Jürgen Klopp: White Ally of Muslims and People of Color

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While the Muslim world has rightfully been celebrating the excellence — on and off the pitch — of Liverpool’s Muslim strikers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, it is time to acknowledge — especially in these times of heightened media focus on white supremacist power structures and unchecked white privilege that enables and perpetuates the former — an individual who over the course of his career has consistently put his own white privilege to the best of use. 

An Asian-German professor of mine at university in Berlin once told me in confidence when discussing racism and Islamophobia in Germany during a post-lesson coffee: “Timo: Germans have racism in their genes”. 

While by “genes” she naturally meant cultural DNA and not actual biological genes, her damning statement was exemplary of the pent-up resentment members of Germany’s immigrant communities carry around with them as a result of constant racist treatment by the white majority society they live in. 

Just like her, I also grew up in a systemically xenophobic Germany and have therefore by default been exposed to all kinds of demeaning racist behaviors and discriminatory practices by white compatriots and a white-run state who view us as eternal foreigners with next to no claim to the society we were born and raised in. 

Not to get into the details of it, but it is behavior of the same persuasion that bullied Turkish-German superstar Mesut Özil for blowing the whistle on systemic racism in his country of birth (see In Germany, being a global superstar does not protect you from racist and Islamophobic bullying) and that made Chinese celebrity artist Ai Weiwei leave Germany for England after having lived in Berlin for a mere four years, citing as reasons that Germany was “self-centered” and “not an open society” and that Germans had “learned nothing from their history.” 

But if there is one white German to whom my professor‘s verdict does not apply, it is Jürgen Klopp, the manager of English football club Liverpool, which under his stewardship won its 5rst Premier League title in 30 years. 

While the Muslim world has rightfully been celebrating the excellence — on and off the pitch — of Liverpool’s Muslim strikers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, it is time to acknowledge — especially in these times of heightened media focus on white supremacist power structures and unchecked white privilege that enables and perpetuates the former — an individual who over the course of his career has consistently put his own white privilege to the best of use. 

A staunch and loyal ally of Muslims and people of color in the most nonchalant and natural way, Kloppo’s (how he is affectionately called in Germany) human decency is so far removed from the collective bigotry of his Islam- and immigrant-hating home country that he had to emigrate to multicultural England and the internationalist English Premier League to achieve the professional success and personal happiness a mediocre, germanocentric Bundesliga and an equally mediocre and tribalist white German society had denied him for years. 

Not only that: the Bundesliga, as Germany’s top-tier football league, is so acceptedly racist that there is a German adulteration of blackfacing where white Borussia Dortmund fans seriously wear black Afro wigs to celebrate the Belgian player of color Axel Witsel!

German industrial magnate Clemens Tönnies, until recently FC Schalke 04’s (the historic regional rival of Klopp’s former club Borussia Dortmund) chairman of the supervisory board until an ongoing COVID-19 scandal in one of his businesses forced him to resign, is so shockingly racist that in August 2019 he said that instead of fighting climate change with tax increases, it would be wiser to “build 20 power plants in Africa every year” so that “Africans would not keep cutting down trees and would stop producing kids as soon as it became dark.” 

I urge the reader to take a moment and let this abhorrent statement sink in. Despite Schalke being a club with a significant number of black players, staff, and functionaries (including Ghanaian-born former German international Gerald Asamoah, manager of Schalke’s Under 23 squad, and Jürgen Klopp’s best man and friend David Wagner, the former Huddersfield coach who is Schalke’s current manager), there were no consequences whatsoever to Tönnies’s blatant display of racism, save for the copy-paste performative apology stupid white people always seem to have ready for when public pressure puts them on the spot for saying stupid white things. 

The lesson here: in self-acclaimed “liberal” and “progressive” Germany, you can get away with the most obnoxious of racist behaviors which in other countries would have cost you your job at the least and probably even have put you at the center of a lawsuit. 

As mentioned above, Tönnies, whose meatpacking empire in 2017 ranked first place in Germany with 16.6 million pigs slaughtered that year, is currently embroiled in a scandal where in one of his slaughterhouses over 1500 workers have been infected with COVID-19 and two entire districts surrounding the facility had to be placed under strict quarantine. 

A cautionary tale that reminds me of Malcolm X’s holistic words that “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” 

Jürgen Klopp, on the other hand, is an entirely different story: he is the embodied antithesis of what is commonly known as “Der hässliche Deutsche” (the ugly German), who historically has been the cause of TWO World Wars and the perpetrator of TWO genocides (in 1904-1908 against the Herero and Nama peoples in what is now Namibia, as well as against the Jews of Europe) and who claims to have learned from his tragic history, but in reality, has always been resistant to that corrective German state policy of atoning for ones checkered past known as “Vergangenheitsbewältigung.” 

