A Letter to African Parents with Children in the German School System

Sharon Dodua Otoo, mother, author and activist based in Berlin. | © Maria Frickenstein (Neue Westfälische)

A heartfelt letter from a parent, Sharon Dodua Otoo, to other African parents in Germany. Sharon Dodua Otoo, is a mother, a writer and activist. The Berlin based author is well known for her activism especially regarding African children in the German school system. 

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The original letter shared has been edited to reflect the new version of the letter shared at the “Schools of Tomorrow” conference in 2017. You can listen to the new version read by Sharon Dodua Otoo, here:Image result for sharon dodua otoo story of schoolsParents in Berlin interested in a trilingual Kita, check out Sankofa Kita

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A Letter to the Village by Sharon Dodua Otoo (published in 2013 edited to match version read at the Schools of Tomorrow Conference in 2017)

Dear Elders,

You may already know that I am legally required to send my sons to school because we live in Germany and home education is not permitted here. In this country, all children are taught a curriculum designed with only White children in mind.

Those rare examples of German texts which do portray Black people will use degrading imagery and vocabulary to describe them – as if the sheer absence of images of healthy, happy Black children, women and men was not insult enough.

In a lesson about evolution, one of my sons had to endure being teased by his classmates: the prehistoric woman looked “just like his mum!” Another of my children informed me that his teacher had used the word “Negerkuss” several days in a row. She took away his mobile phone, accusing him of calling me during the school day to inform me, when I wrote her an email about it.

I have tried. Like the time when one of my son’s classmates put an eraser to my son’s skin, in an attempt to rub it out, while at the same time another classmate told him “Black is the colour of the devil.” That time I visited the school with a White mother and talked calmly about stereotypes and children’s stories with positive Black characters.

I worked with the school “Diversity committee” to bring the Black German exhibition “Homestory Deutschland” to Berlin. It stood on the school premises for 5 weeks. I have written letters; I have attended school conferences; I have taken advice from an anti-discrimination office; I have emailed my written protests to like-minded community members and encouraged them to also write to the school; I have been silent. So far, none of these strategies have worked.

There are other Black children at this school as well as in schools across Germany, they may be even more isolated than my sons. All over Germany, children find their strategies to resist against the – sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but always violent – combination of racism and adultism that they experience.

Our children are stronger than we realise. They survive their own experiences of discrimination. They survive being labelled as the aggressors when they stand up for themselves. They survive the experience of seeing their parents suffer and fail to protect them. And still, every morning at 8am, they are expected to be in the institution and perform. This is what our society expects them to do.

“It takes a village to raise a child” is not an empty motto of ours. Please don’t leave the raising of our children in the hands of the German school system alone.

Please support families and communities of Black children to teach them about our African diaspora: our history, our peoples, our economies, our achievements, our struggles.

Let us teach them using our own education materials which feature Black people – historical figures, contemporary personalities, as well as fictional characters. Please support our Black children to be proud of themselves. Let them know that we have their backs.

Wherever negative images of Black people are being presented, we have a duty to continue to raise our voices. We must not leave the mainstream in the hands of the mainstream: although we as adults can choose to spend our time in safe and empowering spaces if we want to, our children are forced to survive in White institutions.

As an activist I have learnt that activism does not only mean fighting for something, or fighting against something, but also fighting alongside those who are already fighting for themselves.

Dear Elders, let us support our children’s resistance.

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Sharon Dodua Otoo is the first African awarded the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, which she was awarded in 2016. She has been instrumental in organising activities that give a different image of what it means to be an African in an attempt to give a realistic view of Africans unlike the constant negative images shared in German media and school books. Some of Otoo’s events include the History of Africans in Germany – Homestory Deutschland; while her literature includes: “The Little Book of Big Visions” and a research on racism in German schools: A Deep Rooted Discrimination Problem in German Schools.

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