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Blackface Journalism

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In a new film, German investigative journalist Günther Wallraff “has a makeup artist cover him in dark brown makeup, he wears brown contact lenses and he dons an afro wig. Then, using the alias Kwami Ogonno, he takes a trip across Germany to discover for himself what it’s like to be black in Germany” (SpOn).

He apparently didn’t think it was more approriate to simply ask black Germans. Instead, he hired a make-up artist, a camera team, he dressed up as an “African” and  went on to release a book and a movie. Supported by predominantly positive media coverage, this concept is a box office hit. Germans seem to be startled: ‘Racism, here?’ – it’s something most people seem to be blatantly ignorant of, unless they are told by a white guy.

The international site of Spiegel Online reports citically:

There’s just one odd thing about the movie: If Wallraff really wanted to find out what it’s like to live as a black in Germany, why didn’t he take the time to let any blacks living in Germany answer the question? […]

Black Germans are on the fence about the film. “We find the mindset behind Mr. Wallraff’s film very problematic,” says Tahir Della, a spokeswoman from the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD). “As is so often the case, someone is speaking forrather than with us.” Noah Sow, an educator and musician associated with the media watchdog organization Der braune Mob (The Brown Mob), even goes so far as to accuse Wallraff of “making money from our suffering” regardless of whether he “really intends to combat (racism) or not.” […]

The main criticism levied against Wallraff’s film is that it fails to portray the debate about racism against blacks in Germany as being as advanced as it really is. For example, Della criticizes the film for “making absolutely no mention” of how much blacks in Germany have organized themselves. “We’re happy that racism is discussed,” he says, “but black groups have been doing the same thing for over 25 years.”

Sow has a similar criticism. “Wherever you look,” he [sic] says, “whether it’s in academia, publishing or the annual reports of anti-discrimination offices, knowledge about everyday racism is present — and accessible with the click of a mouse.” He adds that: “Whites just have to stop ignoring and doubting these findings.” As he sees it, the only reason Wallraff succeeds in drawing attention to the plight of Kwami Ogonno is that he is “privileged in the racist system (over) research results, publications and testimonials produced by blacks.”

Update: see Noah Sow trying to earn a buck by dressing up as Wallraff here.

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Written by henrik

November 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm