Monday, October 26, 2009

German reporter criticised for posing as black man in film

German reporter Günter Wallraff spent over a year travelling through Germany disguised as fictional Somalian man Kwami Ogonno for the film Schwarz auf Weiss ( Black on White ). His goal was to experience racisme at first hand, so he put on a blackface for the occasion.

And he succeeded. In East-Germany – of course - he was attacked by drunken youth. Read the full story here.

But Afro-German Noah Sow, author of Deutschland Black & White, criticised Walraff: “A painted white person is not a black person and cannot have the same experiences even if he thinks he can,” said Noah Sow, author of Everyday Racism in Germany . “Wallraff is earning money and respect on the backs of oppressed minorities.”

If you're not acquainted with Germany this film may seem as an eye opener, but racism in Germany doesn't need to be uncovered. Long before the 2006 FIFA World cup football tournament even the FIFA warned people of colour to stay away from the “rural areas” in East German Berlin.

And Günter? I think he wanted to be on the news again, but this time with a racism show with hidden cameras. If he really wanted to expose racism he could have used the black guy in the film. But I think the sole purpose of this black man was just to legitimate his blackface.

See shots of the film in the interview (German)


  1. This is comical. The guy looks like a reject from the 1970s, or an entry for a fancy dress competition!
    If he really wanted to know about racism, why not just ask or use those who are affected by racism everyday?
    Just wanted to add that I love this blog. It's refreshing to see European affairs from an afrocentric perspective. Keep up the good work :)

  2. Posing as a Black man is actually a good idea.
    For some reason, psychologists say people have an easier time believing someone who looks like them. It's unfortunate it would take a White man in blackface to research issues of race in Germany but it does add a different perspective. Many White people say there is no racism or it is exaggerated by Black people. This is one instance maybe that statement could not be made. Who knows, perhaps this film at least gives one food for thought?


  3. Hi Gwen thanks for your comment. Of course seeing it live on film may help the debate on racism in Germany. The problem is that has a bit of an entertainment element in. I think that Günter Wallraff did a great job in 1985 when he exposed the hidden racism when he went ‘undercover’ as a Turkish man named Ali. But today racism in Germany isn’t something that needs to be exposed. There have been serious incidents which made international headlines. But I hope you’re right!

  4. I heard about this story a little while back. Here's what I don't understand: why did this need to be done by a white man? I understand the message he's going for, and it's a good one. But why wasn't this just done by a black reporter. It would be the exact same premise, and the results would probably be even more staggering and sad, because I guarantee a lot of people who saw this guy could tell he was not of African descent. I really just think this would have worked better if a black German reporter had done it. The problem with blackface is that it contains an inherent assumption that a white person must act out the part of the black person for the benefit of black people, and that is a dangerous assumption. I think people should just stay away from it in general.

    1. if you have never lived in Germany and have a crical view in life you will not understand this unlike UK AND USA tthere are almost no black journalists in Germany so too are intellectuals,a black person in germn media has to represent the stereiotypes a wife of a prominent german,musician, clreaner thief or a prostitute.Even when there are few in the profession they rarely get a chance gto enter the white dominated media,the ignorance of the black race is german africa is one country where all inhabitants are black.without the support and accent free german Gunter walraff had to do the story most of the people he interviewed will not even talked to him.Any normal person in other cultures can notice painted black person but not in German. Every christman season the three wise kings visit the chancellor and the king from the east is usually represented by a painted white kid.ask yourself w whether they are no black german kids who are worth the salt to attend such an event.

  5. The reason why this is not done by a black reporter, is the reason why this film is criticised. I think Gunther wanted make headlines again. It's just a anti-racism show.

  6. This person has a genuine interest in confronting the middle class with unjustice and has done so in many ways, often taking on himself significant burdens. He has kept discrimination issues in the main press and he deserves our respect for that! To Afro-Europe's comment "he wanted to make headlines again". Yes, of course, because it is these headlines that help change public awareness of the issues confronted! To Noah Sow's comment: Such attacks help those he would not like to see himself associated with. He is undermining a man who has striven for justice in Europe more than anyone I can recall. Read his books and see if you can still uphold your comments Sow! I bet you don't!

  7. I saw half of the documentary last night on German TV (I'm from Austria) and I can honestly say that there wasn't the tiniest bit of entertainment to it. If you think this is similar to what michael moore does? Think again. Or better, watch it. I had my doubts as well when I saw that this German, middle aged white male wanted to go out in black-face - something that isn't as nearly a common taboo here as in the more western/anglo american parts of the world -, and yet . .. damn, you could really see WHY he did this. It didn't only prove that racism is still there, a day to day normality in a lot of parts of the country. No, it also painfully pointed out the systematic structure of it, how fast and superficial people make their judgments. His black-face and wig isn't even that good - heck, he *really* doesn't look african at all - and still, people gave him one look, probably only registered the dark skin color and dismissed him as 'other'. When a waitress at a restaurant asked him whether he could read when he took a minute with the menu, my mouth fell open. Gotta second other commenters here: this man is exposing racism in a way that makes it the focus of the majority, which is where the real problem lies. Hopefully this'll have some palpable effects on at least the way people think about others, no matter where their differences are.

  8. stefanievarga, thanks for sharing this! I believe you that this is not entertainment, especially the way you described it. Maybe you and Darius are right and I should see this film to really understand what this documentary is all about. So thanks again!


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