Black American Living in Berlin Is Confronting Racism Over There with T-Shirts


Isaiah Lopaz is a black American living in Berlin. On a regular basis Germans ask him where he comes from. No, no, where he really comes from. He’s a college-educated artist and writer — who is frequently mistaken for a drug dealer.

The influx of more than a million migrants into Germany the past two years has forced the country to wrestle with issues of race, ethnicity and identity. Mr. Lopaz says that he feels like Berlin is home, but also that the issues the migrants face have been a part of his world since he moved to Germany nearly a decade ago.

Mr. Lopaz, 36, found a creative way to address instances of racism: He took the offending comments and put them on T-shirts. He then directed a series of portraits taken by his best friend, Richard Hancock, around Berlin. I talked to Mr. Lopaz multiple times about the stories behind some of his T-shirts. His comments have been edited.

Mr. Lopaz, who speaks conversational German, used to have dreadlocks, and nearly every time he went out, he was approached for drugs. He would be at a bar or an art opening, and friends of acquaintances would ask him if he had drugs. In the summer of 2007, soon after he moved to Berlin, two people followed him around a grocery store before approaching him.

At some point I just cut my hair. I cut it for lots of reasons, but I also knew that if I cut my hair I bet this is going to go away. The truth is that it didn’t go away completely, but the frequency of people coming up to me and asking me for drugs, it lessened.

A lot of people that were really close to me felt really sad. They were like, “Oh, but your hair was so beautiful.”

Yes, I was dealing with people asking me for drugs, but there were lots of other more invasive forms of racism. To cut my hair and have one less thing, it actually was a big blessing for me.

At least once a day I will make eye contact with a white man or white woman, and they will grab their belongings as they notice me. There is this idea that black people are not to be trusted, that black people are criminals, thieves, deviant. We don’t have these ideas about white people. We as black people don’t have objectivity. We are judged based on stereotypes.

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Source: The New York Times | HANNA INGBER