The Neighborhood Bigot
We meet him on the escalator of an upmarket shopping center, a building of glass and steel in the wealthy shopping district of Kurfürstendamm. Having overheard our thickly American-accented conversation, he introduces himself. Tall, clean-shaven and double-chinned, the man looks at us with a mixture of self-assured know-how and pride. He wants to know where we are from and what we are doing in Berlin. At the mention of our research into human and minority rights issues in Germany, his eyes light up. “Then you would probably recognize this. Every time a crime is committed in Berlin, whenever you see police cars pulling up on the roadside and surrounding a criminal, the person is always a member of one group. Always.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “And it’s not the Germans.”
The man leans over conspiratorially. “The criminal is always someone with darker skin, or who is wearing a veil. It’s the Turks.” The word is pronounced with certain panache, with an upward curl of his lips and a careful emphasis over his consonants. “If you come to Germany you’d damn well be expected to speak the language, live by the law, and assimilate into the culture,” he continues. But these migrants refuse to do so – in which case I say, ‘deport them!’ They have absolutely no right to be here.”
To us the problem seemed a greater one: the layers of prejudice in his words were so deeply embedded and subconscious that they seemed to indicate a lack of racial discourse
In one fell swoop we had come face to face with a behemoth of discrimination. Surely deeply embedded power structures account for the fact that a privileged White American living in Germany could subconsciously reproduce racist ideology in his words. Yet, to us the problem seemed a greater one: the layers of prejudice in his words were so deeply embedded and subconscious that they seemed to indicate a lack of racial discourse; an absence so palpable that racist attitudes from an outsider could go unquestioned in German society, such that clear distinctions between Turks and Muslims, immigrants and citizens could be easily blurred and confused. “These migrants have absolutely no right to be here” if they “refuse” to assimilate, the man had said, despite the fact that Turkish people have been a significant migrant population in Germany for over 40 years, or that many of the “migrants” he referred to were either born in Germany, or had been naturalized. There was also the glaring fact that the man was himself an immigrant in Germany (when asked about this, he clarified defensively, “No, I’ve lived here for sixteen years. I’m a permanent resident”), and yet thought he had the prerogative to pronounce judgment on other immigrants. Embedded in his words was an undeniably reductive rhetoric that reproduced a specific cultural aim: to attribute the cause of moral failure to the inferiority of one group of society, a perceived inferiority both racial and religious.
“Perhaps you’ve gotten it the wrong way round,” we argued back, “perhaps German society has failed to create opportunities for them to assimilate.” The man vehemently disagreed: “German society has failed?” he said incredulously. “I think German society is completely accepting! Migrants have a good life here. Look at me, I am not German, but I am part of society. Why? Because I follow the rules!”
Why was it that a middle-class, White American man could remain entrenched in his racist attitudes in cosmopolitan Berlin?
These postulations were problematic on several levels: first he spoke of German society in the collective “we”, then he admitted he was “not German”, but was nevertheless a “part of society”. The implication of this statement, surely, is to suggest that unlike him, Turkish people are “not German” and not a “part of society.” One need hardly point out that attributing his belonging in German society to “following the rules” is a flawed and naïve assumption, ignorant of the relative privileges offered to him by virtue of his class status, racial and national background.
We recognized that this man was by no means representative of German society and its racial discourse. Yet we were compelled to wonder: why was it that a middle-class, White American man could remain entrenched in his racist attitudes in cosmopolitan Berlin? Did it exhibit a wider pattern of ignorance in Germany, in which discrimination was the norm and intolerance went unquestioned? Were racial hierarchies in Germany similar to that of the U.S.A, divided along a color line in which whiteness is continuously privileged over other minority “races”? Or were discriminatory attitudes in Germany the root of another problem?
Such discriminatory rhetoric reproduces structures of oppression and marginalization.
