Posted by: Trina | July 19, 2008

When Open Racism Has No Consequence

There is such a thing as everyday racism, and that’s sad enough for all those who are the brunt of it, just as it is – on a moral/philosophical level, at least – for all those who feel the need to commit it. But what do you do when you experience open racism, go through all the right channels to have the situation addressed, and – in the end – have to once again witness that the perpetrator and perpetuator of racist dogma gets little more than a (private) slap on the wrist?

Professor Lorenz Fisher, a professor of economic and social psychology at the University of Cologne, recently told a lecture hall full of students that American studies have proven the correlation between black skin color and criminality. Based on this ‘proof’, according to Prof. Fischer, certain prejudices against black people (or, as Prof. Fischer said in German: ‘Neger’) were entirely justified.

There was only one sole black student – a young Afro-German women – present at that day’s lecture. In an email she requested that Prof. Fischer correct his statement during his next lecture, and also informed him that Afro-Germans consider the term ‘Neger’ pejorative.

In his answer to this young woman he noted how ‘peculiar’ it was for a German to be told by a non-German what certain terms in that language are supposed to mean. (I wonder if Prof. Fischer understands how ‘peculiar’ it is for a group of people to be told by another group what they should or should not welcome being called?) In his next lecture Prof. Fischer did not take back anything he had said previously, and instead simply argued that in German the word ‘Neger’ was total neutral.

Not satisfied with this response, the young woman involved brought the matter to the attention of the local students’ organization. They interviewed several other students who had been present at the lecture; all of whom confirmed that the incident had taken place as told by their black fellow student. Apparently, this is also not the first time Professor Fischer has been accused of making blatantly racist statements during lectures, as he himself admits.

The students’ organization lodged a formal complete with the Office of the Dean, Prof. Freimuth. Although a mediation group was instituted as a result of this incident to give students a confidential contact point when they experience or witness discrimination, the dean stopped short of officially sanctioning Prof. Fischer in any way. Yes, the dean was shocked, and – yes – he admonished Prof. Fischer to change his behavior, but – no – there were no other consequences.

Understandably, the young lady who was one of the professor’s students and witnessed this dissemination of blatant racist propaganda is saddened and disappointed about the way this concrete situation was handled.

What is the underlying message here?

Despite the public displays of shock and disgust, despite the candlelight vigils and the tears after yet another violent xenophobic or racist incident, are German institutions and corporations at all prepared to tackle the huge task of cutting racism out at the root? Are they ready to walk the proverbial walk with the same energy and pathos they are sometimes prepared to talk the talk?

The answer for the moment – at the University of Cologne at least – is apparently a loud and resounding ‘no’.

The question begs to be asked, too, just what kind of teeth the university’s new mediation group will have – if any at all.

(Source: Dr. Joe Otim Dramiga)


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