The German basketball player from the WNBA wants to change society – a conversation about origin, racism and Angela Merkel.
SZ: Ms. Sabally, you often wear shirts that say: “More than an athlete”. What do these words mean to you?
Satou Sabally: I want to be more than just a basketball player. I want to be seen as an activist who works for people who cannot do it themselves. I am a black woman, I have a platform – and I want to use it.
LeBron James started the campaign “More than an Athlete”. Fox News presenter Laura Ingraham had barked at him as a basketball player to keep out of political and social issues.
He is my role model – like Serena Williams.
Their campaign, “Best Athlete Ever”, is also about equality.
It is like this: If a woman is emotional on the field, it is said that she would freak out. When a man does that, it says, “How cool that he shows emotion.” Serena has shown how wrong this view is. I am also amazed at how she returned to the tennis court as a mother. I think that the issue of women’s movement is in good hands, many smart women take care of it. If I can stand up for it, I would be very happy. However, the issue of racism is more important to me at the moment – because it is so topical.
You spoke on social networks about Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmedn African American who was shot and killed by two whites in Georgia while jogging. The investigation is sluggish.
It looks like the suspects are in jail for a much shorter amount of time than an African American who deals in marijuana to help his family for this brutal and inhumane act. That is grotesque. I fear that many people will be disappointed with how this case will turn out.
What can you do?
I believe that the public interest is putting immense pressure on the authorities. This helps. That’s exactly what I want to use my platform for. You have to post it on social media, you have to talk about it and you have to initiate debates. I get upset when people don’t want to talk about it. Every single athlete who has a lot of followers on social media should have posted it – so that people notice what’s going on in the world.
There is a sentence by Michael Jordan: “Republicans also buy shoes.” Do you understand athletes who prefer to stay out and stay apolitical?
Each person has to define for themselves what is right for them personally. But: Whoever refrains from posting the photo of a man shot will probably not be active on the street if a black man is pressed. The question is: do you look away or do you say what? It is not enough to boast about having a few black friends.
You were born in New York 22 years ago, you have a couple of years lived in Gambia, shortly before starting school she went to Berlin. How does that shape you?
I have learned to cope anywhere. I went to a school in Berlin where 80 percent of the people were Arabs and Turks. I met a lot of South Americans at college in the USA. My mother is an open person who quickly makes friends everywhere. I didn’t have to think for a long time that I looked different from her. I only noticed when I was vacationing on the Baltic Sea that I was black.
Like the essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” by the writer Zora Hurston, which says: “I feel blackest when I am pressed against a white background.”
Exactly. There were no other black people there, and it was these looks that made me realize how black I really am.
How did you experience racism?
I was not born in Germany, but I grew up there. I am a real Berliner! The worst form of racism is the one that appears subliminal: When a woman pulls her bag, for example, when a black man walks past her on the street. You are never seen as a real German if you have a different skin color or an accent. This immediately leads to the question of origin.
This “Where do you come from you?”
It is a form of racism that is very difficult to change because people do not understand what is wrong with asking this question. They don’t know what’s going on when you are asked something like that – or what goes through your head when someone pulls their bag closer just because they have a different skin color.
How do you defend yourself?
Then I just say: “My father is from The Gambia.”
Then people nod sympathetically – the world view is intact again.
It’s true: my father comes from The Gambia, that’s why I’m a Gambian. When eating, for example, according to the Gambian tradition, there is a huge plate on the table, which everyone uses – which leads to people talking. We’re a loud family anyway.