berlin is a utopian paradise. For fear of being unclear, it isn’t.

( Rent increase in Berlin via TheLocal.de )

For many young people of colour such as myself, there is growing concern within facets of both working and underground Berlin-based cultures that speak to the ideological padded room many Berliners have locked themselves within. So called ‘safe-spaces’ are nothing more than exclusive, self-congratulatory realms in which inclusive banners such as ‘queerness’ and ‘flat hierarchies’ are used to cover up sexist, dated, and all round ignorant behaviour. Arguments such as ‘I’m gay, I can’t be racist’ or ‘I lived in Mozambique for three months’ and ‘I love Beyoncé’ are popular examples of this kind of thinking.

These examples are not exclusive to Germany, but I cannot even begin to express the numerous incidents of fetisishism, exoticism and silencing that are reported and shared on Berlin-based social media. From my peers alone, these posts vary from being asked to get involved in sexual race play, infiltration of QTBPOC spaces by persons who identify otherwise, and misogynoir from white, cis men.

This, unfortunately, makes meaningful discussion about unpleasurable experience almost impossible.

What’s more is that the proprietors of this ill will are the very people that are more than happy to engage in discussions regarding  I am Not Your Negro, Moonlight and Get Out (which have become popular screening choices in leftist-berlin art spaces), date people of colour yet abdicate personal responsibility for their own bigoted attitudes under the scope of a new-found liberalism that they believe gives them license to be disrespectful.

Especially within contemporary art, film, and music circles, there is a cyclical theme of latching onto narratives of struggle and warfare (as exemplified in the sudden popularity of Moonlight after the Oscars win) that exist outside of the spectator’s own reality and in doing so making it trendy; or suffering by association. The inherent problem with trends is that  they are only sustainable, probable, and practical for a select few. For many others – i.e. people of colour – the depictions  that are reflected within global media sources more often than not ignite deep rooted traumas that are tamely passed of as ‘entertainment’ in the public eye. This, unfortunately, makes meaningful discussion about unpleasurable experience almost impossible.

( Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out © Universal Pictures )

Furthermore, when suggestions are brought forward (by people of colour) with the intention to better protect and utilise these spaces, there is an overwhelming unwillingness to rectify or modify problematic practices. I see this most at work in queer, leftist spaces, which are quick to use, reference, and parody popular black entertainers and celebrities, yet do nothing to support or serve the cultural communities they originate from. For example, the use of AAVE and representations of ball/drag culture tandem with racial dating preferences and internalised misogyny.

In not seeing how race and gender intersect with other aspects of self-identification, we are doing nothing but a disservice to young people in Germany. It means that more and more young people of colour are distancing themselves from traditional and long-standing spaces within the city in favour of personal wellbeing and protection. It also means that black led/black organised events lose their tone of voice in fear of upsetting or excluding the white majority, which should not be the case.

In not seeing how race and gender intersect with other aspects of self-identification, we are doing nothing but a disservice to young people in Germany

Unity is important, but so is making the distinctions between being an ally or supporter and making a mockery. I have no doubt in my mind that this picking up and throwing away of ethnic minority cultures by non-people of colour will continue to exist and be practiced. I also have no doubts that young people of colour moving in and out Germany will become even more determined to find their community and start wonderful initiatives.

What I do doubt is whether or not something will change in the minds of the generation that comes  after us, and where their intentions and values will lie. Will young people of colour have the courage to speak out about the oppression they feel? And will young white Germans have the decency to listen and admit that their contributions to exoticism and fetishism of black working class values and lifestyles are a hindrance to social progress? Unfortunately, I do not have the the answer, but I hope that with my questioning, I can prompt a dialogue from both sides.

Featured image via Pixabay

 


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