Greeks are colored people

Right-wing extremism

Racist clichés are still reflected in the language, literature and music of a society today. What are the historical and cultural roots of these traditional prejudices?

(& copy AP)


Surveys in the late 1990s on attitudes towards minorities in Germany reveal an ethnic hierarchy: immigrants from Italy or Greece were shown more sympathy than "ethnic Germans" resettlers; these in turn achieved significantly higher sympathy ratings than immigrants from Eastern Europe (Russians), Turkey, from Asia (Vietnamese) and Africa. Such rankings, which reflect the social status of ethnic groups, are widespread in society and suggest certain opinions, stereotypes and evaluations about these groups to the individual, from which social distance and willingness to discriminate are derived.

How does this gradation come about? What role do visible (skin color) and assumed biological differences, cultural differences, the assumed poverty and backwardness, the fact of seeking asylum as a refugee play in the rejection? In order to be able to answer this, it is necessary to briefly examine the history of racial theory and colonialism.

The Christian view of history was based on Noah as the common ancestor of all human beings, whose sons Ham, Sem and Japhet were the fathers of the black, Semitic and white peoples. However, since the 17th century Noah's curse on Ham, "the lowest servant he shall be to his brothers" (Book of Genesis 9:25), has been used as a divine justification for the slave trade. In the early colonial history, however, it was not so much the different skin color of the natives in America, Africa and Asia that was the reason for this "paternalism". Rather, their "paganism" was decisive, so that they had to be Christianized.

Since the end of the 17th century, race was introduced in science as a natural history term to categorize groups of animals and humans according to external characteristics. Even the early classification schemes included evaluations by classifying people into higher and lower species. Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) already saw in this the danger of justifying the oppression and enslavement of allegedly lower races. In fact, an image of the Indian and "Negro" developed in Europe, which drew them in the good-natured version as "nature children" and "noble savages" (for example Winnetou in the novel of the same name by Karl May, Friday in "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe), in the negative variant as bloodthirsty, devious or stupid savages. In both cases "the savage" had to remain under the tutelage of the "white man". Accordingly, the native population was treated as an object of education by the European colonial rulers - above all by the Christian missionaries. If they rebelled against it, the colonial powers did not shy away from brutal violence or even genocide (as happened in response to the "Herero uprising" in 1904 in what was then German South West Africa).

The political conflicts between the "white" colonial rulers and the "colored" subjects were biologized in the colonial social model and interpreted as "racial struggle". A "racial mixture" was accordingly rejected as "betrayal of the white race". We can still find traces of these views today - as well as the picture of the good or bad slave, in which more or less benevolent disdain (about backwardness, which was attributed to laziness and stupidity or a "childlike mind") is combined with the fear of " black man "(who is considered wild, instinctual and brutal) mixes. Perception is structured by the basic pattern of civilization and maturity (self-image) versus uncivilizedness, immaturity and vitality (external image), which also gives the respective skin color the meaning "better / worse than".

Although there is now consensus in genetics, biology and social sciences that a division of people into "races" is not possible, this term is widespread in everyday thinking and recently used the phrase that no one should discriminate "on the basis of their race" will still be included in the draft law for the implementation of European anti-discrimination directives. The German section of the Global African Congress rightly called for the wording "for racist reasons" or "according to racist criteria" to be chosen instead.

Language, songs and written material

This racist pattern of perception is deeply embedded in our language and is passed on to the next generation at an early stage through seemingly harmless songs and stories. Even in everyday language, the word "black" is often associated with something illegal, bad or sad: black market, black peter, moonlighting, blackening someone or black mourning clothes. A look at the "Lexicon of proverbial idioms" by Lutz Röhrich shows that the term "black" seldom has a positive meaning (for example, it hits the bull's eye), but there are plenty of idioms with a negative meaning.