Language has everything to do with meaning, how it is constructed, and who has the power to construct it. As Toni Morrison has put it, words “can powerfully evoke and enforce hidden signs of racial superiority, cultural hegemony, and dismissive ‘othering’ of people and language” (Morrison, preface p. x). In this landscape, marginalization is achieved through the rhetoric of social difference, where hierarchical fabrications are composed to further one group’s superiority over another. Frederick Barth points to such fabrications as “boundary supporting verbal strategies” that “distance other human beings from the speaker” by “insisting on difference.” Such rhetorical strategies, he warns, lead to stereotyping the other as “childlike, superstitious, savage, dirty, or ignorant” (Barth, 34).
Such discriminatory rhetoric reproduces structures of oppression and marginalization. It erects hierarchies of difference in which the dominant culture in general, and this white male in particular, can assume that one culture has the power to legitimize or place judgment on another.
In this landscape, the study of discriminatory terminology becomes necessary: if we are to overcome discriminatory attitudes, then deconstructing prejudice in Germany is the first step towards recognizing, and then disrupting, the discourse of difference. What follows is a project to dismantle the structures of difference that shape the world of power in Germany. We believe that in order to do this, an adequate understanding of discriminatory terms, and of the concept of superiority they presuppose, is fundamental.
What is Discrimination?
In the world of discriminatory rhetoric, hegemony sets the framework. It defines the dominant system of racial, religious and national concepts, the “common sense,” in terms of which social and political reality will be lived. In her experiences with anti-discrimination training, Dr. Claudia Lohrenscheidt, an educator at the Institute of Human Rights in Berlin, finds that “it is easy for anyone to understand what it feels like to be a victim; everyone can identify at some point with having been discriminated against.” But once in a position of power, the matter is entirely different: “a lot of people have experiences with being a perpetrator, but nobody wants to recognize that – nobody wants to accept that they have actually discriminated against somebody… And so power is a very important concept when we talk about discrimination,” she tells us.
We have long since progressed from antiquated notions of race being based on biological difference, and moved into an era where we accept that categories of ethnicity and race are manmade and socially constructed.
In fact, the United Nations definition of discrimination predicates itself on the recognition that hierarchical differences have always been a part of society. In the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the definition reads: “The term racial discrimination describes every action or thought which takes race, skin colour, ethnic and national heritage as a means for the differentiation, exclusion, limitation or privileging which aims at negating an equal acceptance and usage of human rights and universal freedoms.” Such a definition would not be necessary if society has always been fair to minorities. As it stands, however, power structures continue to keep oppression in place and acceptable, so that official definitions such as the one outlined by CERD have become necessary in order to destabilize fixed, naturalized meaning systems around race and other lines of hierarchical differentiation.
It is crucial to recognize that we have long since progressed from antiquated notions of race being based on biological difference, and moved into an era where we accept that categories of ethnicity and race are manmade and socially constructed. Beginning perhaps most notably with W.E.B. Dubois’ seminal work The Souls of Black Folk and continually reiterated by critical race theorists, “race” has been increasingly repudiated as a term of difference; a “dangerous trope” in the words of Henry Louis Gates that “pretends to be an objective term of classification.” In Gates’ definition, then, believing that the concept of race justifies a hierarchal society constitutes a travesty: one must erase the view that there are heritable characteristics, possessed by humans, that constitute a sort of “racial essence” on the basis of morphological or phenotypical characteristics –-skin colour, hair type, facial features – upon which society has historically made ‘racial’ classifications: whether or not race is a biological fiction remains to be proven by geneticists. But ‘race’ does not need to exist in order for us to repudiate a culture of discrimination on the grounds of racial distinctions.
The Great Taboo: What’s Missing in German Racial Discourse
The German past is one story in which a belief in race plays a central role. Surely part of the difficulty surrounding racial discourse in Germany is that the country has a deeply troubled history surrounding the term “race,” whose translation in German, Rasse, has connotations pointing back to the Nuremberg Laws of the Third Reich. On September 15, 1935, the Nazi government issued these laws entailing pseudoscientific processes for determining people of “German blood”. Following this, the government disseminated charts listing the different types of “races” in Germany. Noses were measured with callipers, blood samples were taken, and those deemed to have impure blood – ‘cross-breeds’, ‘Mischlinge’, ‘Rhineland bastards’, the mentally impaired, to name a few – were sterilized. Jews, deemed to be of inferior blood by the Nazis, were taken to concentration camps, tortured, made into slave labour, and exterminated in droves, totalling six million deaths: a chilling reminder of how the establishment of differences according to Rasse can lead to grave evil.
