Friday, January 22, 2010

Manuela Ritz author of The Color of my Skin (“Die Farbe meiner Haut”) on tour

"Neger, Feger" (“Negro”, “chimney sweeper”), were the names other children called her numerous times during her childhood. Usually, Manuela Ritz would not see her perpetrators. She held her head down. At one point she lifted it and hollered back at them „weißer Scheißer (“whitey”, “shit“)! Maybe this was the first step towards her present profession as and to her inner belief: Fighting back sets one free.

It’s the story of German anti-racist trainer ManuEla Ritz (40), and author of her powerfull biograpy “Die Farbe meiner Haut” , or in English “The Color of my Skin”. Her book was published in 2009.

ManuEla Ritz grew up in the small town Mügeln in East Germany, a town coined by the media as extreme right wing. In her book she writes about her experience of growing up in Mügeln, and about growing up as a black German in Germany.

Book tour
In March 2010 ManuEla Ritz will be on a book tour in Germany.
10.3. - Landshut (Bavaria)
11.3. - Oberschleißheim (near Munich)
17.3. - Hannover
18.3. - Leipzig
19.3. - Cologne - not confirmed
22.3. - Bielefeld

In an interesting interview (German) Ritz talks about her workshops, and how racism works. A short translation from 2: 43 till 5:22).

Interviewer: when I think of racism I think of Neo-nazis and violance, but there is also everyday racism. Where does racism actually begin?

Ritz: When I give empowerment workshops, I say to people that racism is what you experience. Racism is a form of discrimination. Discrimination just means treating a person differently. And the "different" means who is outside the norm and who is not. And when you're outside the norm I can ask you different questions, I can look at you differently, and I can touch you, which is not "normal" in our society.

Interviewer: could you give an example?

Ritz: A friend of mine told me, a grown up woman, that in bus her hair was touched to see how it felt. She thought "hello" are we in the year hundred.

Book Review

Because the story of ManuEla Ritz is very powerfull I have added the complete English book review.


ManuEla Ritz is working as trainer for Anti-Racism and Empowerment Workshops. In her biography “The Color of my Skin“, which was published in April 2009 by Herder Verlag, she describes her job and the reasons that made her chose this profession. She does this by describing scenes she has experienced in her life as Black German woman, reflections which include joyful as well as painful memories. The author calls her book rightfully „not a biography in the traditional sense“. The reality of her life - once in East Germany and now in a unified German republic - is inevitably connected with the central theme of her work,
life and pain: Racism and how one can fight it.

The fact that this is a book which gives encouragement and which has been written by an author who has still „hope in her heart“ becomes clear in her introductory words. Here ManuEla Ritz describes the effects which Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States has had on her in December 2008. He fought a seemingly hopeless battle and won it. This is an experience she has made as well and continues to do so until today: „Racism in Germany is still existing,“ she says, and the experiences she presents in her book leave no room for doubts about this statement.

ManuEla Ritz grew up in a small town in Saxony, Mügeln. The reader finds out at the very beginning of the book that already her journey into life and her arrival in the same were accompagnied by complications and separations. It were those very circumstances of her birth that caused that ManuEla Ritz experienced few days after the first change of environment which was her transport into a foster house for babies in Mügeln, which was 15 kilometers away.

Mügeln, where ManuEla spent her childhood and youth, was the place where she made her first experiences with racism. „There was a time during childhood, in which I felt the pressure from the outside world to define myself through an ethnic heritage which was unknown to me. I was given the impression that I was not a real German.” She describes the feeling of being excluded from the rest of the group and her participation in the game “Who is afraid of the Black Man” in the chapter about her childhood. Until today the game represents to her an intrinsic example of how children are taught to think in racist categories at a very early age. This is another reason why ManuEla Ritz believes in fighting racism in a very early stage. The fact that she offered an Anti-Racism workshop against racism at the school of her
childhood in Mügeln is therefore no coincidence at all. The media treated the town as synonym for the existence of right wing violence when in 2007 eight men of Indian heritage were beaten up and hunted through the streets of the city by a mob.

Mügeln is also the place where ManuEla Ritz learned for the first time how liberating it feels to defend oneself successfully against racism. „Neger, Feger“, were the names other children called her numerous times during her childhood. Usually, ManuEla Ritz would not see her perpetrators. She held her head down. At one point she lifted it and hollered back at them „weißer Scheißer!“ Maybe this was the first step towards her present profession and to her inner belief: Fighting back sets one free.

And there where many things she had to fight against, e.g., the obstacles she had to overcome when starting the search for her biological parents. With different experiences and realizations at the end of these roads which brought her first to Meißen, the city of her birth, and much later in 2007 to Nairobi in Kenya, the country of her father.

Years before these travels, ManuEla Ritz had experienced that in a unified Germany there is not automatically a place for Black people. Again, she had to learn how it feels to be excluded, an experience which she turned into a movie script after she had completed a further education study program in script writing. In this work, she describes how the unification brought freedom for many and fears for others. For ManuEla Ritz these experiences are part of her path of life: „Fear can paralyze“, she writes. „Fear can also
motivate. Fear, and even more so the desire not to allow that my life is dominated by it, were important aspects for my decision, to become an Anti-Racism-Trainer.“ She talks about this in the second half of the book, in which she also shares experiences and insights that she made during her work as Anti-Racism-Trainer. Beside that she also points to scenes of daily life racism, e.g., arbitrary controls of Black peoples’ passports as well as the common usage of established racist terminologies in the German language.

When ManuEla Ritz claims that working constructively with the topic racial discrimination is a necessity, she does this also from the perspective of a mother of two children. Her goal is to assist them, so that they are able to find and create their own strategies at hand and to strengthen them in the way they deal with racism. The topic „How do I tell my children“...what racism is about and how you fight it, is a central matter to her.

Participants of her workshops learn, that racism has many faces and that the need to fight against it, is central for a society in general, not only for those who are its target. ManuEla Ritz is aware of the fact that most white Germans have to get used to the thought that racism exists in Germany. „They don’t experience it“. Others do and not all of them survive it. The reader gets aware of this in the chapter that deals with racially motivated assassinations in Germany and that makes clear that racism concerns everybody. ManuEla Ritz knows: compassion does not help those who are the target of racism. Compassion is not visible and it does not offer any protection against attackers. The conditions that allow racism to take place at all are explained in her Anti-Discrimination-Workshops: „Discrimination is only possible if there is a majority who does not interfere” ManuEla Ritz stated once in an interview. “Those who keep silent, seem to agree.“

ManuEla Ritz is also describing strategies for those who have to deal with racist attacks. She explains to them the importance of understanding how internalized racism works. As she makes clear, it is important to replace it with the knowledge that racism is a powerful social and oppressive structure.

Structures of power and oppression are also dealt with in the subsequent chapter in which ManuEla Ritz provides an introduction to the topic Adultism. Adultism refers to the discrimination of children and youths through adults. Based on this phenomenon, the author shows that all types of discrimination are based on similar structures. To provide evidence for her findings, she presents a theoretical model as well as empirical findings from Adultism workshops that she has conducted during the course of the last four years.

Beside this biography there is more material the reader can turn to after completing the book. ‚Homestory Deutschland’, a multi-media theatre piece about Black German lives and experiences is a well received project, that provides an inter-generational and deep view onto topics that the reader will be acquainted with from ManuElas Ritz’ biography


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