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German Member of Parliament Dr. Karamba Diaby
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K.-D. Gabbert

Racism in Germany 'an issue for society as a whole'

Emmanuelle Chaze
June 12, 2020

DW speaks with Dr. Karamba Diaby, Germany's first African-born black MP, about the global anti-racism protests and related developments in Germany. "Unfortunately, much needs to be done," the parliamentarian tells DW.


Karamba Diaby on racism

Deutsche Welle: The US protests were strongly supported here in Germany. What are your thoughts on the current events here?

Karamba Diaby: The situation in the United States is very, very disturbing. And you can see how divided American society is: Especially the president, really shows no empathy. Instead, his messages divide society. I find that very, very disturbing. As far as Germany is concerned, I think it's good that there are initiatives that have taken to the streets, that people in Germany have risen up.

I hope that more people in society at large will become aware of the topic. To what extent is this now a change of mindset, change of perspective on racism in everyday life, on anti-racism in Germany? To what extent this will change things, we have to wait and see. What is currently being achieved is that people are taking the streets, demonstrating, reporting on it. This is also a good basis for us to make suggestions on how to make this coexistence better.

Read more: Afro-German politicians pushing for change

Do you have the feeling that after this great wave of protests, not only worldwide but also here in Germany, there will be more, and more permanent, changes in society?

One can only hope so. I think that in many places, due to the media coverage, many people are concerned and wondering how we can better shape our coexistence. This is sorely necessary, and I hope that many organizations will participate, but also that society as a whole will see that this is an important issue. This is not just a minority issue, but an issue for society as a whole.

Germany's Green party has called for deleting the word "race" from the Constitution. What is your point of view on that?

I personally find it important that we delete the term "race" from the Constitution, that we [use] ethnicity or other terms. For that, we need a majority of people on board, and the discussion has started.

Ed. note: The term "Rasse," or "race," is mentioned in Article 3 of the German Constitution: "No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions." However, the term also translates to "breed" for non-human animals. In light of current scientific consensus on the nonexistence of differing human "races" as well as Germany's Nazi history, the word has increasingly become seen as a loaded term that should not be applied to humans.

Read more: Merriam-Webster dictionary to revise the definition of racism

Discrimination in Germany

What do you say to those who say "I don't see color"?

Well, it's a way of denying something that is reality — only if you perceive the diversity of society as reality. If you deny that, you're not ready to face the challenges [it implies].

Here's an example: I have a plate of salad in front of me. I could say this is a colorful salad. I am happy to put it that way and enjoy it with its diversity. I have olives in there, lettuce, tomato — a colorful salad. I could also just say "the salad is salad." Then I don't see it in its diversity; I've sent the message that all the ingredients are the same for me.

But, it's better to notice it. Diversity is not all sunshine and rainbows; diversity is the challenge that arises. Different people — old and young, men and women, people of differing religious beliefs, etc. — all of these are a part of the variety, a sign of diversity. You simply have to deal with the associated challenges.

Your own office in Halle was attacked in January this year ...

Yes. That is very worrying. But I must say that I personally am experiencing a very, very big wave of solidarity. Not just on social media, but people have come to the office, school classes from Halle have come to me [to show support]. Solidarity is tremendously important to us.

Is the government doing enough to better integrate people with a migration background?

Unfortunately, much needs to be done. Here we have a fourth of the population of Germany that has a migration background. If you look at the German Bundestag, only 8% of us do. In the German media, it's just 6%, and it is also extremely low in public service. That is one of the reasons why the exclusion of many people in this country is not being made clear. I would hope we could do more in that direction.

You also deal with the topic of colonialism in Germany — a less well-known aspect of German history. As far as this culture of remembrance is concerned, how far has Germany come in recent years?

I know that the Foreign Office has taken up the issue. What I miss is the intensive examination of colonial history within that culture of remembrance, the reworking of colonial history in such a way that it is given much more importance in textbooks and in museums, so that we then address issues related to it.

The Berlin Senate passed a regional anti-discrimination law on Thursday. Are other German states ready to take these steps too?

I very much welcome that Berlin has enacted that. It is important to know that the General Act on Equal Treatment (Eds: Germany's federal-level equality act) has existed for 16 years. However, we know that there are many gaps. For example, we do not have the right to file a class-action suit. Many things are under the responsibility of the individual states. I, therefore, hope that many states will follow Berlin's example, and not just set up an anti-discrimination body. That is one thing, but a state-level law would be preferable.

Germany's anti-discrimination agency released a report on June 9, and the number of racist attacks rose sharply in 2019 ...

The revelations about racism and discrimination were very worrying. I think it is extremely important to strengthen the work of the anti-discrimination agency. But decentralization of work is also important so that not everything ends up in Berlin at the anti-discrimination office. The anti-discrimination agency's work will be strengthened by making clear laws. Regarding right-wing extremism and racism, it's a good thing that in the Cabinet and Parliament, we have the opportunity to propose some measures that will be implemented, which may also lead to us asking which questions are the most important.

Survey of blacks in Germany

The government has now taken note of the Afrozensus, taken by the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD). What do you think of this collaboration?

I think the initiatives are very, very good — and they are also involved in many other activities. We also have a Cabinet Committee against racism. I hope that the perspectives of many people — Germans, Africans in Germany, African communities — can really be taken into account at the government level. Their perspectives can really enrich politics.

Are you not sometimes frustrated that when German media invite black people to discuss topics, it is usually only to talk about their own experiences with racism?

"Frustrated" is maybe not the right term. But I wonder why the perspective of people with a migration background is less often asked when it comes to discussing certain social issues. It is very often asked regarding right-wing extremism. I think it's good to be asked because you also publicly present your perspective on the topic. But it would be preferable to be also asked regarding issues of education, research, health, nursing, and much more so that people can share and consider various perspectives.

Dr. Karamba Diaby is a scientist and Social Democratic (SPD) politician who since 2013 has served as Member of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. He completed his undergraduate education in his native Senegal at Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University, after which he moved to East Germany for his graduate studies, which he finalized in 1991. For over two decades he worked in the nonprofit field and in local government in numerous capacities including issues of diversity, education, and human rights. In 2013, he became the first black person born in Africa elected to serve in German Parliament.

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