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It's not black against white. It's everybody against racists

Jonathan Harding | Ali Farhat
June 13, 2020

Three black footballers in the Bundesliga tell DW about how they see racism on and off the pitch and what teammates, coaches and fans can do to stop it. The answer is not as easy as saying, "I'm not a racist."

Bildkombo Fußballspieler | Josuha Guilavogui, Anthony Ujah und Jeremiah St. Juste

Anthony Ujah (29), striker, Union Berlin

I have this dream, this wish. I am not [Nelson] Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr., but I know one simple thing and that is what is good and what is wrong — and that's enough. I know one simple thing and that is racism is bad because we are living in one world and we all have one life. It costs nothing to be nice to someone regardless of their color or their race or nationality. I am dreaming of seeing us in a world where a white kid will come home to his parents and say, ‘Look, daddy, tomorrow, there is someone of color in my class who has a birthday can I get €10 because we want to get him a gift because he's the only one in our class.' So this person can feel this love. He would never think, I am being treated differently.

I've been in Germany for I don't know how many years now and I have never seen a black man reading the news. Are you trying to tell me there has not been a black person who was born in this country who is educated, has no criminal record, studied and got really good grades in school and did everything possible to qualify him for the job? But he's still not getting that job. It's impossible to tell me that there are no black people in this country who have gone through this process.

Diversity, acceptance, tolerance, all these things we go on about. It's not just about a campaign. Put it into something practical. You want to tell me Jerome Boateng, no matter how many years he stays at Bayern Munich, no matter how many trophies he wins, that he will one day be head coach of Bayern, if he wants to be, if he qualifies for it, if he gets his coaching license and he's one of the best, you think he will one day be the head coach? No, but I have hope for tomorrow. I am optimistic.

In the 2014-15 season, Anthony Ujah celebrated a goal with a message of support for Eric Garner.
In the 2014-15 season, Anthony Ujah celebrated a goal with a message of support for Eric Garner.Image: Imago Images/T. Zimmermann

When a child is growing up and taking a walk with their parents and they see a black person coming and they grab the hand of the child and take him to the other way because a black person is coming, that is where the child starts to get the wrong message. That's where the change begins because that child will have the memory that black people are bad, that there's something wrong with socializing with black people.

There is more to be done because this thing didn't start on social media so it's not going to end on social media. It started from our great, great, great, great grandfathers, from generations many years ago, that's the reason a lot has to be done, that's why it has to go deeper into the schools, deeper into the system. The system that says a person of color cannot be my boss in this company, that a person of color cannot be my teacher, you know the system that keeps black people away from the spotlight, that needs to start changing.

I woke up in the morning to the news in Mainz [editorial note: Mainz issued a public response of disgust to an email from a fan canceling their membership because of the number of black players on the team, writing, "Sometimes we are relieved to lose members”] and I was pumped up with energy and happiness. I felt proud that I played for this team with the way they responded. It's possible that some people are already pulling out for this reason but they never said it, but this person who came out to say it, I respect this person, honestly, because such people, you can change them. I don't know how this person is feeling right now, but after the reactions from the whole world and the people of Mainz, maybe this person will change their mindset about people of color. You know the most dangerous people? The people who say nothing but withdraw their membership from Mainz.

Right now, I can say we are doing better than we were yesterday.

Jeremiah St. Juste (third from the left) has been an instant hit at Mainz, adding strength to the team's defense as well as posing an attacking threat from set-pieces
Jeremiah St. Juste (third from the left) has been an instant hit at Mainz, adding strength to the team's defense as well as posing an attacking threat from set-piecesImage: imago-images/T. Frey

Jeremiah St. Juste (23), defender, Mainz

Institutional racism is a big, big problem worldwide, a big problem in the Netherlands as well, and a big problem in America on a different scale. The demonstrations show people can’t take it anymore. Really, it’s enough. It has been enough for 400 years, but I’m glad the movement has been gaining this much momentum and traction. People are fed up, speaking up, going on the streets and demonstrating which is very good. I hope people are not afraid to speak out anymore and continue to do so, even though they’re in the presence of people who are ignorant about the situation, even though they might be alone in this situation. I hope more people will speak out. A lot of people have been doing it already but not enough to solve the whole problem. 

I’ve been stopped many, many times because I drive a big car and I’m "not supposed" to drive in a big car as a black man. It [racism] is in schools, it’s everywhere. I feel ashamed to tell people who are not from Holland about the use of blackface "Zwarte Piet" [editorial note: A helper of St. Nicolas traditionally portrayed by a white man in blackface] in the country. When you talk about this subject, people go on the defensive, they feel offended right away. It’s not black against white. It's everybody against racists. That's how it’s supposed to be. A lot of people are ignorant. They don't really know much about the situation. They can't feel what people of color feel, I understand that, but they can educate themselves. This is so important. I’ve heard a lot of people already changed their mind about the subject and about "Zwarte Piet."

