A piece in the New York Times today that echoes much of the soul-searching that’s been happening in German and other European newspapers: With the World Cup imminent, racial tensions here are being put on a world stage.
Several ugly racial incidents have dominated headlines in the month-plus we’ve been here. A Ethiopian-born man was attacked and nearly killed in a Berlin suburb. A Black child was attacked by a gang of other kids, on obvious racial grounds. An ethnic Turkish member of paliament was assaulted. Fans at a soccer game taunted a Nigerian player with monkey sounds; he gave them the Nazi salute, which is illegal here, and was subsequently charged (though the charge was quickly dropped).
Some anti-racism groups are warning non-whites to stay out of certain areas of Germany, because “it is possible (they) wouldn’t get out alive.”
Nor is this kind of behavior limited to Germany. According to the Times:
Players and antiracism experts said they expected offensive behavior during the tournament, including monkey-like chanting; derisive singing; the hanging of banners that reflect neofascist and racist beliefs; and perhaps the tossing of bananas or banana peels, all familiar occurrences during matches in Spain, Italy, eastern Germany and eastern Europe.
German officials have said they expect demonstrations by far-right, neo-Nazi type groups during the Cup. But this is more potentially disturbing. This is not organized behavior, it is grassroots prejudice among people who feel, for whatever reason, that has become acceptable to act this way.
The United States has had a hideous race problem since its creation. But for all the serious, lingering problems, it is something the country (occasionally) deals with openly and productively. We had a civil rights movement. Prop. 187 in California showed a dangerous level of anti-Latino prejudice, but there were consequences — the Republicans lost political control for a decade. The immigrant movement now gaining steam may have the same effect nationwide.
The U.S. has the advantage of being grounded in a theory of inclusion and immigration which has nothing do to with race or national origin. Yes, the *practice* of that has been deeply flawed from the beginning, with property-owning white men being initially the only full citizens, and other groups being disenfranchised economically and politically even to the present. But ideals are strong, and I believe this embattled theory remains one of the deepest underlying strands of cohesion in the country, despite the corrosive effects of racism and nationalism.
European countries, for the most part, do not have this founding ideal. They are based on territory, and in many cases the idea of a people or nation, not abstract ideals. The patterns of immigration throughout history make this nonsensical (read Herodotus on the way all tribes bounced around the Mediterrean if there’s any question about this), but again, ideas are strong, and nationalism and racism have had less to counterbalance them here.
Europe is at a point in history where world migration patterns, and the free flow of labor and capital, must force it to become a region of inclusiveness and immigration. The alternative is to become brittle, with an aging population that impoverishes the region while India and China become tomorrow’s superpowers.