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article image'Dope n dreads' stereotypes as Germany mulls 'Jamaica' coalition

By Tom BARFIELD (AFP)     Nov 9, 2017 in Politics

A German news weekly illustrated the outcome of September's election with a picture of Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a Rastafarian hat and passing a joint to stoned fellow leaders sporting dreadlocks.

The drawing on the cover of Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche was one of the least subtle comic sallies in a post-election period fixated on "Jamaica" -- as politics and media have dubbed a prospective coalition between Merkel's conservatives, the liberal Free Democrats and the ecologist Greens.

The fact that the three parties' colours of black, yellow and green match the Caribbean nation's flag has proven irresistible for politicians and journalists hunting for questionable jokes.

Many have been harmless, like leaders noting the roughly 8,500 kilometres (5,250 miles) that separate Berlin from Kingston as a metaphor for the distance all sides must go in the arduous negotiations.

Sceptics have also cracked wise about the "Curse of the Caribbean" -- the German title of the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie -- when predicting that the talks will fail.

But critics say there is a current underlying the Rastafarian jokes that rely on stereotypes about Jamaica and black people.

"This is just reproduction of racist views and perspectives and images," Tahir Della of anti-racism campaign group Initiative for Black People in Germany (ISD) said.

"People should stop doing it."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche's editor, Nikolas Busse, told AFP that its cover picture was intended as an eye-catching satirical commentary on the "strange political situation" Germany now faces, and that he was not aware of any reader complaints or hurt feelings.

Della however countered that any criticism is "always brushed off with the phrase 'anything goes in satire'".

- 'Stoner paradise' -

A boat with the colours of Jamaica's national flag in front of the Bundestag in Berlin
A boat with the colours of Jamaica's national flag in front of the Bundestag in Berlin
Odd ANDERSEN, AFP/File

Seeking a light-hearted tone, one journalist at conservative newspaper Die Welt expressed mock concern about "a government with the name of a stoner paradise".

He warned that "the naturalisation of Jamaica looms", riffing on battles over integration, ethnicity and national identity sparked by the arrival of more than one million migrants and refugees since 2015.

Political scientist Joachim Trebbe of Berlin's Free University said that although he considered the stereotyping "comparatively harmless", equating Jamaicans to Rastafarians was "unfair and perhaps discriminatory", similar to common cliches abroad about "beer-swilling, lederhosen-clad Bavarians" standing in for Germany.

George Llewellyn, a Jamaican chef living in western German city Wuppertal, said "there will be people making jokes about it who don't understand the cultural aspects of it, and there will be people who don't joke, because they know the cultural aspect behind it."

Nevertheless, "we are living in a democratic land, of course we are free to make jokes about anything", he added.

At the Press Council, Germany's media watchdog, there have been no complaints about the Jamaica comparisons, general manager Lutz Tillmanns said.

In recent years however there have been more complaints about the coverage of non-white groups as fear of increased crime has been woven into reporting on immigration, he added.

Meanwhile public concern about press discrimination against groups that fell victim to the Holocaust such as the Jews, Roma and Sinti has ebbed, he noted.

- 'Narrow understanding of racism' -

Bavarian politician Joachim Herrmann weathered brief criticism after calling an Afro-Cuban singer a ...
Bavarian politician Joachim Herrmann weathered brief criticism after calling an Afro-Cuban singer a "wonderful negro" in 2015
Christof STACHE, AFP/File

Germany is widely admired for its open addressing of and atonement for its Nazi past and the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, it hasn't had the same intense debate as other western nations about colonialism, with contemporary anti-black racism having a lower profile as relatively few people of African descent live in the country.

Germany has "a very narrow understanding of racism and how it affects people", Della said.

In a stunning example, Bavarian politician Joachim Herrmann referred to Afro-Cuban singer Roberto Blanco as a "wonderful negro" in a 2015 TV appearance.

While such a gaffe might endanger a political career in Britain or the United States, Herrmann weathered a brief squall of outrage before becoming a lead candidate in this year's elections.

As for the nation that has been the butt of the cringe-inducing jokes the Jamaican embassy in Berlin declined to comment on Germany's internal affairs when contacted by AFP.

One positive could be increased numbers of German holidaymakers, with tourism body Visit Jamaica confidently predicting 50 percent year-on-year growth in 2017, to around 30,000 people.

The increase however has more to do with new flight connections from Germany to the island than with its higher media profile since September, a spokesman said.

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