The American Black Power civil rights movement wanted to start a revaluation in the mid-1960s with the slogans "Black is beautiful" and "Black Supremacy". The change in the designation of "blacks" in the USA from "colored" to "negroes", "blacks" to African-Americans tries to override old stereotypes with new terms A disparaging image of the black can be found in terms such as "Negerkuss" or "Mohrenkopf" for cakes and in its function as furniture (such as a Mohr as a carrier of fruit bowls, as a table leg), in which they appear as slaves or servants. Children are given negative clichés at an early stage with the song "Ten Little Negroes", who all have to endure different types of death, or the game "Who is afraid of the Black Man". The well-known "Story of the Black Boys" from Heinrich Hoffmann's "Struwwelpeter" from 1845 only appears to be anti-racist when viewed superficially. Although the three bad white boys are punished by Nicholas for their mockery of the "coal-black Moor" and "blackened" himself, the latter sees blackness as a flaw: "You children, listen to me, and leave the Moor in peace ! What can this Moor do for the fact that he is not as white as you are? " Because of the color of his skin, "the Mohr" does not deserve ridicule, but pity.

The image of the black as a "willing slave" or as a negative image of the partly childlike, partly bloodthirsty wild "Negro" can also be found in songs for young people and journeys, which are printed in well-known song collections such as "Die Mundorgel" and "Der Turm".

Fortunately, the influence of these stories and songs on children and young people for a long time is declining, just as the tradition of "Negro" and cannibal jokes that was founded in the last third of the 19th century has largely disappeared from the newspapers.

Source text

Racism or Much Ado About Nothing?

In June 2005, the Augsburg Zoo presented an event entitled "African Village". Mostly African artists, restaurateurs, traders and initiatives presented themselves at around 40 stands (no village was set up). The action provoked criticism: The "Initiative Schwarzer Menschen in Deutschland" (ISD) demanded that it be canceled because black people were exhibited in the zoo in a stereotypical manner. This is reminiscent of the tradition of colonial peoples' shows. Other initiatives followed the criticism (see below). The zoo and the city of Augsburg defended the idea and rejected the allegations. The dispute met with controversial media coverage at home and abroad.

Attack on human dignity
We support the protest of the black German community [meaning the ISD] against the plans of the Augsburg zoo to set up an "African Village" between the animal enclosures from June 9th to 12th, 2005. In conceptual and practical terms, this project is in the direct tradition of the so-called Völkerschauen at the beginning of the 20th century. We request the cancellation of the event. In the context of Völkerschauen, the so-called "African culture" was presented as an excursion into exotic realms. At no time was it about dealing with the actual living situation of people on the African continent or in this country. Rather, the German population was shown the "wild exotic animal". [...]
Our protest is directed against the location, the form and the content of the presentation. The planned event may be "well-intentioned", but an animal park can never be an "adequate" place for the presentation of the living situation of people from other continents. Such a request is at best insensitive and ignorant. We perceive the project as cynical, racist and an attack on human dignity. [...] It is scandalous that racist stereotypes and colonial behavior are used for the financial rehabilitation of the zoo and the promotion of the tourism industry.

Excerpt from a press release by Mobile Advice Against Right-Wing Extremism in Berlin on June 6, 2005.

Solidarity help
I also believe that the Africans living in Augsburg will not understand the criticism of "African Village". If only because it is expressly not about "showing off" people of black skin color, but about bringing African culture, the representatives of which are also present in Augsburg, closer to a broad audience. It is well known that it is difficult for African associations and individual African cultural workers to make themselves "audible and visible" in public. That is why I think the choice of the Augsburg Zoo as the venue is entirely adequate. After all, this is the region's biggest visitor magnet.
I expressly reject the accusation that the planned event is reminiscent of the earlier so-called Völkerschauen, which contributed to the formation of basic racist attitudes in Germany. Such allegations are baseless, incorrect and completely misunderstand historical contexts. That is why I consider events of this kind - as it has been implemented in many cities so far - to be a piece of solidarity-based aid for a continent that receives far too little humanitarian attention!

Excerpt from the press release by the Mayor of Augsburg, Dr. Paul Wengert from June 1, 2005.