Under this historical burden, one can hardly blame Germans in contemporary society for being afraid to utter the word Rasse. Whether they were human rights activists or academics, almost all the Germans we interviewed stressed that the particular problem of Germany’s historical situation “is special and more complicated”. Dr. Lohrenscheidt outlines the problems involved in translating United Nations conventions and other international legal documents on race into the German language: “We are trying to convince the government not to use the term race, and they said ‘no, it’s a translation so we should use it.’ But people have a critical consciousness about the term race, there is a kind of symbolic significance in using it, and in not using it people show where they stand when they don’t write down or say the term.”
“The term Islamophobia, for example, is getting so popular that it is starting to lose its meaning because people are desensitized to what it means.”
Dr. Lohrenscheidt goes on to explain that in order to overcome history and to overcome the term Rasse, German research and public started to talk more about specific kinds of discrimination: “so if we talk about hate against Jews it’s anti-Semitism, and when we talk about black people the term xenophobia has entered the discourse, and when we talk about hatred toward people with Muslim background then the term Islamophobia has entered the discourse. So there are all kinds of differentiated speech about diverse forms of racism.” She continues, “Of course they are all interconnected and some people are also aware of their interconnectedness, but actually I like those differentiations, because I believe that if we start to continue talking about race, then we are constructing that race exists. How do we implement the kind of thinking that there is only one race, the human race, if we continue to talk about this race, this race and that race?”
The Anti-Discrimination Network similarly points to specificity as an important step towards destroying racist attitudes. Their spokesperson, who declined to be named, recognized, “The term Islamophobia, for example, is getting so popular that it is starting to lose its meaning because people are desensitized to what it means.” Instead, to fight such discriminatory attitudes, he says that their network has begun to rename different forms of discrimination, so that “Islamophobia” is now referred to as “anti-Muslim discrimination”. This, their spokesperson explains, “helps to clarify where such discriminatory attitudes come from, what their root causes are, and how we can fight them.”
The Intersections of Discrimnation
The position of Turkish Muslims in Germany reveals a particular bias rooted in deeply embedded racist and religious stereotypes.
Tenzile Maraslieglu is a student of Philology at the Freie Universität. Despite having devoted seven years of intensive study to German literature and linguistics, and having grown up here, her immediate response to the question, “What does being German mean to you?” is, “Maybe the question is if we have ever felt like we were German in the first place.” She says, “because of my choice of customs and dressing, I am always confronted with the distance of Germans.” She has never felt at home in Germany, nor has she felt as if it is her home country, even though she is a second-generation immigrant and was born here.
The position of Turkish Muslims in Germany reveals a particular bias rooted in deeply embedded racist and religious stereotypes. Part of the ‘Mediterranean’ immigrant group, Turkish immigrants entered Germany since the beginning of the 1960s. Despite their presence in Germany for over forty years, however, Turkish people face often insurmountable barriers to integrating into German society. Nikola Tietze, a researcher at the Hamburg Institute for Social Science who specializes in research about Islamophobia, informs us that “religion is a very important factor in the exclusion of Turks.” While anti-Muslim sentiment has risen with particularly ferocity in the years since the September 11 attacks, Ms. Tietze explains that current discrimination against Turkish Muslims began long before September 11, 2001. She explains that Turkish devotees of Islam proved to be an obstacle for the German society that struggled to accept Islam into the rubric of their predominantly Judeo-Christian society. In fact, contemporary attitudes toward Islam continue to see the religion as a dangerous force threatening to take over Germany. When Turkish Muslims in Cologne wanted to build a new mosque in the city just recently in June 2007, for instance, vehement protests were staged by Germans all over the city. One particularly strident voice came from a respected German-Jewish writer, Ralph Giordano, who said the mosque would be “an expression of the creeping Islamization of our land.” He dispelled the notion that the mosque could be a step toward integration, and argued that “mosques are a symbol of a parallel world” – a phrase that is being increasingly used by anti-Islamists to describe the encroaching visibility of Muslim values and lifestyles in the public sphere. Another writer, Jewish journalist Henryk M. Border, agreed: “A mosque is more than a church or a synagogue,” he said. “It is a political statement.”
