Comparing Racisms in Post-Migrant Societies
A series of racially motivated murders over the past decade has brought the issue of racism into the political consciousness of German society. The killing of nine immigrants in the city of Hanau by a white supremacist and an attempted mass murder of Jews on Yom Kippur in the city of Halle which resulted in two deaths led the German government to acknowledge in 2020 that right-wing extremism and racism have become a serious and imminent threat to the country’s democracy. The German Center for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM), headed by Dr. Naika Foroutan, was commissioned by the German government to develop a long-term National Discrimination and Racism Monitor (NaDiRa). Its aim is to record and understand the extent as well as causes and consequences of racism in Germany. Initial data collection on the German population’s perception of racism has shown that there may be analytical, empirical, and phenomenological differences between Germany and the United States when it comes to understanding racism. Dr. Foroutan will present the latest data from the German Racism- Monitor based on the recently published empirical study, “Racist Realities: How Does Germany Deal with Racism?” which has been presented to the German ministries and the public in May 2022. Her webinar will be moderated by Dr. Marilyn Sephocle, Professor for Language and Humanities at Howard University in Washington, DC.
Dr. Naika Foroutan, DAAD/AGI Fellow, Professor at Humboldt University
Marilyn Sephocle, Professor at Howard University
In recent years, Germany has come to terms with its status as an immigrant country. The migration narrative has until recently taken precedence over other debates related to inequality, including the prevalence and impact of racism in German society. However, the movement of Germany into a “post-migrant” phase has allowed for other issues of inequality to come to the forefront, including racism. Public debate on racism in Germany previously revolved around xenophobia (Ausländerfeindlichkeit) and the term “racism” was not often used. Over the last decade, high-profile incidents of racist violence have focused public attention to the issue of racism. In 2020, the German government commissioned the National Discrimination and Racism Monitor to collect data on how Germans experience and perceive racism.
The study, which collected responses from a representative sample of 5,000 people, was the first of its kind in Germany. The responses revealed that racism is a common experience in Germany, with 22 percent of Germans reporting that they had directly experienced racism (including nearly 60 percent of members of racialized groups), and that many Germans say they have witnessed racism (45 percent) or know someone directly affected (49 percent). A large majority of Germans believe racism exists in Germany (90 percent) and believe that government authorities racially discriminate (65 percent). Certain types of racism are more widely acknowledged than others. Large majorities of respondents (over 80 percent) viewed discrimination in hiring or housing as racism, while fewer recognized racism in cultural contexts (60 percent). Similarly, greater numbers of respondents recognized racism when it targeted Jewish or Black people versus Muslims or Eastern Europeans (80 percent to 70 percent).
At the same time, many Germans (60 percent) believe that racism is primarily exhibited by far-right groups, and 45 percent agreed that accusations of racism would restrict freedom of expression. One-third of respondents considered people who complain about racism to be ‘often too sensitive.’ In general, defensive attitudes towards racism were most common among people in society’s middle in terms of age, education level, and political preferences. However, a significant segment of Germany’s population reports having opposed racism in the past five years, either through disagreeing with a racist statement (47 percent), signing a petition (18 percent), or participating in a demonstration (9 percent).
An overall conclusion from the data is that racism has become a mainstream issue in Germany—not limited to racialized groups—and that policymakers must address it at a society-wide level. In terms of comparison to the United States, notable differences between the two countries include historical context, understandings of citizenship, intergroup relations, and the relative prominence of racism in public and academic discourse.
The survey was conducted shortly after the murder of George Floyd in the United States received significant attention and sparked protests in Germany. This raised the question of how timing impacted the results of the survey, which future surveys will help to answer. Participants observed that the results indicated some ambivalence towards racism, with high levels of recognition of racism in society but also personal defensiveness.
Part of the discussion revolved around the interplay of American and European narratives on racism and racial extremism, with Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a focal point. It was noted that intense debate over CRT in the United States heavily influenced the narrative in Europe, where it has been portrayed by some actors as a harmful leftist ideology. It was mentioned that in Germany, criticism of CRT has often come from male authors from the political center-left, suggesting that certain members of this group may feel threatened by a perceived loss of status or privileged. Participants also discussed the value of comparing racism across borders to better understand the motives, strategies, and symbols of racists.
It was noted that Germany requires significant migration to fill out its labor force and that Germans must continue to adapt to increasing diversity. Accordingly, the goal of the racism monitor will be to provide policy recommendations to improve outcomes in German society. Finally, the monitor hopes to build on existing collaboration with Austria and Switzerland to work with other partners in Europe.
This event is supported by the DAAD with funds from the Federal Foreign Office.