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Discussing Racism Beyond National Socialism: A Transnational Perspective

We are three students from different national contexts – from Poland, from the United States and from Bosnia and Herzegovina – and are participating in the month long Humanity in Action Fellowship in Berlin. This year's fellowship focused on topics of group-focused enmity. With this perspective, we found ourselves drawn to the unique way that racism is approached in the German context. What follows is our personal perspective on the issue, informed by our experience within our respective national contexts. As a Bosnian, a Pole and a US citizen, we each have different understandings of race and the ways in which racism should be handled. Our paper is meant less as a critique of the German handling of racism and more as a proposal of a broader understanding of racism in a modern context, one that enhances anti-racist dialogue in a way that does not necessarily connect contemporary racism to the stain of state-sponsored racism under Nazism. We would like to stress the importance of naming racism for what it is. We start by bringing in our own perspectives about these topics, and continue with the historical context of the term race and racism, with a specific focus on the Nazi’s use of the term “Rasse,” a phrase which may well be banned from the German Constitution in the coming months. Next, the focus moves to contemporary forms of racism and issues of dealing with it in German society with special emphasis on the ways National Socialism overshadows dealings with racism in contemporary society. We conclude with tacit suggestions and ideas on how to broaden the conversation surrounding racism in Germany today.


Racism: A Polish Perspective  

Although racism has existed in various forms and to various extents over history, the discourse about it in Poland is relatively new, both in political and broader public debate. The absence of Polish scholarly academia on racism and the relatively low number of racial discrimination cases in Polish courts point to the need for more attention to be focused on the issue.  Before 1989, it was thought that racism in Poland did not exist. After the fall of communism, the first democratic government declared that Poland was home to both – Poles and minorities. From my perspective, it is a low level of intercultural exchange and combined with a lack of contact with other cultures that creates most prejudices against people of color and causes people to adhere to racial stereotypes.


A Bosnian Perspective 

The concept of race and racism is not necessarily the most argued topic in Bosnia and Herzegovina. From my perspective, we are instead dealing a lot with ethnicity issues, along with matters of religion and the constructs of identity, but not too much with the issue of race. As long as Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of predominantly white people who physically possess more or less the same features, race is not really applied in that context.  Truly, the term ''ethnicity'' (belonging to a certain ethnic group) is often used in an ethnocentric context, though prejudice and stereotypes still factor in significantly, due to what can also be explained through a lack of intercultural exchange.  

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not an immigration country, but rather an emigration country. Therefore, in our national perspective, we do not deal with immigrants and the matter of integrating them into society. The Constitution is often referred to as being a fundamentally racist document, as it secures equal rights for only three constituencies of the population – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. It does not cover the rights of minorities (“the others”). Jews or Roma cannot be elected for presidency or other higher political functions. One of the most talked-about cases in the media today is the so-called Sejdić-Finci Case. Dervo Sejdić and Jakob Finci, Roma and Jewish citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, submitted applications to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Their ineligibility to stand for election to the House of Peoples and the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the ground of their Roma and Jewish origin violates the European Convention on Human Rights, so they argued. Their application further suggested constitutional reforms that would guarantee equal rights for all citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In December 2009, a sentence was handed down in their favor. As a consequence, a constitutional reform has been on Bosnia's agenda since 2011.


Racism from an American Perspective  

Since the passing of the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and other obvious displays of overt and legalized racial prejudice, a disturbing new binary has emerged within the U.S. that proves racism persists, albeit with notable complexity. On one hand, this binary champions a false mythology that society is both “color-blind” and “post-racial,” while, on the other, it limits the understanding of racism as an “individual psychology”, as opposed to a “social [and] structural phenomenon” (Gilman, 2006). This definition, as Gilman observes, conflates racial prejudice with racism, meaning that as long as individuals are not professing racist ideas or acting violently towards people of color, they are not racist and have no part in perpetuating racial inequality. This thinking allows the dominant hegemonic race (white Americans) to maintain and benefit from power structures that simultaneously make life easier for them while disenfranchising and oppressing people of color (Trevino, 2008). Although this sublte, though deeply-engrained and devastating shift may promote this aforementioned false mythology, this is not to say that more apparent manifestations of outright bigotry have been done away with.