While the German state has had an accommodative policy towards religious minorities prior to and after Nazi rule, the inclusion of a Muslim minority has proven slightly more challenging. Religious authorities of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish communities have a palpable presence in public life, and are reserved seats on the boards of Radio and TV stations. They can conduct religious education in schools, and pastoral care in hospitals and prisons. But while the German state has recently made concessions for Muslims in certain areas (Muslim girls do not have to take part in co-educative sports classes, for example), it is still reluctant to offer the same rights to the Muslim authorities as it does to Christians and Jews.
Despite pervasive anti-Muslim attitudes, there is no one simple reason for the exclusion and discrimination of Turks and Muslims in Germany – both groups are in fact often confused for each other, even though not all Turks are Muslims and vice versa. Ms. Tietze stresses that discriminatory attitudes arise not only from religious differences but occur due to several intertwined factors. She tells us the fundamental difficulties of Turkish Germans and other Muslims in Germany society “are rooted in disenfranchisement, social discrimination and the lack of economic and political integration.”
“We are told that we have to first integrate, and demonstrate how “German” we are, before we acquire citizenship. They think that integration can come before citizenship. It cannot.”
Part of the problem of discrimination in Germany arises from the monolithic perception of what constitutes “German” identity. Until the revised citizenship laws in 2000, citizenship was based upon the concept of jus sanguinis – the law of the blood – in which citizenship was acquired by those of German ancestry or descent. Since then, the concept of German citizenship has been amended – modified by including the element of jus soli (citizenship acquired based on one’s place of birth), so that Turkish immigrants and their children may now obtain citizenship through either naturalization or birth. However, Tenzile Maraslieglu points out a fundamental problem in the process of integration. “We are told that we have to first integrate, and demonstrate how “German” we are, before we acquire citizenship. They think that integration can come before citizenship. It cannot.” Tenzile’s comment hits the nail on the head. It seems unrealistic that the onus falls on the immigrant population to adjust and integrate themselves into German society, when citizenship and participation in public and political life are still very much withheld. In fact, this mentality places a formidable barrier to the integration process, by allowing authorities and the political class to evade the responsibilities of initiating the integration process.
Although recent developments in Anti-Discrimination Law and Immigration Law have improved the status of Muslims in the country, Ms. Tietze believes that institutionally, steps to include the Muslim community in German public life have yet to be taken, and members of the Turkish Muslim minority agree. If even Germany’s largest minority group of three million Muslims is still excluded from public life and education, and if they are still considered “non-German,” Makbule Biber wonders, “how are things going to change? …Something is missing in Germany,” she says hauntingly. “I’m not sure what it is, but it needs to change.”
When I meet people and they ask where I’m from, I say Germany. They always say, ‘No, where are you really from?’ As if a black person cannot be from Germany.”
Deconstructing German National Identity
At Freie Universität , we interviewed black German graduate student Sabrina Yumurcak. While explaining to her that we were interested in interviewing Afro-Germans, she quickly interjected, “I’m not African. I’m German. I’m from Germany.” We told her that that was our assumption, at which point she lowered her head, smiled coyly and replied, “I’m so sorry. It’s just that here people always assume that I’m from Africa and it gets…annoying.” When we prodded further she revealed, “I come from a small town where everyone knows each other, so even though we were the only blacks in town people knew that we were from Germany and accepted us as Germans. But since I’ve come to Berlin for university, when I meet people and they ask where I’m from, I say Germany. They always say, ‘No, where are you really from?’ As if a black person cannot be from Germany.” This unwillingness of the outside society to accept that their racial identity does not have to be at odds with their national identity has given rise to identity crises in many Germans from racial minorities.