Rock music

In the current "right rock" scene, to which about 80 to 100 active right-wing extremist bands belong, the racism is directly and brutally expressed, for example in the song "Hurray, Hurray, a nigger burns" by the band "Die Häre" . In the 1996 banned "Afrika-Lied" by the group "Landser", condemned as a "criminal organization" in 2003, black Africans are equated with monkeys and sent to their deaths by shipwreck. Right-wing extremist skinhead groups such as "Rassenhass", "Race War" or "White Aryan Rebels" signal their militant "White Power" - racism by their names alone. With songs like "People stand up" they update the colonial ideas of a race war, radicalized under National Socialism, by calling for hatred and violence against blacks, foreigners and Jews (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, right-wing extremist Skinheads: Music and Concerts 2004).

Africa in the German media and school books

"Third World" countries are reported comparatively seldom in the German media - so seldom that the entire African continent does not appear in the television news programs at all in some months and is only rarely discussed in the daily newspapers. This was self-critically acknowledged by media representatives in the SWR2 program "Between Hell and Paradise. The Image of Africa in the German Media" in January 2002. In 80 percent of all contributions, Africa is described as "Hell" - in negative reports about natural and famine disasters, wars and coups.

Africa is often only mentioned in connection with issues that affect German or European interests. Alternatively, the continent is praised in the media as "paradise" - as the untouched but threatened wild continent with its unspoilt, beautiful black people who sing and dance. Some reports still follow colonial and racist patterns of perception, for example when political conflicts are interpreted as non-political "tribal wars" and their primitiveness and brutality are emphasized. Humanitarian campaigns such as appeals for donations on television in the event of natural and famine disasters, epidemics or refugee misery have the side effect of cementing the old image of Africa of a primitive, historically-free and chaotic continent that ultimately, through its own fault, cannot get out of its underdevelopment. There is a lack of "positive" images of everyday life and reports from an African perspective.

Even in sports reporting, in which colored athletes are portrayed in a more individual and positive way and the skin color is a neutral label, imagery from the colonial era occasionally shines through, when portrayed as always smiling and in a good mood (stereotype of childliness and immaturity), modest and superstitious become. The image of "full vitality" is combined with the absence of "spirit". The indication of skin color, often combined with a comparison of animals, always seems to convey important information, for example when there is talk of a "black gazelle" or when runners from Ethiopia are referred to as "panthers" in television coverage of the 2005 World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki were.

Sport and pop music (jazz, soul, reggae, rap) are on the one hand fields where blacks gain great success and social prestige, but with their emphasis on physical vitality and musicality, both areas still serve the stereotype of unused, emotionally intensive life force, the played a major role as a contrasting image for bloodless modernism in the artistic movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Analyzes of German and European school books criticize the fact that they convey an outdated, exotic image of Africa that has little to do with the many facets of the continent. In addition, problematic terms would continue to be used (native, tribe, chief, indigenous people, mulatto). According to Anke Poenicke's textbook research in 2001, textbooks (first editions from 1998 to early 2001) mostly dealt with Africa only in the context of "European topics" (for example, European expansion). Europe's role in Africa is not addressed enough, it is primarily stylized as a helper. Africa is spoken of in a paternal, patronizing tone, there is a lack of African perspectives. School books for biology still used the "race concept", whereby the "Negrids" were often represented by photos, for example of Maasai with ear and nose rings.

These perspectives determine the way students see Africa: Recent surveys have shown that Africa is foreign to them and characterized above all by deficiencies ("everyone is poor", the hard fate of women) and violence ("tribal wars"). Positive stereotypes such as that of the "noble savage" also attest to the survival of outdated ideas.

The image of Africa in the media, school books, advertising, literature and political discourses reflects the global power imbalance between the "third" and the western world. It reinforces the prejudices with which colored people are confronted as refugees, students, tourists in Germany or as German citizens (there are an estimated three to five hundred thousand black Germans).