 Within the last month, a young Mexican American boy from San Antonio was subjected to racial backlash after singing the National Anthem at an NBA basketball game. In other recent news, celebrity chef Paula Deen was revealed to have used the N-word when describing how she wanted black waiters to dress as plantation slaves for a wedding she was organizing. These isolated incidents, while clearly extremely racist, are representative of the constricted and narrow ways in which racism is understood in the U.S., most often as isolated acts of individual bigotry. Public outcry in cases such as these make it clear that such conspicuous racial prejudice is no longer tolerated, however, this collective outrage is still missing from public discourse on institutional racism, particularly in the context of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs.  As Michelle Alexander points out in her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” there are more black men incarcerated now than there were enslaved in 1850. Although African-Americans make up only 13.6 % of the U.S. population, they account for 40.2% of the incarcerated population. Alexander, like many other scholars, attributes this to institutional racism and the failed War on Drugs. David Simon, famed director of the television series “The Wire,” notes that the war on drugs is a disposal process of “excess Americans” who no longer hold value in the labor market, but remain profitable in privatized prisons, where they work for little to no wages. In sum, the new racial order of the United States allows for whites to take advantage of institutions, laws, housing, employment and education opportunities specifically tailored to favor them. These structures put people of color at a disadvantage, and whites can enjoy these advantages without every truly holding racist ideals.


Race and Racism in Historical Context 

Historically, the term “race” emerged in the first instance to show imagined differences with no biological significance and establish hierarchies between people, implying that there are certain differences within the human race that allow categorization into higher and lower orders. In this way, having established the concept and maintained it now for many centuries, the “white race“ has enjoyed a position as the “dominant” race. Employing aggressive racial policies and diverse manifestations of pseudoscience, violent and genocidal instutions like slavery and colonialism were explained and justified over centuries. Eugenics gained ground by the 20th century and took on particular force in the 1930s in Germany, where the increased extremism of National Socialism applied it toward policies of ethnic cleansing, resulting in the Holocaust. However, racism neither began with National Socialism, nor did it end with it. Toward this end, German colonial history should not be forgotten when discussing racism.

The term “race” has historically possessed considerable depth and weight and, though it goes without saying, it has long possessed racist connotations within that complexity. That is why, on an international level, there have been considerable attempts to step back from using this term completely. For example, UNESCO’s Statement of Race in 1950 claimed that the term “race” came out of a social myth and caused extreme violence and harm in the world. 

Thus, looking again to the case of Germany and its history, it is vitally important to acknowledge that race actually holds no biological bearing and is itself a social construct. However, while it is socially constructed, that is not to imply that racialized violence doesn't exist, and a potenitally dangerous 'colorblind'  appraoch seeking to eliminate the word from within the lexicon of legal documents is currently underway. In October 2007, NGO representatives, linguists, and politicians gathered for a workshop to discuss the term “race” (in German, “Rasse”) and whether it should be banned from the legal system. The arguments presented claimed that by banning the word from use in the constitution or and in legal reports, racism would be easier to combat.

Contemporay science also puts forth the argument that the term “race” as it exists today is not suitable to capture adequately the obvious diversity of people across the world. The scientists behind these assertions also do not support the former statement that the population should be divided into races such as „the Africans,“ the „Eurasian race“ or any „classification“ of people. Racist attitudes do not necessarily depend on biological theories.  In this sense, racism can have many facets. For example, consider the practice of ascribing certain characteristics to a certain group of people, who are then, in a sense, “captured“ in these frames and no longer seen as individuals, but rather as members of an invented group.  These assumptions and attributions can be made based on any number of categories—skin colour, genes, blood, mentality or religion, to name just a few. In the beginning, the term ''race'' was used to define physical or visible aspects of certain groups, but later it grew into a complex social construct, rather than just something based on physical appearance and quick observation rooted in faulty science.