It becomes apparent that the boundaries surrounding German identity only consider people who are ethnically of German origin as legitimate members of the country. The pre-2000 legal definition of citizenship as one established on the basis of German ethnic origin still has its palpable effects on societal perceptions of national identity: belonging to the German nation continues to be based on ethno-cultural traits including skin color and ethnic origin, and not by whether one lives, works, or participates in German society. Thus, even though the concept of German citizenship is shifting, it appears that widespread attitudes towards people of other races and religions remain largely negative, so that anyone visibly, religiously or culturally excluded from the traditional image of the “German” are often castigated as outsiders.
Yet, according to Dr. Mahlmann, a professor of public law at Freie Universität, “the concept of ethnic descent and belonging is in deep trouble.” Dr. Mahlmann pointed to the 2005 Mikrozensus of the Statistische Bundesamt, the Federal Statistical Office. The analysis of data set, a representative one percent sample of the German population, revealed a surprising finding: 20 percent of all Germans have an immigrant background. The Mikrozensus has thus put a completely different perspective on the concept of German descent and belonging. Dr Mahlmann stresses, “I don’t know how anyone ever believed that the concept of the ethnic German ever existed, but I don’t think it exists anymore. It’s gone. An ethnic homogeneity doesn’t exist, just as a social fact. There’s no discussion anymore.”
Not only was Germany a participant in the colonization of Africa, but the convention from which African exploitation developed happened right here in Berlin under Chancellor Bismarck.
A Forgotten Colonial History
Yet, the concept of ethnic descent still lives today, its pernicious effects still maintaining a stranglehold over perceptions of belonging in this country. One particular minority – the black Germans – has been in Germany since the 17th Century, but are still commonly mistaken as foreigners. Journalist and Black German activist Victoria Robinson locates the narrow definition of German identity to Germany’s often-ignored colonial past. She says that Germans take much pride in the idea that its hands are clean of European colonialism. However, she argues that that pride is a false one. Not only was Germany a participant in the colonization of Africa, but the convention from which African exploitation developed happened right here in Berlin under Chancellor Bismarck. At the Berlin Conference, European nations came together to divide Africa and stake their claim on the various countries in the continent. Germany, too, emerged from that meeting “owning” a few African territories. During that colonial period, migration and miscegenation occurred: although it happened in relatively small numbers, Germans had children with Africans, Africans moved to Germany, and Germans moved to Africa. However, this colonial past is rarely discussed, though it still maintains a shadowy presence in Germany. (In the gardens of the Potsdam palaces one can find statues of African slaves staring in admiration at their German colonizer. Human Rights activist Dr. Claudia Lohrenscheidt also points out that streets like Mohrenstrasse – whose English translation is “blackmoor street” – serve as damning evidence of German colonialism.)
In view of this often neglected history, black Germans are many times mistaken by the larger society as asylum seekers from Africa, while they are often from families that have been in Germany for generations. Sabrina Yumurcak is one example. Placed in comparison to the people of ethnic German origin, the black German’s visual difference seems to stick out like a sore thumb: for most of the majority culture, this leads to the assumption that any black person does not belong to German society. Victoria Robinson is all too aware of how pervasive that flawed assumption is in German society. She presented to us a “Wanted” decree from the German police force that read: “Wanted: an African who speaks German with no accent.” It apparently did not occur to the police that if the “African” spoke German without an accent, he might, in fact, be German. Such myopic delineations of German identity have elicited much consternation among Black Germans, who are tired of trying to convince other Germans of their national identity.
Sabrina Yumurcak shares her inability to fit in: “In my town I was the only black. No one was never openly mean to me, but they never really accepted me either. None of the boys in school liked me because they saw me as exotic. I think the girls felt that way as well. But it wasn’t because of anything I did, it’s just because my skin was brown. So I went through a phase where I tried to overcompensate…to be super German so people would accept me. Everyone would say, ‘You are the most German girl I know.’ But that didn’t really change anything; they still saw me as different. Then I went to university, where in four years I only saw four black people in a school of 60,000. I didn’t feel I really fit in with anyone. So I decided to go spend some time in Senegal where my father’s family is from. I loved my time there and I learned a lot about myself, but I realized too that Germany is my home.”
