What was the deepest question anyone asked you

What racism has to do with each and every one of us "My skin color hurts"

Christian Lerch in conversation with Sarah Murrenhoff

How can you, as a white man, talk about racism? Christian Lerch asks himself this question. For his feature "Anthropogen Black" he went on a journey: to the southern states of the USA and to his own white self-image.

Has dealt with his own whiteness: Christian Lerch, the author of the feature "Anthropogenic Black". (Photo: private)

Deutschlandfunk culture: Christian Lerch, you dared to tackle a very difficult topic - as a white man, reporting on racism. How do you feel about the original broadcast of the feature "Anthropogenic Black"?

Christian Lerch: I always look forward to reactions. My last feature on gun violence in Chicago was criticized for reporting black people but putting a white priest at the center of my story. A valid criticism that ultimately led me to now do a feature on racism in the US. I am curious what kind of reactions will come. I can imagine people asking, "Why should I deal with issues that are unique to the US?" But racism is not only valid in the USA, it has a meaning in all societies that are dominated by whites, in all former colonial societies to this day. Whether you want to accept it or not. I hope that white people really think about it and acknowledge, "ah yes, I am a white person!". And hopefully the story will not be recorded as "yet another story about an impoverished black minority". Because it doesn't. Rather, it is a story about the white dominant majority.

Is still ubiquitous in the southern states: the Confederate flag, for many the symbol of slavery. (Photo: Christian Lerch)

Deutschlandfunk culture: For the feature, you reflect very strongly on your role as whites. You have a critical whiteness Made the seminar, prepared very consciously for the interviews in the southern states. You say you went into the training with the belief that you were not racist. How do you feel about it now?

Christian Lerch: I wish I wasn't racist. But in the end, that's a feeling. And that is put to the test every day. How I behave in the subway, how I look at people. Whether I talk to people differently because they have a different skin color than me. I think everyone has racist prejudices, you can tell me what you want. You can't be that open at all. Because as a white person you would have to be constantly reassured: How does the other person see you as a white person, here in a white majority society? And very few people do that. The whiteness researcher Robin DiAngelo, with whom I did the training, says: We are growing up in a society that has made whiteness the norm. And that's why whites don't have to reflect at all what being white means. That doesn't make us racists straight away, but with that we absorb a lot of racism in our socialization. I don't know whether we will get that away into old age - through experience, through exchange, through interaction. It's an individual process, I don't think anyone has ever finished learning. Me neither.

Deutschlandfunk culture: How is it that you decided to do the anti-racism training with a white woman? There are a lot of people of color who offer this kind of training.

Christian Lerch: I found Robin DiAngelo's career interesting. She had to fight her way up from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and made it to university professorship. And yet she always said: I was much better off than any black man. Because I was white.

Deutschlandfunk culture: Nevertheless, it is a special feature of anti-racism training that it is white.

Christian Lerch: That is absolutely correct and a good point of criticism. But that's how our media system works. I only knew about her about books, and these books in turn publish publishing houses, the majority of which are in white hands. Robin DiAngelo is very loud, makes YouTube videos, draws attention to himself. There are probably a lot of African-American anti-racism trainers, only: I didn't notice them. And Robin DiAngelo's book, "White Fragility", in which she emphasized being white so strongly, kept me very busy. It helped me to see myself as a white person in the first place and to put myself in the picture. I don't know if black anti-racism trainers would do it with such directness. Robin DiAngelo says: "You really have to learn to be white". She told me to get out of the comfort zone. And that's right: We whites are really left alone when it comes to our identity. At least white men.

Deutschlandfunk culture: How was the experience of the critical whiteness Training for you?

Christian Lerch: At first I reacted as probably many white people react. With rejection. You have an image of yourself as open, liberal and of course not racist. And then you are asked questions such as: Where did you first see a black person or even know that there were black people? What did you look like? How did they live and what was their role? And then I say it was in a comic book or an oriental fairy tale. And then you reflect and somehow think to yourself, wow, that's uncomfortable. This is really not a pleasant experience. I got really queasy. I don't want to see myself white all the time. The color of my skin hurts. But we have to. So many minorities have to constantly reflect on their own identity. And why shouldn't we whites do that too? We're not supposed to be so lazy.

Deutschlandfunk culture: They are very fair and make themselves the protagonists of the feature and reveal a lot about themselves, for example the Black Facing The story of when your face was painted black for an opera when you were five years old.

Christian Lerch: That was an overcoming. But I think that's part of the process when I ask people like the writer Jesmyn Ward to speak about the death of her brother and her three best friends - and speak very openly about it - then I can also talk about my past Black Facing talking as a little kid. I have to do that in order to establish a certain equivalence. As a child, of course, I didn't even know what Black Facing means. But now, in retrospect, I know.

The African American writer Jesmyn Ward speaks in the feature "Anthropogen Schwarz" about her experiences with racism. (Photo: Christian Lerch)

Deutschlandfunk culture: How did the protagonists react to you? Did you like to share their stories with you?

Christian Lerch: I approached her with this statement: "I know, I am white and I am a man" because most of them were women, "it is extremely difficult for me to talk about racism, so I ask you, me to help understand what it is like to be exposed to structural racism on an everyday basis. " And I think people were happy that someone was interested in them. It has to be said that DeLisle in Mississippi, where I conducted the interviews, is not exactly on the media map. It is also very difficult to get there, that is really the deepest wasteland. I think every visitor who asks questions in this direction is very much wanted. It doesn't matter whether it's a white or a black journalist.

Deutschlandfunk culture: You have chosen a very specific narrative perspective to describe your own experiences. You are speaking in you-form to a child. Your child?

Christian Lerch: It is not my child. It's supposed to be a bit of an abstract child of all of us. The question that stands at the end: will it get better one day? Do we have hope? Is there any hope of change? This you-form or this child that I am addressing is more of an abstract future. What comes after me. What comes after all of us. Will we still have this relationship between black and white? Between minorities and majorities? Radio is such an intimate medium and when you use the "you" people feel very attracted to it. And with the fact that I am leafing through my own past, I found the "you" to be correct, because I give something of myself for this "you".

Deutschlandfunk culture: What do you think you can do as a white person? Can you get rid of racism?

Christian Lerch: I don't believe in the big change. Racism will not go away as long as it is politically useful. And as long as it is a political mechanism of repression, we will continue to uphold the construct of racism. In America or in Europe. We invested, really invested in monetary terms in this system. We whites would not do so well if this structural racism no longer existed, not only of a financial nature. So equality is a vision of the future, is a hope that one can have. But a lot would have to be done for this to come true, or the majority society would have to give up a lot. As an individual white person, I think all that remains is to be very careful over and over again when dealing with non-white people and always reflect on how you approach them yourself and always think about the position from which you are talking to them.

Deutschlandfunk culture: In the feature, a great sentence comes up on exactly this question: "Forget that I'm black. Don't forget that I'm black."

Christian Lerch: We really have to endure this contradiction. And whites have to write this behind their ears whenever they interact with non-whites.



About the feature "Anthropogenic Black":

Institutionalized Racism in the South of the USA - Anthropogenic Black
(Deutschlandfunk Kultur, Feature, December 3rd, 2019)