This original manifestation, this practice of categorizing people and and attributing hierarchies to them through physical appearance, likely began well before written records, however was first codified and documented at the end of the 17th century. The invention of the term “race,” however, is unclear. It was first used in Romanian languages in the 13th century to explain belonging or descending from a certain family, home, or dynasty. The term was based on the notion of a long line of ancestors and in ideas of inherited, outstanding quality. With the added element of “blood purity” alongside understandings of citizenship and national belonging, the term “race” grew into a strong political term.

During the time of the Enlightenment, the need in people arose to understand nature as biological pursuits became more ambitious. People, animals and plants became classified. The term “race” came to  broadly describe entire populations of other countries. Physical characteristics were explained and justified by varying climates and regions. The French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc claimed that the European race was the most beautiful and dominant of the races. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant brought the French term “race” into the German language. He divided humankind into four races, stating the “white race” was the most capable and valuable one, followed by the “yellow Indians.” Much lower on his scale were black people (with the offensive N-word used in this context) and at the bottom, American “Völkerschaften.” Also born out of this thinking, Social Darwinism extends this line of thinking to posit that these respective “races” are fighting for survival (Darwin's “survival of the fittest” in warped form). At that moment, the term “racial hygiene” appeared in Germany, or “Eugenics” in England.


Antisemitism and Race

When discussing German history, certain events should not be missed in order to understand the origins and development of the specifically German word “Rasse.” After World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was completely devastated—the country lost colonies, conquests, 13 % of its territory, 7 million lives and over 6 billion pounds in payment of reparations. Germany, to say the very least, paid a heavy price for its defeat. Mass unemployment was also one of the consequences that worked to cripple Germany after the war. The war-guilt clause and the accompanying clause in the Treaty of Versailles concerning reparations were clearly made in a spirit of revenge.

Widespread German resentment over the harsh stipulations of the treaty helped give rise to popular support for Adolf Hitler by the 1930s. Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party NSDAP, used his profound oratory skills to manipulate the German people into following his regime’s propaganda.  Many German citizens were looking for something to improve the economic situation caused by postwar devastation and the worldwide effects of the Great Depression. By encouraging and fostering nationalism and extreme forms of patriotism, Hitler captivated the public with his rhetoric, convincing them he could lead them out of the crisis, and did so while espousing racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, homophobia, Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism. These flawed ideologies soon turned out to be the introductory steps toward mass murder mobilization for the Second World War, driven by a volatile combination of hyper-nationalist and racist ideology. Through establishing the idea of the elevated “Aryan race,” Germans undertook a strong quest of national identity, one desperately desired after the huge losses during the previous war.

In the second half of the 19th century, there already existed many publications claiming “Jewishness” was a race. Notions of Jewishness shifted away from religious or spiritual realms and moved  into a secular characterization of isolated culture and ethnicity, in which extreme stereotypes of Jews were perpetuated and the supposedly age-old Christian-Jewish hostility dynamic was taken over and bolstered with a modernized version of hate. “The Jew” was said to have the lowest characteristics and dangerous political goals linked to Bolshevism, such as outright revolution and world domination.

Out of many publications that dealt with the topic of race and Jewishness in Germany, one was especially controversial. Stewart Chamberlain, who was later granted German citizenship, was known for glorifying the white race, the “German Aryan race” that he claimed was meant to dominate the world, rewriting world history. He explicitly argued that the Jews, the opposing force of everything that was valuable and noble, endangered the German Aryan race.  The National Socialists referred to his writings often and he had a particularly strong influence on Hitler. The fight for the racial dominance became the centerpiece of Nazi ideology.  

The idea driving the Third Reich by the 1940s was to weed out and exterminate “parasitic Jewishness“ and ensure the “cleanliness of blood” across the lands or living space (Lebensraum) meant to give rise to this next age of an imagined Aryan-dominated world. The “Fight for the Race“ ended in genocide. Theoretical approaches throughout the modern western world have created ideas of various human races, in this context eventually culminated in the “Fight for the race” in Germany, in which the Aryans were the “master race” (“Herrenrasse”) and orchestrated the systematic and widespread elimination of  „non- important, worthless lives”.