“Integration is not our Responsibility”
The nation’s unwillingness to even admit that it has done a poor job in integrating its citizen’s into the larger German society is also problematic. According to Dr. Lohrenscheidt, the concept of integration has shifted: “In the 1980’s, integration was understood as something both the majority and the minority had to do to achieve, but nowadays integration is something they have to do. The responsibility has shifted. The majority just doesn’t believe it has a role in integration.”
Further complicating this terminology of integration is the public opinion of what constitutes German national identity, imagined or real. It is commonplace to find that while some migrants are German citizens, they are still identified as members of the migrant community, rather than as members of German society. Despite revising German Citizenship Law in 2000, which now grants citizenship based on birth (under the previous system, even second or third generation migrants retained the nationality of their parents’ country of origin unless they naturalized), the public opinion still sets people with migrant backgrounds against German citizens in a fast binary opposition.
The nation’s unwillingness to even admit that it has done a poor job in integrating its citizen’s into the larger German society is also problematic.
While the revised legal definition of German citizenship promises minority communities greater legal privileges, political ideas do not necessarily translate into cultural reality. Cultural perceptions still persist in distinguishing minority communities from Germans, a minority that is always either racially or religiously marginal. As such, using concepts of race and religion to determine national identity ultimately sheds doubt on the ability of these quasi-Germans to ever be fully integrated citizens.
Missing the Forest for the Trees
The debate surrounding the absence of “Rasse” in German discourse is a varied one. On the one hand, one may contend, like Dr. Lohrenscheidt, that the refusal to use the term helps to destroy the notion that hierarchies can be constructed on the basis of racial difference. She stresses that it is important to recognize how “every discrimination has a certain kind of history and meaning to society”, so that one may “understand the particular ways in which discrimination takes shape” based on historical assumptions. In this way, one may dismiss the concept of race while simultaneously being able to distinguish where racist attitudes come from.
“I don’t want to develop a hierarchy between different forms of discrimination because they are all interconnected.”
Yet, we wonder if the reluctance to use the word Rasse leads to an inability of public discourse to re-envision and deconstruct the term. If the German understanding of race exists only as a taboo, tied to the pseudo-biological justifications of the Nazi regime, how then can race as a social concept be destroyed and redefined if it is not even engaged? Dr. Lohrenscheidt tells us that in Germany, there are “still biology lessons where pupils learn there are three races, Mongoloid, Europoid and Negroid.” Such education is “disgusting”, she shares, “people still disagree with me; they insist ‘we learn this in biology!’ Racism is so hard to overcome if they learn this in school.” To the extent that racism exists on the basis of a belief in the concept of race, one may argue that engaging and deconstructing the specific term Rasse at a public level may help Germans to reconcile themselves with their history of racism, to assess how it looks and acts today, and to thus call attention to and destroy its residual evils.
Dr. Lohrenscheidt also acknowledges the dangers of isolating different types of discrimination within their particularities: “I don’t want to develop a hierarchy between different forms of discrimination because they are all interconnected. Most probably a person who is racist will be homophobic or anti-Muslim at the same time, you often find that.” She tells us that recognizing the interconnectedness of different types of discrimination is crucial, so that differently discriminated groups do not isolate their oppression without understanding that the struggle against discrimination extends to other minority communities.
There is thus a delicate tension between speaking of particular discriminations in order to isolate their problems, and speaking of Rasse in order to dismantle the concept, and to subsequently uncover the fundamental threads underlying discriminatory attitudes. Negotiating this tension, avoiding the dangers of over-generalizations and myopic specificities, involves protecting each history while being conscious of a larger politics of solidarity. Rather than running into the risk of creating more divisions, and thus reproducing discriminatory attitudes, we believe that specific histories must always be linked to larger patterns of prejudice, so that there is always a negotiation between being historically precise and being responsible to a larger struggle against racism.
