Here are a few things that we Americans know that Germans like: Electronica, Center Left Politics, David Hasselhoff and Barack Obama. Unfortunately, Electronica has never really caught on in the United States, most of our presidents have been Republicans, and David Hasselhoff has become the human version of actor Troy McClure.
However, Americans do know a little something about Barack Obama, a president who has remained steadfastly popular across Europe, especially in Germany, despite his up and down approval numbers here. As of last week Germany finally got their very own official “Barack Obama” – but he seems extremely reluctant to take on that job.
40-year old John Ehret was elected mayor of Mauer, a small town in Southern Germany last week, making him the first ‘Black’ elected mayor in Germany in modern times. Ehret, a former Bundeskriminalamt (Germany’s version of the FBI) agent was like many millions of Afro-Germans, born of an African American father who was a U.S. soldier stationed in Germany and a local German woman.
His parents didn’t stay together long, and when his mother tragically died of a brain tumor he was adopted by a German family and raised, for good or for ill, as a ‘typical’ German child. After working successfully in civil service and law enforcement for years he took a chance at running for public office in the town he was adopted into and won.
While Ehret’s election is an incredible advance for him personally and likely an excellent selection for the town’s residents, he is unlikely to have a larger impact on Afro-Germans due to demographics, culture and of course his personal attitude.
One of the many lessons I learned about German culture while lecturing and touring in Germany earlier this year was that like many European nations, the local population loves President Barack Obama (he’s still more popular in most of Europe than he is in the United States). But, Germany, of course, has a much more nuanced relationship with Blacks actually living in the country.
The attitudes of the majority of white Germans towards Africans who come to the county for work or education differs immensely from their views of “Afro-Germans.”
Afro-Germans are generally bi-racial Generation Xers who have African American fathers who were stationed in Germany during the cold war and had kids, and more recently interracial couplings between Africans and German women. Many Afro-Germans can tell horror stories of discrimination financially, socially and professionally. There is a pervasive stereotype that all bi-racial children in Germany are the result of horny Black American soldiers and loose local German girls. Negotiating a bi-racial identity is difficult in a country that essentially has no popular culture or political role models for bi-racial Germans to identify with (Milli-Vanilli don’t count). In Psychology researcher Rebecca Hubbard’s research on Afro-Germans many of the interview participants relate stories of feeling ostracized or ‘set apart’ from German society because they were bi-racial:
Some people automatically think I can’t be German because I’m not White. When I explain to them that I was born and raised here, then they say, “Yes, I know that you’re German, because you’re a German citizen, but what else are you?” Then they want to know where I get the color of my skin. […] I think it’s unfortunate that people don’t see me as German because I’m not White or because my Dad is American.
So how is this applicable to Ehret’s election? While European cities have seen a rise in the election of Black and African mayors over the last decade such elections have not led to a commensurate increase in overall political power or even voice for minorities in Europe. Most importantly, men like Ehret, who strongly identify with their ‘German’ and tacitly not-African American heritage, are unlikely to bring about any significant change in that dynamic.
When asked how he viewed the potential responsibility of being a role model or inspiration for other Black Germans Ehret made it pretty clear where he stands in his interview in “De Local” a well- known National German magazine:
Ehret, who insists he’s never experienced discrimination in Germany, is now in an odd position in which Black Germans want him to be an example to others. But he’s not interested in that role.
“For that I feel I’m too German,” he said.
Too German to be an example to others? Or simply too German to be an example to other Afro-Germans? Regardless of the interpretation, for European Blacks and Afro-Germans in particular who are looking for their own “Obama,” it is obvious that they will need to keep looking.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.