Post-Nazi Racism 

Following the fall of the Third Reich in 1945 and the subsequent division of Germany into East and West, these two distinct governments put forth notably different approaches to the handling of race and racism. In East Germany, racist ideology was derided as a Nazi creation and the communist regime was able to avoid racial issues simply by not addressing them. Under communist ideals, all men were on equal footing, “comrades” who all had a purpose to serve. Schools offered up lessons to children that emphasized that there was absolutely no biological difference between the races, promoting an idea that everyone belonged to “one human race”. This does not mean, of course, that racism did not exist in East Germany. Many so called guest workers were brought in from other Socialist countries to help with the re-building, however, their participation in society at large was extremely constricted. While both the East and West German governments housed these “guest workers” in secluded centers, only in the East did they remain segregated till the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In the West, the approach was different. After the war, many German women were giving birth to babies of color, the results of relationships between black G.I.s from the United States. These children were segregated and discriminated against en masse after the war. A movie called “Toxi,” produced in 1952, aimed to confront this issue and “promote in a humorous way love and understanding for all Toxis” (Troschke, Radva). However, what the film actually did was promote racists ideas and prejudice while emphasizing the children’s difference. The film closes with the young protagonist, a person of color, leaving Germany to go live with her father in the United States, happily concluding that she had finally gone “home” despite being born and raised in Germany.


Role of Guestworkers 

“With the collapse of the Third Reich, the hyper-racialized German society that had been a core project of the Nazi dictatorship came to an end. In the rush to repudiate National Socialism, postwar Germans rendered the idea of  “race” and all associated racial thinking taboo at least in polite circles and the public sphere.”  Rita Chin

Blindness to contemporary racism in a context outside of Nazism (that is, following the collapse of the Third Reich at the end of World War II) first emerged within the guest worker programs implemented in postwar West Germany to support the depleated domestic workforce. The “Economic Miracle” of regrowth in the 1950s created a demand for labor that the newly-established West German state could not provide. The first labor recruitment treaty was signed with Italy in December 1955. Throughout the 1960s, similiar agreements followed with Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia, changing West German society forever. In 1969, the number of foreign workers in West Germany had reached almost 2 million. Accessing these numbers in relation to the two-year contract rotation system that had been established for guest workers, the West German government quickly realized that training and transporting new foreigh labor at such a scale according to this model would prove unprofitable. Thus, allowances were made for residence extensions and work permits. The government's stance regarding guest workers only as workers, and not as a part of society, was slow to change in the following decades. The official position of Germany as a non-immigrant country remained through reunification and only started to change in the late 1990s.

At times, this slow shift made the country seem somewhat hypocritical on the world stage. On one hand, West German society expressed its disapproval for Apartheid in South Africa, while on the other, continued to further alienate its guest workers by housing them in housing centers on the outskirts of town. Furthermore, the state restricted guest workers from living in certain neighborhoods. Guest workers were not seen as the members of West German society. The guest workers were considered as “foreigner workers” who only came for a certain period of time and thus should remain confined to their communities, not participating in any other aspects of German Society. German society swiftly adopted the idea of guest workers as a temporary presence. Parallels to Apartheid policies in South Africa, as well as to Germany's own colonial past are clear.

Starting in the 1960s, East Germany also began recruiting workers from socialist countries, and contracts were established with Poland and Hungary. In later years, labor was mostly recruited from Vietnam, Mozambique, Angola and Cuba. Like in West Germany, these workers were segregated from the local population and interaction was not officially welcome.

 From the late 1960s up through the present, foreign laborers and their families have become vulnerable tor attacks from right-wing groups. In 1969, guest workers were targeted by the National Democratic Party (NPD), a right-wing extremist party, who blamed guest workers for German unemployment and put “Federal Republic without foreigners” on its agenda.

An economic recession triggered by the global oil crisis in the early 1970s expedited the decision to stop the recruitment of foreign workers in 1973. To stimulate repatriation and reduce the number of immigrants from certain states, the West German government created so called “pay-to-go” programs. By offering money, return tickets or other incentives, German officials hoped to send most of the “foreigners” back home. This method was also used throughout the beginning of the 1990s, as Germany realized their expectation that guest workers would return home had failed. Right-leaning politicians such as Chancellor Helmut Kohl continued with rhetoric insisting that Germany was not a land of immigration. Government policies put further emphasis on facilitating quick returns for guest workers. Increased emphasis was put on language training and, just like in the previous decade, families were offered incentives like cash to willingly repariate. 

