Posted by: Trina | April 22, 2008

Race versus Culture/Ethnicity

Although I understand the historical context, I often stumble over the attempts some people in the Diversity Management scene here in Germany make to avoid using the term ‘race’.

For many Germans – including those in the front lines of Diversity Management – the term ‘race’ (or: ‘Rasse’) conjures up Nazi-era memories of the so-called Nuremburg Race Laws (or: Nuerenburger Rassengesetze) that were the doctrine paving the way to the eventual murder of millions of Jews, Sinti/Roma, homosexuals and blacks during World War II.

To avoid using that hate-laden language, many times ‘race’ is now euphamistically referred to as ‘culture’ or ‘ethnicity’ in the official parlance in Germany, also in Diversity Management. In some cases this works out fine simply because you are actually talking about dealing with cultural or ethnic differences within the context of Diversity Management. On the other hand, I see how this semantic juggling act clouds the issue where people like my own children are concerned.

Black Germans (or: Afro-Deutsche).

In many cases these are people who have grown up culturally German and carry German passports. They were born here, know the same nursery rhymes, went to visit Oma and Opa on the holidays and are products of the German education system. In the end, the only difference between them and other Germans is the color of their skin.

In my own case (since I did start off with a reference to my family) having a foreign-born parent makes my children no different than the many kids growing up in this stretch of Germany who have one British or Dutch or Belgian or French parent. Except for their skin color.

Yet in 2008 my children (and many others like them) still experience disbelief when they give their German last name and claim this country and their parental heritage as their own. They are stopped more often by the police, barred more often from clubs and discotheques, passed over during job recruitment and stymied in their career advancement – solely because of the prejudices and stereotypes associated with the color of their skin.

Germany must begin to face – and eventually accept – the difference between ethnicity and nationality, because racial discrimination isn’t something that only goes on “over there” – in the USA or UK or France. It also doesn’t only impact foreigners, immigrants or refugees. It impacts people like my children. Germans. Just like you.

But don’t take my word for it! In her recent book, Deutschland Schwarz Weiss. Der alltaegliche Rassismus, Noah Sow has very eloquently put her own thoughts and experiences into a book charting how day-to-day racism here in Germany keeps an antiquated colonial way of racialist thinking – and behaving – very much alive.

Diversity Management can be an effective tool in openly and honestly addressing the fact that many cultural Germans are treated as less-than-equal in the workplace – despite their skills and training – simply because of the color of their skin.

Is German Diversity Management ready to accept the challenge?


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