Policy Inequality

The Holocaust isn’t the only genocide that Germany needs to be held accountable for

When you think of a German-led genocide in the twentieth century, the Holocaust may come to mind. In all its ugliness, the Holocaust constituted a series of inhumane living conditions, brutal medical experiments, and other truly, truly horrific crimes against humanity. However, this also fits the description of the Herero-Nama genocide, which took place in German-occupied South-West Africa, now Namibia.

Unlike Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, the Herero and Nama people have not received reparations from Germany. You may have never heard of it, either. I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago either. This lack of recognition and education about the Herero-Nama genocide, unfortunately, seems commonplace in the West.

So, what happened? In January 1904, the Herero and Nama people attempted to lead a rebellion to overthrow German colonial powers twenty years after German colonized the region. Unfortunately, their attempts to gain sovereignty over their land were unsuccessful, and the Germans responded with intense violence. Thousands of Herero and Nama people were subsequently taken from their homes and shot. Those who survived this initial slaughter escaped into the Namib Desert, where German forces guarded its borders and trapped survivors. This genocide “resulted in the annihilation of approximately 80 [percent] of the Herero people and 50 [percent] of the Nama people.”

The German government has since apologized for the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama people, but descendants of survivors have yet to see any financial compensation or the return of land.

The colonial legacy left behind by the German colonizers in Namibia is blatant. German is still recognized as a national language. White Namibians, the descendants of German colonizers, control 90 percent of the country’s land. Efforts by black Namibians to gain control of land where their ancestors lived before nearly being wiped out under German colonial rule have been unfruitful.

The experiences of the Herero and Nama people should be enough to receive reparations, including receiving control back over their ancestors’ land. The 1985 United Nations Whitaker Report on Genocide established that the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama people at the beginning of the twentieth century qualifies as genocide, just like the Holocaust. Why, 40 years later, hasn’t Germany taken measures to adequately address this genocide when they often take responsibility for their crimes during World War II? 

Germany has given several lackluster excuses for its inability to provide reparations. The German government argued that because they had led development projects in and gave aid to Namibia, they would not need to give reparations.  The real reason, though, maybe attributed to implicit racial biases.  Predominantly white German leaders may have been quick to give reparations and apologize for the brutality of the Nazis because it affected white people living in Europe and conditionally white Jews. When it comes to violence on black and brown bodies in Africa, however, it’s a different story.

Herero and Nama people have continued to fight to receive reparations from Germany despite Germany’s reluctance to even entertain giving reparations. In 2018, a U.S. court heard the case from descendants of survivors of this genocide. They sued Germany for financial “reparations akin to those Jewish Holocaust survivors received after World War II” and for direct negotiations with Germany on how to figure out how to “reckon with colonial-era atrocities.” Unfortunately, in March 2019, a  U.S. judge dismissed this lawsuit, saying that “Germany was immune from claims by descendants of the Herero and Nama tribes.” On May 7 2019, however, lawyers representing the Herero and Nama Plaintiffs in New York filed a motion U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to have their case reviewed again.

Despite this setback, the Herero and Nama people have scored some victories in their quest to receive justice. In 2018, Germany returned the skulls of Herero-Nama genocide victims, (which were initially sent to Germany to conduct research on the racial superiority of white Europeans) back to Namibia. This success shows that the activism by Herero and Nama people to receive justice for genocide victims and survivors is working.

The Herero and Nama people deserve reparations for the genocide that their ancestors survived. Germany’s extremely delayed recognition of returning the skulls of genocide victims and even recognizing this genocide, alongside their refusal to give reparations, shows that we cannot expect them to reckon with the Herero-Nama genocide for the sake of doing the right thing. The activism that the descendants of survivors of the Herero-Nama genocide have done in an attempt to receive reparations deserves more international recognition and should not be in vain.

Note: A lawyer representing the Herero and Nama people in New York reached out to the writer after the publication of this article with information about the U.S. Court of Appeals filing. 

Gender & Identity Life

I thought that reclaiming my Indian roots would be easy, but this made it harder than I expected

I like to say that I didn’t grow up Indian.

Not that it makes me happy, but it’s the easiest way to explain the person I am today. So many people ask me why I speak the way I do, why I don’t dress in Indian clothes or watch Bollywood movies. It can be embarrassing to explain that, well, I grew up in a predominantly white culture.

[bctt tweet=”It can be embarrassing to explain that I grew up in a predominantly white way.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I went to a white school, my family was one of the very few Indian families in a largely white neighborhood, and I only had white friends.

And I won’t lie, that made it difficult to connect with Indian culture.

My parents tried as much as they could to surround my sisters and me with our culture. Of course, my mother cooked the most amazing Indian food for us almost every single day. She also took us to family events where we would wear traditional Indian clothing and listen to Indian music. I was even enrolled in Bollywood dance classes for a while, though those didn’t last very long.

But as much as they did for us, I never felt like I was truly Indian. In fact, I got into the habit of denying it whenever anything related to Indian heritage came up.

[bctt tweet=”I never felt like I was truly Indian, to the point where I would flat-out deny it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In part, the distance I kept from my culture is because of apartheid. Despite what many believe, the kind of racism that existed during apartheid still exists today in South Africa. The state segregation of Indian people from white people made it so that we always felt inferior.

Many people in our community still believe this, and that filters down into the way we speak, eat, dress, act, and even raise our children.

For a long time, I believed that I was inferior to my white friends, so forming meaningful relationships with them was difficult. Beyond that, I was treated differently from everyone else; the token Indian girl.

[bctt tweet=”I believed that I was inferior to my white friends.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When I grew up and entered university, I met incredible mentors who taught me to think of myself differently. I began to understand my life in relation to whiteness, and realized that what I was going through was called the “colonization of the mind.”

I first heard about this while reading Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White MasksThe easiest way to explain it is that colonialism affects the way we understand ourselves as people of color. The result is that I, for example, do not want to associate myself with any kind of Indian culture because I view it as inferior to white culture. This means that I will do whatever I can to act white.

I remember times when I even pretended like I couldn’t handle spicy food.

I mean, really, who was I kidding?

[bctt tweet=”I remember times when I even pretended like I couldn’t handle spicy food.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Learning about the colonization of the mind made me realize what I lacked: a deliberately formed connection to Indian culture.

So I decided to embark on a journey of rediscovery. I would learn where my family comes from, engage more with Indian pop culture, and even start taking Hindi lessons at the temple in my area.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, it’s been a while and I’ve learned a few things. Firstly, it’s much easier to say you’re going to retrace your ancestry than actually doing it. The truth is that it takes time and a family that has at least some inkling of their ancestry. But my family was so poor when they came to South Africa through indentured labor that keeping those connections to the so-called “motherland” wasn’t a priority.

Secondly, I just never felt a connection to Indian pop culture. I tried to watch Bollywood movies and listen to some famous songs, but felt mortified when I couldn’t enjoy them as much as I wanted to. The most I’ve been able to keep up with is sharing relatable clips from Buzzfeed India’s Facebook page.

And as for the Hindi lessons? Well, we’ll leave that for another day.

What I didn’t realize at the beginning of this well-intentioned journey was that it would be emotionally draining. I honestly expected to come out on the other side an Indian culture know-it-all, but instead, I came out feeling even more disconnected than before.

What I had to realize is that maybe I’m not going to like Bollywood movies. Maybe I’m not going to get all the jokes and bond with other Indian people over them. Maybe I’m going to eat a plate of spaghetti bolognese for dinner tonight and fucking love it.

But that doesn’t make me any less Indian. Instead, it just makes me my own version of Indian: Ariana.

Just me.