According to German citizenship law at the time, children of guest workers born in Germany remained ineligible for citizenship by birth. As a consequence, the country saw generations of “foreigners” born and raised in Germany. Furthermore, this time period saw bomb attacks on Turkish homes in Mölln (1992) and Solingen (1993), attacks that illustrated on the ground level the still overt, yet deeply-rooted racial prejudice present in German society.

While violent attacks targeting “foreigners” are few and attention-grabbing, an issue that does not receive as much attention is the basic structural inequality that places Turks in disadvantaged position in German society. Although violent hate crimes have exposed  the narrow understanding of racism in German society and draw attention to the issue, they did not spark any sort of comprehensive response to the more widespread problem of inequality and lack of participation in everyday life.

Contemporary forms of racism

Four years after the former central banker Thilo Sarrazin sparked public outrage with his book Deutschland schafft sich ab - Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen (“Germany does away with itself - How we’re putting our country at jeopardy”), Sarrazin's views were officially deemed racist by the United Nations . In April 2013, the UN found that Germany broke an international anti-racism accord by shrugging off Sarrazin's anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim statements. At the time, many had defended Sarrazin's right to express his views.

In his book, Sarrazin warns that Germans could become “strangers in their own country” due to immigration and argues that Muslims are not compatible with German society. Reactions to the text in Germany were divided, yet the German state did not take action. Officially, more than 1.5 million copies were sold. A complaint submitted to public prosecutors in Berlin was rejected on grounds that the comments were permissible under Germany's freedom of expression legislation. An appeal to the decision was rejected as well. The Turkish Association Berlin-Brandenburg was the first to submit this case to the court.

According to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), however, this constituted a violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, because Germany had failed to conduct an “effective investigation” into the matter. The UN committee concluded that such statements “contain ideas of racial superiority, denying respect as human beings and depicting generalized negative characteristics of the Turkish population, as well as incitement to racial discrimination.” The German government has been given 90 days to respond with measures to comply with the committee’s demands. These include measures to better educate state prosecutors and judges in cases of racism and a review of guidelines for prosecution of racial discrimination.

Outside of his book, Sarrazin made further offensive statements in an interview with the culture and political magazine Lettre International in September 2009, disparaging Muslim immigrants, alleging that they “constantly produce little girls in headscarves,” and were collectively part of an “underclass that does not take part in the normal economic cycle.” He also said that “a large number of Arabs and Turks in (Berlin) ... have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade.” Sarrazin's opinions inside and outside of his book have received very different reactions in Germany, garnering high support on one side while being named dangerous and racist on the other.  Most dangerously, Sarrazin is an expert at skewing statistics to back up his own prejudices rather than properly analyzing the complex reality behind the figures. No matter how troubling Sarrazin’s theories and arguments are, the nature of public outcries in response to them – calls to exclude, ban and censure him –are also worrying. As some critics have rightly pointed out, an intellectually lively society should seek better ways to challenge these racist ideas rather than issuing gag orders.  

In a German context, it is difficult to discuss due to the sensitivity of society following the end of Nazism. Lines between racism and freedom of speech are regularly crossed, but the conscripted understanding of racism in Germany usually prevents comprehensive action from being taken. Unfortunately, discourse on this issue is very difficult and is most often indirectly addressed or avoided altogether in German society today.

The NSU Murders 

In September 2000, Enver Simsek became the first victim in a series of racist murders that would claim nine more lives over the next ten years. The crimes were carried out by the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU), a neo-Nazi terrorist cell in Germany. Two of the three main culprits killed themselves in 2011, while the third is finally undergoing trial in Germany this summer. All of the killings were carried out with the same gun in broad daylight, all targeting people with a migration background (with the exception of one policewoman). Perhaps equally disturbing to the murders themselves was the inefficient, thoughtless, and arguably even racist way in which authorities carried out the investigations. In a classic case of victim blaming, the police wrote off the deaths as causalities of the Turkish mafia. In further tastelessness, the German media dubbed the cases the “döner murders,” using the name of a popular dish in Germany of Turkish kebab served inside a bread roll.

