Racists blamed him for Germany's World Cup woes. Now he's fighting back.

Photo by Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

The 2018 World Cup may be over, but the conversations about race and identity are not.

Most recently, German soccer player Mesut Özil is making headlines. Özil has decided to quit playing professionally for the national team after what he describes as experiences of racism and double standards against people with Turkish ancestry.

On July 22, the Turkish-German midfielder posted a statement on Twitter detailing the slander and ridicule he has received from far-right German politicians, the media, the German Football Association (DFB), his team, and soccer fans.


The statement comes in response to backlash Özil, a practicing Muslim and son of Turkish immigrants, received for posing for a photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The photo was taken after a charity event in London.

While Germany has over 3 million Turkish immigrants, some German politicians and fans questioned Özil's national loyalty after his photo with the Erdoğan. Some have gone so far as to say that Erdoğan was exploiting Özil for political gain.

But in his statement, Özil insisted that his meeting and photo with Erdoğan had no political motivation. "For me, having a picture with President Erdoğan wasn’t about politics or elections," Özil wrote. "It was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country."

Twitter users also pointed out the double standard and hypocrisy Özil received for posing with Erdoğan compared to other athletes.

Özil says he's been singled out because of Germany's failure to advance in the 2018 World Cup.

While Özil helped lead Germany to win the 2014 World Cup, he said that he has been unfairly scrutinized for the team's shortcomings this year — something he says has to do with his Turkish roots.

In his statement, Özil described in detail every racist incident he's experienced. He called out the German media for using the Erdoğan photo as right-wing propaganda, DFB president Reinhald Grindel for making "unforgivable and unforgettable" comments about immigrants and Muslims, and German politician Bernd Holzhauer for referring to him with an offensive expletive.

But Özil insists that his heart is still with Germany. "I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish," he added. Despite being one of the world's best midfielders, Özil said his mother has always taught him to never forget his roots and values. This is particularly why he wanted to celebrate his dual heritage.

Özil's resignation is a powerful and courageous act of defiance against the selective — and racist — celebration of immigrants.

By taking a public stand against racism, Özil shed spotlight on the double standard used against players of dual-heritage. At a time when debates about refugees and national identity are looming, he's bravely shaping the conversation on the meaning and purpose of European identity.

The disapproval of dual heritage isn't a problem exclusive to Germany. Trevor Noah received backlash in July 2018 from a French ambassador for celebrating the African background of some of the French soccer players. But Noah set the record straight: His celebration of their African roots is not denying their "Frenchness" but rather is pointing out the beauty in all "these Africans who can become French."

As a matter or principle, Özil said he would no longer stand to be a part of the scapegoating and racism. The only way for him to do that is to step down from the team and speak out against injustice.

"Racism should never be accepted."

Right on, Özil.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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