Updated: Dec 30, 2020
The words of my eight-year old were still ringing in my ears as we drove off the yard of our favorite Italian restaurant where we had just picked up our dinner. I was not in the mood for cooking and would really have preferred to sit down at the restaurant with my family and have a chat about what had happened earlier. But there’s a pandemic. The restaurant is closed and is only offering takeaways to sustain its existence during the lockdown. So we waited in the car, gazing out the car window, watching the tree which once shaded the yard shed its leaves. Brown, golden, and fire-red autumn leaves falling on the ground, some landing on the car roof. We chatted as the food was being prepared.
“Mommy, maybe Daddy should have taken me to the doctor.” Those were the words of my daughter referring to our visit to the doctor earlier that day. I had taken my daughter to a dermatologist in Eppendorf to have an allergy checked out. I was sitting beside her in the doctor’s office when the doctor walked in. We had been to the same practice a few times in the past and had never had any problems. We always got an appointment right away and never had to wait long—one of the bonuses of having private insurance. The last time we were at the practice was about two years ago. On this day, it was a different doctor. She asked my daughter to take off her mask so she could check her face. My daughter did as she was told. The doctor asked all the usual questions, like if it itched and so on. My daughter responded. The doctor told us it was a rare case of an allergic reaction, which she’s never seen among children, and recommended that she wears only cotton face masks. The revelation of what was causing the reaction on my kid’s tender facial skin made my heart sink.
Me: Is there nothing else we can do for the damaged skin? She has to wear it all day.
She snapped at me.
Doctor: Yes, I also have to wear my mask all day, and I’m not complaining. Wearing a mask is not going to kill her. On the contrary, if she doesn’t wear her mask, she might get infected by the virus and bring it home. People die from the virus, you know.
She went on, emphasizing her point with the words: Ich bin kein Fan von Maskenverweigerung. I cut her short.
Me: I think you might have misunderstood me. I just asked you if there’s nothing else we can do apart from recommending cotton masks. You can see that she’s already using cotton masks.
Doctor: But you certainly didn’t use cotton before that, and that’s why she got the allergic reaction.
Me: Oh, really? Well, feel free in making assumptions about what we did or didn’t do. I’m not here to argue with you. Besides, I’m very disappointed that you would assume my daughter is here because she wants to avoid wearing masks. Do you usually talk to your patients with that tone?
Doctor: Well, I thought you were here to get an attest to avoid wearing masks.
Me thinking: Are you out of your freaking mind?
Me: Why would you think that? You’re a skin doctor, not my daughter’s family doctor. You don’t even know her medical history. If I wanted something like that, do you think you’re the doctor I would go to?
Doctor: Well, no doctor will give that to you.
Me, realizing that something might not be right with her: Listen, I’m not going to play madness with you. Please recommend a cream, a lotion, or something to heal my daughter’s skin. By the way, that’s what dermatologists usually do in case you didn’t know that or maybe you forgot.
My words jolted her a bit, but I could sense a little hesitation as if she wanted to continue with her holier-than-thou lectures about the pandemic. Then she saw the fire in my eyes and obliged. She sat down next to her computer and briskly typed out a prescription note. I got up and signaled to my daughter that we were leaving.
Me: We’ll pick up the printed note from the receptionist on our way out. Thank you for your time.
Doctor: (to my daughter) I’m sorry you had to experience that today.
Maybe she was sorry. Maybe she wasn’t. But it doesn’t change the fact that she made a total mess of herself in front of an eight-year old. A few hours later, as we drove to the Italian restaurant to pick up dinner, it dawned on me that my daughter processed the whole incidence from a unique perspective—"Mommy, maybe Daddy should have taken me to the doctor.”
I asked her why she thought that would have made any difference, and she answered,
“Daddy is white and big. People respect him more. Have you forgotten what happed the last time you tried to register me for tennis at that first place we went to? The lady at the receptionist desk behaved in exactly the same strange way to you and claimed there were no lessons being offered, but when Daddy checked later to ask if they had lessons, he got a positive answer.”
She could tell. My sweet little child could tell the difference.
It was heartbreaking to hear her narrate the tennis incidence. Of course, I haven’t forgotten that experience. On that particular day, I had checked the tennis club’s website, and they offered lessons, but when I went there with my daughter, the lady booking the courts was acting extremely difficult and very strange, claiming there was nothing being offered. Later, I told my husband about what had happened and asked him to call and check. He got a positive answer, confirming the madness we had experienced earlier. We filed a complaint, but still, that doesn’t erase an experience like that.
After my daughter articulated her feelings, my husband and I tried to explain the stark reality of Einstufung or Verurteilung to her:
If you look different, have a different origin, and find yourself in a place where people like you are a minority group, high chances are that the majority group, especially the badly educated, narrow-minded, and sick ones, will categorize you, discriminate against you, and make stereotyped conclusions about you. If you find yourself in an everyday situation where you have to deal with stuff like everyone else, your status, wealth, or intellect will not help you much unless you have an entourage around you, of course. There is a stereotype for each minority group, depending on which part of the world the people originated from. There is a stereotyped image for the Turks, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Chinese, Indians, Blacks, and people from eastern Europe. People have these stereotyped images stuck in their heads and find it difficult to let go of them. It doesn’t matter if you are the same nationality. Even your status, how much you’ve paid into the tax system, or how many jobs you’ve provided to people do not matter. If you look different and have a different origin, some people will treat you like an immigrant who wants something from them. Sometimes, the first question they will ask you when getting to know you is: Where are you from? Sometimes, they won’t ask you that question but treat you in the same manner as the question itself.
We went on to give her advice. If someone ever asks you where you’re from, just smile and tell them, “I’m German. Why do you ask? Don’t I look German? Or Don’t I look like you?” Wait for an answer and respond accordingly. If the person doubts your truth, then ask them, “How are Germans supposed to look?” You are just like everyone else, regardless of the color of your skin. People who accept you the way you are will never ask you that question during the first encounter. Only people who see you as different and want to treat you as such will ask you that. Unless you speak a different language and want to explain its origin or how you learned it, never ever feel obliged to explain where you're from or why you look different.
Welcome to my world. A strange reality I have come to terms with. And how do I manage that on a daily basis? I use the power of attraction to shift energies and create the outcomes I desire. When my kids are present, they learn from the ways I manage such situations and understand that they too shouldn’t let everyday nastiness get in the way of their happiness. On some days, when I’m exhausted and not in the mood for creating and attracting outcomes, I simply take advantage of my husband’s white privilege so my kids will not have to experience stuff like that. Sometimes, I’ll just let him do a particular task concerning the kids. When the kids are out with him, no one ever asks him where he’s from or why his kids are brown or where the kids’ mum is from—not once. But when I’m out with my kids, people get very curious and want to know where we’re from. Even when we’re all together as a family, people will still stare or stereotype our relationship. About 15 years ago, before I had kids and I was on holiday in Grand Canarias, I had a very strange experience at a hotel. The hotel caretaker saw me entering the hotel building where we had checked in and tried to stop me, thinking I was not staying there. No white person was stopped, just me. He obviously had a stereotyped image about a “certain black woman” trying to access the hotel. He apologized profusely when he realized he had made a mistake. Still, it was another level of nastiness, and once again, an experience no amount of apology can ever take that away.
Apparently, my little girl has already seen and felt enough, which made her draw that link between the doctor’s nastiness and the general nastiness in society at large. That’s the first time she’s ever articulated her take on her experiences. It breaks my heart, but at the same time, I’m thankful because she knows.
I’m thankful because knowledge is power.