Apart from revealing the racist attitudes within factions of the population that gave rise to the NSU, these cases have also revealed a deep racism rooted within Germany’s criminal justice system. The assumption of the victims' guilt and the failure to connect a series of killings carried out for over ten years should be seen as a failure of Germany’s police force. Unsurpringly, the mishandled cases  caused considerable outrage in the public, though some might argue this was simply not enough.

 In the wake of these killings and other crimes with similar motivations, the legitimization of the Far Right has become a huge issue in Germany. The NSU and other factions of neo-Nazi parties have now entered several state parliaments and local governments. This process began in the 1990s and has continued through today. It is now widely believed that the acting political arm of the neo-Nazi movement is the NPD, the so-called “National Democratic Party.”

 As a report from the Amadeu-Antonio-Foundation explained, “besides gaining recognition through getting elected into state parliaments, groups of extreme right comrades set about establishing national liberated zones.” These zones are places where anyone who is not white cannot exist freely without the threat of harassment or even violence in many cases. There have been several serious talks in Parliament regarding whether or not the NPD should be allowed to operate as a legitimate party within the German political system, though a decision has yet to be reached. In 2003, an attempt to ban the NPD failed on the grounds that the party had been infiltrated by a number of informants. The court argued that those informants had a hand in shaping the NPD’s policy. 


Re-Emergence of Racism/Nationalism in the Context of the World Cup 

Without doubt, the FIFA World Cup hosted by Germany in 2006 changed public discourse on German identity. The event marked the first time since World Ear II that German society openly expressed, even celebrated, a sense of nationality. German flags were displayed publically and waved in support of the national team, perhaps a sign of positive patriotism. However, these seemingly positive gestures may have revealed a dangerous and hidden secret—that racist and xenophobic tensions simmer just beneath the surface of German society.

Some of these concerns were confirmed a few weeks before an official opening of the World Cup. An article posted by the Boston Globe reported “the savage beating of an Ethiopian man in this historic city [Potsdam] and another attack in Berlin have rattled Germany. The Easter morning assault here, in which the 37-year-old irrigation engineer was harangued with racial epithets then bludgeoned and kicked into a coma”. 

However, before the 2006 World Cup began in the summer, concerns over racism and football in Germany arose earlier in the year over an incident that happened on March 25, 2006 during a game between fourth-division German soccer teams FC Sachsen Leipzig and FC Halle.  Nigerian midfielder Adebowale Ogungbure became a victim of a racist group of Halle fans, as he heard the imitation of monkey sounds every time he touched the ball during the match. After the game, when he was walking off the field, a group of hooligans approached him, spat on him and used racist epithets. He ignored the name-calling and continued walking. However, when they carried on with more spitting and violent “jungle sounds,”  he gave up and in revenge put two fingers above his mouth to resemble a Hitler mustache and gave the Nazi salute.  Ogungbure’s response to racist taunting by imitating Nazi gestures outraged the crowd and provoked even more violence on the field. This specific case illustrates that the German public is still very sensitive toward the violence of the past and cannot accept contemporary recollections of and comparisons to Nazism on any occasion. Of his response, Ogungbure later explained: “I was just so angry, I did not care. I could have been killed, but I had to do something. I thought to myself, what can I do to get them as angry as they have made me? Then when I lifted my arm...I saw the anger in their faces and I started to laugh”. Without considering the behaivor of the hooligans who provoked him, the Halle police automatically assumed Ogungbure's full guilt for the taboo Nazi salute and charged him with “unconstitutional behavior.”  The Nazi salute is illegal in Germany under § 86a of the criminal code, which prohibits using the symbols of unconstitutional organizations, especially the Nazi party. Although the public prosecutor ultimately decided not to prosecute Ogungbure, the initial prompt response from the police—to pursue and prosecute the public reference to Nazism while ignoring the violence and hate that had provoked it—highlighted the distinctive way that many Germans continue to understand the issue of race. It is also worth noting that, from the perspective of the police, official enforcers of the public order, a Nazi gesture was punished for its racist implications, but verbal and physical violence directed at someone whose skin color indicates a “different background” from that of the harrassers, was not. Public attention and debate also focused on Ogungbure's behaivor while neglecting the inhuman and insulting (and notably unpunished) actions of the fans toward Ogungbure. Furthermore, Michael Schädlich, president of FC Halle,  stated that he did not hear any “discriminatory expressions” within his earshot in the grand stand. “Otherwise,” he explained to the Frankfurter Rundschau, “I would have intervened with security to move the stadium speaker.” Even if it is difficult to interpret what Schädlich wanted to express, the implication is that the spectators could carry on openly with racist insults as long as no one (or at least not everyone) could hear them. This particular case suggests that Nazi Racism still holds a distinct and isolated status in Germany—more recognizable yet incapable of being compared to other manifestations of racism today. The lack of consequences for spitting, taunting and harassing football hooligans is particularly troubling as it might encourage others to such unacceptable behavior. 

