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Racism in Germany is part of everyday life

May 6, 2022

Most Germans recognize that racism exists in their society, affecting not only minorities but everybody who lives here. The country's first National Discrimination and Racism report has found some surprising results.

Chalk on a sidewalk voices support for human rights and against racism
A Germany-wide study on racism has found people perceive it present thoughout daily life Image: Christoph Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

Have you ever been a victim of racism? In a recent survey, 22% of people living in Germany answered "yes" to this question. Researchers from the German Center for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM) conducted 5,000 telephone interviews from April to August 2021. They also analyzed media coverage, academic papers and legal documents.

Their findings were published in the institute's first nationwide study entitled "Racist Realities — How Germany Deals with Racism." It is part of theNational Discrimination and Racism Monitor (NaDiRa) and was presented by DeZIM director Naika Foroutan on Thursday in Berlin.

"We were really surprised that 90% said there is racism in Germany," she said, adding that the researchers were also surprised that about half agreed with the statement "We live in a racist society." That indicates people have an awareness of institutional and structural racism, she said.

Naika Foroutan, Lisa Paus holding a copy of the report, and Frank Kalter
Naika Foroutan (l) presented the report in Berlin, alongside Familiy Affairs Minister Lisa Paus and co-researcher Frank KalterImage: Frederic Kern/Geisler-Fotopress/picture alliance

The study focused on attitudes toward six groups: Jews, Muslims, Sinti and Roma, Black people, Asians and Eastern Europeans. It found that people experienced discrimination based on their skin and hair color, but also because they wore a headscarf or had a foreign-sounding name.

The report also discusses phenomena the study team described as "gradation" in relation to discrimination. For example, when it comes to discrimination in the labor or housing market, the researchers found that "when it affects Jews or Black people, it is more likely to be described as racist than when it involves Sinti and Roma or Muslims."

Almost half of the respondents said they believed that human "races" exist, despite this having long been debunked by science. This view was held disproportionately by older participants in the survey. One-third of respondents said they believed that in general certain ethnic groups were more industrious than others.

One-third of those surveyed said victims of racism were "oversensitive." About 45% said they believed that "political correctness" and opposition to racism restricted freedom of expression. While the majority in Germany recognizes that racism exists, it is seen as part of everyday life. Almost 65% of people in Germany assume that state authorities practice racist discrimination.

Visualization of the racism survey results

Racism cuts across all social groups

"Acknowledging racism does not mean that you are anti-racist," Foroutan said. And those who experience racism "don't behave any less racist" than others.

Racism is not a question of education or origin, and victims of racism can also be perpetrators, the researchers found.

It is more a matter of hierarchy, observed Foroutan, who sees parallels to the findings in gender research. "Racism and sexism theoretically play out on the same level," she concluded.

Equal opportunities for migrants?

Family Minister Lisa Paus, a Green party politician, described the results of the report as in part "shocking."

The study found that a higher level of formal education does not protect against racist discrimination.

"So racism has nothing to do with successful integration," the family minister concluded.

70% of those surveyed said they were willing to take action against racism. Young people in particular are committed to combating racism and less likely to accept it, Foroutan explained.

"Germany knows about its racism problem," said the Federal Government Commissioner for Racism, Reem Alabali-Radovan, of the Social Democratic Party, after the publication of the report. The Racism Monitor is an important step toward change, she added.

What does it mean to be Black in Germany?

At the press conference, Family Minister Paus stressed that she expected the planned Democracy Promotion Act to provide "more permanent structures for civil society engagement against extremism and racism." The legislation, which is currently being drawn up, aims to provide a basis for the promotion and funding of grassroots initiatives that combat extremism in the country.

The National Discrimination and Racism Monitor is intended to provide a database and benchmark for policymakers to take action to combat racism. A fresh survey is to be conducted every two years, provided that the budget committee approves funding for it.

This article was originally written in German.

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Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.