Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and you're listening to The World. Mo Asumang is a German TV presenter and documentary maker. She is also a mixed-race German, the daughter of a Ghanaian father and a German mother, and she's no stranger to racist comments and neo-Nazi threats. She says one group that calls itself the "White Aryan Rebels" even threatened to kill her. Her response? She decided to explore the concept of Aryan-ness and the right wing groups who identify with it, both in Germany and here in the US. She made a documentary about the experience called "The Aryans." Today, I asked Mo what she was hoping to learn with this project.
Mo Asumang: I just wanted to find out what Aryans are because nobody ever questions this. Then I found out that Aryans are not tall, blonde and blue-eyed and they are not white. That was very, very important to me because it's like the counterpart; I'm like the dark German and they are the others. But I think altogether we are just one, we are Germans.
Werman: Yeah, so an Aryan, by definition, is somebody from Germany, is that the definition?
Asumang: No, no. Exactly, it's not. The word "Iran" means "The land of the Aryans," so I was researching "Where does this come from, Aryan?" And it actually comes from Iran, from old Persia, from parts of India. That's where the Aryans have been living and the Germans are no Aryans. In the Nazi time, they just took this word because they needed something against the Jews.
Werman: Tell us what happened when you came here to the US. You spoke with the Klu Klux Klan. How'd they react to you as an African-German?
Asumang: Well, I was a little bit shocked because in the backseat there were two machine guns and the guy who was sitting behind the steering wheel, he had his hood on in the car. Then they came out of the car, we were talking about cross burnings and stuff like that.
Werman: How does this discussion with the Klan in the American south unfold? What are you talking about in terms of Aryan-ness?
Asumang: I wanted to know everything. Why do they hate black people? What's the thing between Klu Klux Klan and black people? So I asked all the questions. For instance, "Why do you do this cross burning?" They say "Well, we do the cross burning because it's for Jesus, because Jesus goes from darkness to light." Then I answer "But Jesus loves black people."
Werman: How did they respond?
Asumang: Silence. The hood was moving to the right, to the left, to the front. It looked a little bit funny. But they didn't know what to say. I don't know why people don't ask these things. All the hundreds of years the Klu Klux Klan has been burning crosses, nobody is asking this? Jesus loves black people, so how could you burn a cross for Jesus? Because it's also for its meanings and its beliefs, so I think it's totally nuts to do things like that.
Werman: There's actually one sequence in your film where you show a young racist a photo of your white grandmother who was a member of the SS and this is kind of an oddly poignant scene. Can you explain it and what you were feeling when this was happening?
Asumang: At the end of the film, I meet a neo-Nazi that wanted to get out of the scene. I showed him the picture of my grandmother who raised me and who was in SS, but I only knew maybe six months before the film shooting that my grandmother was in the SS. And actually, I think this picture, the neo-Nazi together with me, and then you have this picture of the SS grandmother, it just shows that we can come together. It's possible. Even the SS grandmother raised a black child. Can you imagine? And it's possible. We only have to give it a try.
Werman: Mo Asumang, touring the US, attending screenings of her documentary, "The Aryans," later this month. Thanks so much for joining us.
Asumang: Thank you.