In the present climate, dominant German culture is still, despite political and legal changes in recent years, willing to perceive ethnic distinctions – differentiations which they base exclusively on descent, no matter how far removed and how artificially selected and constructed – as powerful and crucial.
The Language of Solidarity
Perhaps the most important question we must ask at the end of the day is, why does all this matter? In a world where injustice has become commonplace and a solution seems all too faraway, how can an emphasis on counter-hegemonic terminology function to translate our resistance to injustice into powerful forms of political and social action? The heart of the matter is that in the present climate, dominant German culture is still, despite political and legal changes in recent years, willing to perceive ethnic distinctions – differentiations which they base exclusively on descent, no matter how far removed and how artificially selected and constructed – as powerful and crucial. Of course, such discrimination does not exist exclusively on the socio-linguistic level, but also occur at the level of political attitudes and the sentiment of the German public. But to the extent that we believe a hegemonic German ideology produces such differentiations in order to exploit them, we believe that that ideology must be resisted at the level of ideas – ideas which are shaped and produced by language.
Dr. Lohrenscheidt believes that the only way to fight the exploitation of hegemonic ideology is “to ask how we can be in solidarity with each other; how we can come together in solidarity to fight for an equal German society.” Dr. Mahlmann shares the same sentiment: “there’s a term, Leitkultur, core culture, which used to refer to a hegemonic notion of German identity. But I personally don’t have anything against a core culture if it is a culture of human rights. I think that’s my core culture.” If there is a faith that humanity can share, it is that language can allow us to imagine other ways of seeing.
Surely part of the difficulty of creating a culture of solidarity is that there is a great lack of awareness that racism exists in Germany, of which one symptom is the absence of a terminological framework that shapes social perceptions, and disrupts an ideology of difference. In the absence of an engaged cultural discourse, in the fear that talking about “race” will make one a racist, one cannot foster an environment that works towards a visible pluralism, and a culture of acceptance.
The discourse of discrimination in Germany traverses a complexity of issues: racial, cultural, and religious discrimination are often confused with each other, but their source can be traced back to deeply embedded ideas surrounding the perceived superiority of people ethnically of German origin – and the persistence of the term “ethnic German” to describe one as such. It appears that while German policy is increasingly willing to extend citizenship to its immigrant population, what is happening at the level of politics has yet to infiltrate into public perceptions of the immigrant population, who remains somewhat steadfast in their limited ethno-cultural definitions of German national identity. Yet, if political actors and activists are to create coalitions for change, resistance to discrimination must begin with the recognition of who is in the position of the privileged, and whose responsibility it is to begin the integration process. If language is replete with encoded signs of oppression and discrimination, and if we wish to disrupt the discourse of prejudice and difference, then recognition of the problem must begin with acknowledgement: it remains the responsibility of those for whom being “German” is a foregone conclusion to engage the minority groups that have for so long been withheld from the integrative process.
Victoria Robinson, Der Braune Mob (June 17, 2007)
Toan Nguyen, Anti-Diskriminirungs Netzwerk Berlin e.V. (June 21,2007)
Dr. Claudia Lohrenscheidt, German Institute for Human Rights (June 25, 2007)
Dr. Matthias Mahlmann, Freie Universität Berlin (June 25, 2007)
Nikola Tietze, Hamburg Institute for Social Research (June 25, 2007)
Sabrina Yumurcak, Freie Universität Berlin (June 25, 2007)
Tenzile Maraslieglu, Freie Universität Berlin (June 25, 2007)
Makbule Biber, Freie Universität Berlin (June 25, 2007)
Barth, Frederik, eds: Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Difference. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press (1969).
Gates, Henry Louis Jr., ed: “Race,” Writing and Difference. Chicago: Chicago UP, (1998).
Morrison, Toni: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, (1992).
Statistisches Bundesamt; Bevölkerung mit Migrationshintergrund –Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus 2005 Statistisches Bundesamt, Wiesbaden (2007)
[Population and employment, population with migrant background – results of census 2005, German Federal Statistical Office]