Every person is the sum of their experiences and they must gain their own experiences. I always wanted to have straight hair and green eyes. If that happened, people told me I would be “denying my identity”. Was that a warning? I felt challenged, I bought myself green contact lenses and went to the hairdressers. It was a good experience to stay the same even after all the changes. I wanted to stay curious, let myself make mistakes, investigate further – and add to my experiences.
Like lots of people, I wished I was a scary, complicated creature: unpredictable, complicated, full of life. I wanted to surprise other people and myself with my character, my decisions, my actions. That is a part of my personality.
I used to write a column for a newspaper called “I am another”. In the column, I once described searching for identity. It was about who I was. It was about other people trying to explain things. It was about thinking carefully about feelings and character. A publisher phoned me just before it was printed. He suggested that I write a book. It was a special chance for me to understand myself.
“The proportion of Heaven…”
The subheading was clear straight away: “My family and other wonders”. I wanted to call the book “The proportion of heaven” - that’s what the name Abini means. But that wasn’t a catchy title. 90,000 books are printed every year, so a new book should stand out. You might say: it should stand up to the challenge. Or maybe blend in with the shadows? Either way, I wrote 250 pages against generalisations. I had to realise that this book may well have been a rough sketch of my life, not a way to make money. That’s how my book “Chocolate Child” (Schokoladenkind in German) came about.
I linked “Chocolate Child” to some similar German sayings. In German if you say show your chocolate side (Schokoladenseite) that means you are showing the best of yourself. Lucky child (Glückskind) and Sunday child (Sonntagskind) mean that you are very fortunate. So, title of the book had more to do with life than skin colour. Other people usually pointed out my skin colour anyway – for me it was always obvious. I got on with other things: I wanted to let my mother know I loved her. I wanted to tell her about the country I grew up in. Tell her about things I understood well and things I knew only a little about, about big and small miracles.
What was surprising was that people understood the book so well. In fact, people saw “Chocolate Child” as lots of different things, including a story about mothers and daughters and German history. They thought it was a book for women, and it described how people “got away from everyday life” well. People thought it was a memory of “where and how we once had lived”, a “desire to be different”. Other people thought it was a book about an important time in history without sadness. People thought it was a witness to the time when it was written. They thought the book was different because it wasn’t about an average person’s life. This made me proud, because nobody tried to label me. It showed me that I am more than my skin colour.
Since I was a little girl, I have felt like I had other colours – I had to behave like them often. I had to answer questions that I hadn’t asked. I had to fight discrimination. Sometimes I was faced with people who got angry about my skin colour. It would have been simple to say that all people were racist. My mother said this was “too easy”, she thought it was important to recognise the differences between people. “In general, each human being is a special case” she said. I should never think that I know them all.
„Trust people to…”
A well protected childhood was waiting for me. My mother protected me from being hurt by logic. The German Democratic Republic protected me from getting to know the world. God protected my family from being rich and buying lots of things. My father taught me that it’s okay for rice to go lumpy.”
In 1937, my mother fled Berlin with her Jewish family. She came back to Germany in 1950 and made friends. Friends who had not only gained experience, but also could also use their experience. They would have thought it terrible, to be racist themselves. My mother trusted people to something about racism.
My mother didn’t like the dark, because that’s where things were put out of sight. Things were made smaller and adjusted so they could be hidden away in the shadows. Boring old sayings, mistakes and contradictions were hidden there. Therefore, my mother made sure she left a light on for me at night. This shaped my life. Even now I shake when I think about someone being stuck in the dark. I don’t live by other people’s rough sketches, my life belongs to me. I don’t have to explain the way I live. Therefore, I think about myself as more than my skin colour, even if other people don’t think that too.
I can never achieve what a community expects me to, even if my skin is white or black. I meet other people with black skin and straight away I feel a positive reaction and sympathy - but not a sign of togetherness. I ask myself questions like; What has made this person who they are? Why do they have that opinion? Do they have a reason why they answer like that? How do they deal with things? Why are they turning to me for help? The answers to these questions are my guide. I don’t think skin colour is a reason to try and fit in. My skin colour is a benefit of mixing with lots of different people.
It is terrible that people have to work hard to deal with their skin colour in a relaxed way - sometimes people are able to do this. Learning who you are definitely depends on things in your life. For example where you live, if you are a man or a woman, your family and friends and other people you meet. Every person really is the sum of their experiences.
I am proud of my skin colour, I have never wanted it to be different, not for a second. But I also didn’t want it to be the only thing people noticed about me. My skin colour is a good thing that I thank my parents for. The colour of my skin is not a racist trap. It is actually a surprising fact. It isn’t an identity that you feel, it’s something you honestly know. My skin colour isn’t failure, but rather success.
Abini was a mixture, half Jewish, half Nigerian. A year had already gone by and she still hadn’t been baptised. Then my parents finally decided that I could be baptised. Christian. Most importantly, Abini is a mother of two and a daughter herself. In 2003, a German company published her book. "Chocolate Child” made it onto the Bestseller list, but not into any dark shadows! Abini thinks of herself as someone from Berlin, from Germany, from Europe. She is a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and bad at car parking. Everybody is lots of these things at once.
Written by Abini Zöllner (translated from German)