Jürgen Klopp, with his homeboy-meets-father-figure vibe which without even trying exudes the welcoming aura of fundamental civility, is basically everything Germany is not: and that in itself is the best thing that could have happened to a country which as a person of color you can never call home — even if you are born and bred there — because a culturally incestuous white majority keeps reminding you that it is not. 

Klopp is not only the personification of sportsmanship and team spirit, but is also known for calling out racism in football like no other, demanding lifelong stadium bans for “fans” who hurl racist abuse at players, just to name one example. He is the promise and hope of what an incorrigible Germany could be like in another, fairer, and more equitable dimension. 

Despite a quarter of the population having some kind of immigrant background in my home country, German identity politics and mainstream society continue to undermine these people’s rights and voices by the mere, but sheer force of white hegemonic power. A white supremacist Germany (because at the end of the day white hegemony is white supremacy) doesn’t deserve a worldly Klopp. A multicultural Britain — its multiethnic reality set in stone despite all the backward brexiteering and anti-immigrant sentiment — does. 

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Klopp goes further than just symbolically defending people of color and Muslims against white bigotry: he is our ally, fighting the good fight not with organized activism, but with simple individual human decency, one that can be witnessed not only in interviews and press conferences but also in his day-to-day managerial duties of a team that is as ethnically diverse as all the other Premier League clubs. And as Britain itself. 

When his Muslim players are hounded by an Islamophobic Western media for observing the fast during the month of Ramadan, a loyal Klopp throws himself in front of them like a human shield and says things like: 

I have no problem with my players fasting. I respect their religion and they were always amazing whether they were fasting or not. There are days when Mané and Salah come late to the dressing room because they were praying. There are many things more important than football.” 

Kloppo has always been like this. Check out this German Hip Hop video from years back by Moroccan-German rapper and ex-footballer Mimoun Alaoui a.k.a. Du Maroc, featuring — among others — German international Jerome Boateng, former Hertha Berlin midfielder Änis Ben-Hatira, and Jürgen Klopp (from minute 1:14 onwards): 

The mere warmth of Klopp‘s body language shows you why us Hyphenated Germans love him so much and says more about his character than you’re metaphorical thousand words. 

And while Britons and the people of the Global South revere Klopp for his humble personality and the humanity with which he treats the marginalized, mainstream German media routinely fakenewses his pro- Muslim stance to suit its own Islamophobic agenda: What Klopp said in the quote above found no mention whatsoever in mainstream German media at the time. 

On the contrary, German media spun the fasting of Liverpool’s Muslim players Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah into something Klopp allegedly didn’t agree with, running stories headlined “Ramadan causes problems for Klopp” (rtl.de) or “Ramadan is worrisome for Jürgen Klopp” (rp-online.de). A potent eye-opener for those who believe fake news is the prerogative of the right. 

To top it all off, Germans, with their bloated egos and historically proven brand of menacing narcissism, and whose own teams didn’t make it past the last 16 in last year’s Champions League season, were so unscrupulous that they seriously appropriated the historic all-English final between Kloppo’s Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur and spun it as a German achievement, instrumentalizing the modest and seemingly color-blind Klopp for their own gemanocentric and xenophobic political agenda. 

Remember: Germany is the same petty sore-loser country that did abysmally during the World Cup in Russia two years ago and quickly went on to blame its premature exit in the group stage solely on its Turkish-German Premier League superstars Mesut Özil (Arsenal London) and Ilkay Gündoğan (Manchester City). Why? Because of a selfie they took with Turkey’s President Erdoğan. Such are the ludicrous lengths white Germans will go to in order to vent their pent-up racism. 

With Liverpool’s Premier League title, the wrong committed by Germany against two of their own has symbolically been righted, albeit vicariously and in third-country England. Liverpool’s victory is not only a personal victory for Jürgen Klopp — who has always defended the Özils and Gündoğans of Germany — but also one for non-discriminatory and egalitarian human decency. 

I recall something a Jewish Israeli travel buddy I met in Bangkok many years ago during my Lonely-Planet-South-East-Asia-on-a-shoestring phase said to me back then: when telling her about the fact that almost all the Israeli holidaymakers I encountered in Thailand routinely mistook me to be one of them and would automatically start talking to me in Hebrew, she replied: “Seriously? I don’t think so, you are too nice to be Israeli.” 

If I am “too nice to be Israeli” (one of the coolest compliments I have ever received as it disassociates myself from an exclusionist nationality that is borne out of the ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of indigenous Palestinians from their homeland and is legitimized by way of the racist ideology of Zionism), Jürgen Klopp is definitely too nice to be German. 

And even though his self-deprecating nature will forbid him to agree with me, I stand by my words. 

So, with all of the above in mind, from one German to another: Congrats on your Premier League title, Kloppo. You wholly deserve it, mein Lieber.

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