While I don’t believe what Mesut Özil did was smart, the deed is done. The star footballer didn’t think anything of having his photo taken with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, a month before he was due to represent the German national team in the 2018 World Cup.
Born in Germany to Turkish parents, the midfielder refrained from immediately commenting on the controversial photos. Instead he chose to do so after Deutschland crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage and the tournament ended.
In a series of tweets responding to the nationwide backlash, Özil announced his retirement from international football after criticism of his performance, citing “racism and disrespect” from the media, fans, politicians and the high-profile German football federation.
“I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Özil said, before going on to question, “I was born and educated in Germany, so why don’t people accept that I am German?”
Özil’s case discouragingly highlights how national identity is regarded in the country I’ve come to call home. Guardian columnist Afua Hirsch is on point in her opinion that “Germany has decided dual allegiances are no longer convenient.”
Hirsch questions why people of colour have to ditch their national heritage at all. She ends her column by asserting “the one thing no one can take away is what we decide about who we are.”
Unlike Özil, I’m an actual foreigner here; his saga has got me seriously thinking. No matter how long I end up calling the country home, how good my German language skills get or how close I feel to the culture, I will never be considered German.
What’s more, if I ever decide to have kids here — heartbreaking but true — I worry that their identities will be doubted, probably due to their “immigrant background.” They may be asked ridiculous questions like ‘where are you really from?’ even if they identify as German.