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German Debate Over Racist Language Prompts Critic to Paint Face Black

Denis-ScheckOn Sunday, Denis Scheck, one of Germany’s preeminent literary critics, painted his face black and went on TV to make the case that children’s books from an earlier era should not be rewritten get rid of terms like Neger.

In German, the word translates roughly to “Negro” and, though once standard, is now considered outdated and racist.

“Anyone in Germany today who uses the term Neger is a blockhead,” said Scheck, a man in horn-rimmed glasses who looks jollier without face paint, as the cameras rolled for  Hot Off the Presses, his popular book-review show. “But language is a living thing, and children’s books are literature. Young children in particular should learn that the way language is used changes constantly.”

Scheck’s TV appearance — which he says he intended as a satirical gesture, not a racist one (“I abhor racism and bigotry, but do feel a little like having been transported in Philip Roth’s brilliant novel ‘The Human Stain,’ ” wrote the critic in an email) — is the latest reaction to the controversy that was unleashed earlier this month, when a German publisher, Thienemann, announced that a handful of racist and racially insensitive terms would be changed in the forthcoming edition of Otfried Preussler’s The Little Witch, a German children’s classic from the 1950s.

In Germany, it’s not uncommon to see, say, a German Othello onstage wearing black makeup; after a recent protest, two actors at the respected Deutsches Theatre, in Berlin, have switched from black to white makeup for their roles as Africans. Scheck said that he wasn’t dressing up in a “U.S.–American” blackface tradition, but was, rather, like the children in The Little Witch, dressing up in a carnivalesque mode. While Scheck has been criticized, many there see the stunt as simply a joke about political correctness that wasn’t that funny.

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One thought on “German Debate Over Racist Language Prompts Critic to Paint Face Black

  1. "Race" is a European contruct which began from the Crusades that targets darker-skinned for dehumanization in order to satisfy the psychological and spiritual deficiencies of the aggressor groups. It, continues to the present day by pretending that racism is in the past and we are post-"race" but we are not post anything. We struggle to make amends for the past via antiracism policies and programs but we encounter problems as evidenced by the Man in this story who fails to see that we are our past.

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