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Hanau terror attack and the futility of being a *good foreigner*

Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]
Mourners lighting candles for the victims of the white supremacist terror attack in Hanau Germany

I wish I could say that I was surprised when Hanau shootings happened but the truth is, that I was not. Not one bit and that is a scary admission. There is an underlying hostility that we people of color feel in the midst of white people.

Sometimes it is in the form of silence and sometimes it is in the form of rationalizations.

“No he didn’t mean it like that.”

“She is old, she doesn’t know any better.”

Mostly though, it is in the form of the fragility of their emotions. Those emotions that make you hesitate to have honest discussions about race with them.

A friend from southern Asia told me about his colleague telling him in the aftermath of Hanau about all these foreigners who are mooching off the state and driving ordinary Germans into the hands of AFD, the right wing neo-Nazi party. Looking at his brown skin, he sat there motionless. Would AFD supporters see past his brown skin? Would they care that he was highly educated and earned an income much higher than the national average? Would a racist spare his brown son because he is not like those other terrible loser foreigners? He told me he didn’t say anything. He did not know what to say. It is really difficult to defend yourself against people who hate you. But how do you defend yourself against people who actually think they like you? How do you do that without hurting their feelings?

Why didn’t you say anything? I asked him when he stood up to leave. But I already knew the answer.

Two years ago, I went with a friend to an event organized by a local progressive community in my town. They were supportive of foreigners and had invited the police department to give a talk to the locals on the state of security. The purpose was to quell worries about security as a result of the influx of refugees. The spokesman of the police department started talking and one could almost hear a pin drop. The audience was hanging onto his every word.

„No, there is no evidence that crime has shot up. No from our numbers, it is not true that foreigners are committing most crimes. And no,there is no reason to feel insecure. This town is much more secure than it has been in ages.”

But but but… They raised their hands furiously. A tall lean man with brown wiry hair was particularly eager. „With all due respect, it is not just about the numbers. It is about the feeling you get.“ He locked eyes with the cop. But the cop was staring at him blankly. What the hell are you talking about? His eyes seemed to ask. The lean man turned to the audience.

„Every place you turn, you see strange faces. Don’t get me wrong. I have many foreigner friends but you have to admit that something has fundamentally changed in this town.“

The cop shrugged. The audience stared. Cold sceptical stares.What the hell is wrong with you? They seemed to collectively ask the cop.

One after the other,people talked of their love of foreigners. The good kind of foreigners. The ones with the good sense to stay in their own countries. Like Ahmad from Mauritania who has been best friends with Frau Müller and her family for over thirty years. He keeps bees and is the kindest most generous person she has ever met. I felt myself squirming.

And then there were cocktails. A woman walked to me and held her glass for a toast.

Prost! She smiled effusively.

„My friend’s boyfriend is from Gambia“ she told me.

I thought of telling her about Magda, the Russian piano teacher who I like very much. If she thought I needed to know about random black people, then I could as well return the favour and tell her of random white people.

A Ghanaian acquaintance told me that whenever white people bombard him with questions about African foods, he starts asking them about Ukranian borscht. Do they know it? Do they like it? The reactions he told me range from incredulity to anger.

“I have never been to Ukraine, how would I know Ukrainian borscht?” An exasperated Swedish colleague of his once responded before bursting out laughing.

I was not in such luck.

„He came by boat across the mediterannean. Did you also come by boat?“

“Me?” I mumbled, almost spitting my drink. My stomach twisting. I could barely breathe. It suddenly dawned on me that these people, these foreigner loving people had been talking about me the whole evening. No matter what they said, they could never tell the *good foreigners* and the *bad foreigners* apart.

We Ausländer were a collective unit. Sometimes, we got acceptance into their midst but it was never without conditions. We could work hard and be the most law abiding citizens but we would always be punching bags for anyone looking for easy explanations for complex societal problems.

I went home. I had never felt so vulnerable.