It is a big mistake to say, "I don’t see color" because I have color and people with black skin have black skin and you should see them as somebody who has black skin because if you don't see color, you don't see the person for who they are. By saying you don't see color, you also say you don't see the struggles, the discrimination, the pain that come with it.

People are scared. When you don’t admit it, when you don't look in the mirror and say, "Maybe I am part of the problem?," when you don't do this, all activism is pointless. It starts with every single person questioning themselves … It will be painful to check your own patterns of behavior or speech. You may come to the conclusion: "Damn, maybe I am racist, maybe I have said racist things, maybe I am part of the problem." That will be uncomfortable, and it will be good. Because by identifying it you can learn from it, educate yourself and turn it into educating other people. That’s so important to end racism.

St. Juste battling with Robert Lewandowski in Mainz's game against Bayern Munich
St. Juste battling with Robert Lewandowski in Mainz's game against Bayern MunichImage: Imago Images/T. Frey

A huge part of white privilege is the lack of understanding of how much white people are in a position of privilege. They are asking "Why are you whinging about this?" because they don't perceive it as a problem, as their problem — and thereby don't understand that this question is an admission of white privilege in itself. They need to educate themselves because by not acknowledging white privilege, people become part of the problem.

We need everybody to help overcome racism. That’s the funny thing, if I get discriminated against then it’s my problem to solve it. White people usually look at black people, asking them what they can do about it themselves by altering their behavior before they take a good look at themselves and say "what I can do about it?" People of color don't create racism, they are victims of it — making us responsible for any misgivings about black people when those misgivings are created in the white mind and deeply rooted in century-long racist patterns is a big mistake people make.

You carry it with you all the time. That you have to work harder because of the color of your skin because you’re afraid they’ll see you as somebody purely based on the color of your skin, who doesn't work hard or who is not well educated … People today still think like this. I had it a lot in my youth that I had to work harder, and in school, my friends had it a lot. It’s different from the police violence you see in the United States, but it is there. It’s like a slow-killer here in Holland, a killer that might act more gently, but nevertheless brings death. We need to change it and we need to be aware of the situation.

Four hundred years of asking to change is not helping anymore. Four hundred years and it hasn’t worked out. People and organizations don't listen, the system doesn’t listen, politicians don’t listen. What should we do? I don’t agree with violence but no wonder people are getting crazy because they can’t take it anymore. It’s sad but I am hopeful because I will keep speaking out and I will try to educate myself more so I can educate others. I hope I can touch some souls who will change and educate people. I hope everywhere around the world people will change their minds.

The history books need to change because they are lying, they are enabling white supremacy by merely showing the white perspective. Racism is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is not enough to say "I am not a racist." You have to make an active effort in changing your views and the views of your children.

Josuha Guilavogui is Wolfsburg captain and has long been one of the most consistent holding midfielders in the Bundesliga
Josuha Guilavogui is Wolfsburg captain and has long been one of the most consistent holding midfielders in the BundesligaImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz

Josuha Guilavogui (29), midfielder, Wolfsburg

If you consider yourself a footballer and you are part of a team, I think that white players will also be shocked — and they have to be shocked. When I see what's happening in Italy, it hurt my heart to see that Blaise [Matuidi] had cried and that his team [Juventus] had reacted, but not strongly enough [editorial note: Matuidi suffered racist abuse after scoring in a Serie A game in December 2017]. When Patrick Vieira was a youth coach at Manchester City one of his players was racially abused. He decided to take all his team off the pitch. These values, they have to be passed on by the managers, the coach, the captain. Everyone has to make their commitment against racism clear. Putting messages on armbands or jerseys is good, but there are ways to do better.

The incident in Portugal where Moussa Marega was subjected to racist insults and called a monkey: the referee didn't even want to stop the match! For this kind of action, decisions have to be taken beforehand, between the club's management, the coach and the players. I've talked about this with my teammate Maxi Arnold, who is a friend. He told me that if one of our black players was treated in the same way as Marega, everyone would leave the pitch. That would be the logical thing to do. I do not understand how another player could tell a player to stay on the field at all costs after a racist incident. You can't ignore that kind of thing; otherwise, mentalities will never change, and we'll stay within the logic that it's always isolated cases. We have to fight these kinds of acts.

It's a common prejudice. A bit like when I was young and because I was taller than average, I was asked if I was born in France or in Africa, if I was a "presu" (i.e. a player who looks older than their stated age). That's starting to change, you hear it less and less, and it's coming from a minority .… We can fight against it … You don't have to fight it with tears or messages, but you have to go straight to the person, charge them and ban them from the stadium. Otherwise, there will always be people who will allow themselves anything and everything… The Leroy Kwadwo example really encouraged me. It is proof that attitudes are changing.