So Close, Yet So Far: Mesut Özil, #MeTwo and the Fight for Belonging in Germany
When Cem Özdemir was in the fourth grade, his teacher asked the class who among them wanted to go to Gymnasium—the type of secondary school that prepares German pupils for university. Cem raised his hand. The teacher laughed, and the class joined in. The following year he was placed into the Hauptschule—the less academically demanding high school, the one that leads to apprenticeships, not degrees.
His story is one among the thousands shared on Twitter, under the #MeTwo campaign, initiated by Germans from immigrant backgrounds. Inspired by the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment of women, the German version showcases the racism people with dual heritage face on a daily basis. Racial encounters range from well-intentioned but imprudent remarks like, “Oh, how come you speak such good German?” or the ubiquitous “Can I touch your hair?” to more overt discrimination and violence.
#MeTwo began in response to Mesut Özil’s resignation from the German national football team. Following a controversy over Ozil's decision to pose with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the team's early exit from the 2018 World Cup, the German tabloid press ran a “shame” campaign against the two-time national player of the year. He was accused of being “unpatriotic” and “lazy,” and of undermining team spirit. In his resignation letter, Özil wrote, “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.” Özil’s letter inspired activist Ali Can, who called the conversation Özil sparked “long overdue,” and launched the hashtag #MeTwo.
According to DESTATIS, Germany’s national statistics agency, 19.3 million, or 23.6% of the country’s 82 million inhabitants, have foreign heritage. But only 6.7% of the country’s civil servants do. Despite attending Hauptschule, Cem Özdemir went on to serve as co-chair of the German Green Party from 2008 to 2018. As a German with Turkish parents, his rise to political prominence remains an exception, not the rule.
Germany is just beginning to reconcile itself with the reality of multiculturalism. As Mohamed Amjahid, a journalist, pointed out, #MeTwo is an opportunity to listen; for once Germans with immigrant backgrounds are the authors of their own experiences with racism and integration. Recently the movement adopted a new name, #VonHier, in response to the question, “Where are you really from?” Germans of color are saying, “I’m from here.”
This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue