Response to Second Week Readings
Nations were created as a necessity to survive as a sovereign state, often prioritizing the elites who wanted to protect their property over the lower classes. A nation of any governmental type is helped by a united body of citizens to support its efforts, so historically successful nations have had strong national identities. Looking at the development of United Kingdom since the 19th century and the formation of a national conscious from the American colonies, nations grow up along with their identities with each contributing to the other. For instance, the winning of the world wars created a strong sense of patriotism, and the patriotism helped to fuel the Western effort in the Cold War. This initial foundation was in part due to the “national print-languages” as the “Imagined Communities” reading argues, but it also came from other factors such as the development of technology in general. As people began to have access to faster transportation and communication, the possibilities of nationhood continued to expand because more people could conceivably be under one government and one “imagined community” of a nation. The industry and production capacity of Berlin and Germany as a whole made it possible for it to act so dynamically and be the center of so many expansive empires. Without it, for example, the mobilization of Germany from 1918 to 1938 to gear up for a second war would not have been as possible.
In the way that a capitalist system encourages entrepreneurs to do anything they can to make more money, the nation-state is under similar competitive pressures to expand their power. This requires manipulation of their national identity in any way that will help their cause. However, race is often pulled into the mix as characteristics to define a national people because low amounts of mobility made national populations more racially homogenous than current times. Though immigration difficulties factor in, it is much easier to take a couple hour flight across Europe than to travel by horse as they did in the 18th century. Since the nation has been the primary organization of people in the majority of the world for several centuries, including race in this boundary limits the interaction and common identity formation between races and contributes greatly to racism. For labor sources and international cooperation, globalization has made relying on race for national identity disadvantageous, but it is difficult to change what people have been learning for centuries. It is engrained not only in people’s mind and family structures, but also within the urban landscapes that we are observing in class. The memorials and the colonization-leader street names we discussed with Kristina continue to stand. The mainstream stories about white people from the past several centuries that Sharon has sought to challenge with her everyday stories of people of color still circulate our shelves. And people are still separated by race into districts in Beriln, for reasons such as the 1980’s restriction that the Turkish could only move to Wedding, Kreuzberg, or Neukölln that Manuela was discussing with us today. Even this week, I was talking to a Humboldt student who believed that the migrant crisis is a temporary issue and it was better to get a law degree in something that would be applicable in the long term instead of immigration law. Even though we may be accelerating in a more accepting direction, we are still headed (speaking of velocity) towards the nationalist spirits that have been historically reinforced. At this point, it takes extra diligence to reconsider past acts such as the creation of memorials, and decide whether or not they serve the purpose of the nation. The possibly subconscious effects each piece of Berlin has on its inhabitants make such considerations in the city worth it. Just as the Berlin Wall’s concrete became an idea that both East and West Germany used to their advantage, each urban landmark becomes an idea of its own that will most often be interpreted in favor of the status quo.
The US and Germany both have occurrences of genocide and violent, discriminatory national actions. Germany has been forced in many ways to remember the Holocaust and actions of the Third Reich, but America has never lost a major war in which it has needed to apologize for its wrongdoings. The US only needs to act in the way that is to its advantage. For example, it does not fit with the national narrative of freedom for all to discuss that Americans live on land originally owned by native peoples, whom the nation, its people, or their predecessors directly or indirectly committed genocide against. So, we generally do not mention it and instead focus on the rights of the remaining native peoples in a limited scope, not mentioning the larger picture of the land the nation took. Yet Americans are happy to talk about slavery and emancipation because it fits in the mainstream national narrative. In a similar way and perhaps because most powerful nations share a history of colonization, Germany was not forced to honor the non-Germans who died because of their colonial ventures, and it has not been advantageous for them to do so. Thus, the issue is portrayed in a mostly heroic light. The situation compounds itself as the established, influential people in Germany are white and then their supporters are mainly white, so they take action to gain support of white Germans instead of those of color. The process is part of the difficulty of reversing trends. The result in this particular case is that there is not strong incentive to reconcile with violent acts against people of color or other ways to combat racism. Even though the US has perhaps acted more strongly against racism than Germany since the civil rights movement, the nation currently faces backlash that stems from similar forces of pragmatic nationalism and historically mainstream narratives to the ones Germany is facing.
In the end, the urban landscape is the reflection of a people, and just like buildings it takes a strong, grassroots effort to make people and nations stop the momentum of a nationalistic identity and move towards a more accepting global identity.