Months later during the World Cup in Germany, the aforementioned National Democratic Party  published and circulated a brochure entitled ‘White! Not just the jersey color! For a real national team.’ This act of racism was directed toward a German soccer player who was born to Nigerian and German parents, demonstrating denial of considering him as a “full citizen,” even under German law. Even though the World Cup gave Germany the opportunity to showcase positive expressions of pride and patriotism after years of stigmatizing this behaivor, it also confirmed the continued presence of racism in Germany and the peripheral attention racist actions drew in relation to Nazi racism.



After Second World War, the discourse surrounding racism was not given enough attention, particularly in public arenas, and racial hierarchies and prejudiced ideas persisted. As Joshua Kwesi Aikins points out, what has emerged is an “impoverished” understanding of race, where contemporary racism is both overshadowed by, and kept separate from, the Nazi past. It would be important, he noted, to reflect on continuities – ideological, political but also personal – from the colonial to the Nazi past. The Nazi state cannot be understood without taking the colonial history into account.


The guest worker programs were drawn up along color lines, isolating immigrant workers from the society at large. In time, a new, silent racial hierarchy emerged, one concerned with stigmatizing immigrants.

Understanding issues of race in Germany today is a process that must be undertaken with nuanced historical understanding. For Germans, words like “race” are still inextricably linked to National Socialism and the Holocaust. Within this framework, a falsely “color-blind” understanding of race came to be the predominant ideology. In place of celebrating diversity and difference, German society has chosen not to acknowledge it. A puzzling binary has emerged, one in which German identity is defined through having white skin and “German blood” and everyone who does not fit this narrow description is unceremoniously lumped into the category of having a “migration background.” Whereas the academic and statistical definition of “migration background” reaches back only roughly two generations, people of color experience being categorized as having a migration background regardless of their individual biographies. For people who have been here for generations, this sort of categorization can be offensive, isolating, and homogenizing, a “one sided notion of foreignness, which serves to perpetuate the myth of Germany as a white nation”, as Kwesi Aikins states. 

The founding myth of the Federal Republic of Germany after the Third Reich is that National Socialism had been overcome and with it racism eradicated. Modern discourse centered on race and racism are too often connected to the history of National Socialism. Employing euphemisms like “discrimination” and “xenophobia” fail to acknowledge that Germany still has problems with racism specifically, different though these problems may be from infamous Nazi articulations of “race.” These mild words used to get around the concept of “race” and “racism”  help perpetuate a kind of othering of the issue, attributing racism to other places.

If Germany would recognize and confront racism as a contemporary problem and, through this recognition and confrontation, come to celebrate diversity, new methods for dealing with the past could be discovered.  To achieve this, the understanding of racial issues must be freed up from the Nazi ideology, World War II, and the terrors of the Holocaust. Racism did not start with National Socialism, nor did it end with it. It is understandable why Germans are reluctant to acknowledge difference, given Germany's history and the work of Fascism to render difference fatal.  Addressing these issues will inevitably be a complicated process, especially while survivors of the World War II's atrocities are still alive. 





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Kwesi Aikins, Joshua: Personal interview on June 22nd 2013


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