"Things you can tell just by looking at him"

On the occasion of the International Day against Racism, March 21, we asked the Berlin artist Isaiah Lopaz how he responded to racist comments.

Lopaz constantly has to put up with statements like, “When are you going back,” “Where do you REALLY come from?” or “Can you bring some African food to the party?” The Los Angeles-born photographer and artist has been living in Berlin for a few years now and has encountered both open, cosmopolitan attitudes and racism. At some point he began printing out such comments on T-shirts and collecting them for a photo project. The collection, entitled “Things you can tell just by looking at him,” plays with prejudices, out-and-out racism, and disrespect for other human beings. It attempts to point out to an overwhelmingly white-majority society that certain assumptions or statements clearly are directed at the skin color of one’s interlocutor even when the person making the comment may not have intended them to sound racist. Lopaz’s work is designed to convey an awareness that our society does not consist entirely of people who can be pigeonholed easily, that people of color indeed can be born in Germany and count as German as much—or as little—as their fellow human beings.

The Forum Berlin’s “Project against right-wing extremism", a branch of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung conducted an interview with the activist:

The International Day against Racism has also tried to attract attention to the issue. Founded to commemorate the March, 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, this day of remembrance is intended to put the fight against racism in the spotlight. Of course, it is not merely a matter of staging a one-day protest. Rather, actions on this day are supposed to raise awareness of existing racist institutions, stimulate discussion, and offer a platform for activists to highlight the important work they are doing. And, every year around March 21, Germany celebrates the International Weeks against Racism, which include numerous events and politically-charged activities.

In our video Isaiah Lopaz tells us whether he finds it meaningful to hold such anti-racism days. He has a strong interest in pointing out racism whenever it appears and art is his chosen medium for doing so.

“For me this is one of the most difficult things about being human and being a Person of Colour and the levels of denial, apathy and hostility that I am met with, when I dare to speak about racism, when I dare to make work about it, when I dare to try to change it or to stand up for myself and say I am not gonna put up with this!”

You can find more information and stories at Isaiah Lopaz’s project blog, Him Noir.

Your contact at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung is Franziska Schröter at the Project against right-wing extremism in the Forum Berlin section of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

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