Why is the definition of racism changing?

Racism and discrimination

Iman Attia

To person

Dr. phil., educational scientist; Professor at the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences Berlin, teaches and researches racism and migration, Alice-Salomon-Platz 5, 12627 Berlin. [email protected]

"What you say is racist!" or "You are a racist!" are serious allegations. Anyone who is addressed in this way feels insulted, misunderstood, maybe even convicted. The allegation indicates that a limit has been crossed. Nevertheless, it happens again and again that we catch others or ourselves thinking, saying or feeling things, doing or not doing something that we ourselves know or suspect could be racist. In recent years, a feeling has developed that there is racism in one's own everyday life and environment, even if it is not always clear whether it is actually racism in a specific situation. In the following, examples and with reference to the technical debate [1] are used to define what racism is, at what levels and in what forms it is effective and in what way it is part of the "normal" part of our personal and social everyday life.

Until the 1990s, the term "racism" was used in German debates primarily in connection with the persecution and murder of Jews under National Socialism, the "race riots" in the USA and the apartheid regime in South Africa. By relocating racism to the past and to other continents, there was hardly any confrontation with one's own social contexts. This view, which for a long time neglected racist continuities and various forms and levels of current racism, contributed to largely ignoring stories of persecution and extermination in the German past, other than those based on anti-Semitic reasons.

Even the persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma under National Socialism was not recognized as racist for a long time, because they were registered, sanctioned, persecuted, interned and killed on the basis of their supposed social practice. The National Socialist "Gypsy Police Station" in Munich, which was significantly involved in the persecution, was renamed "Landfahrerzentrale" after 1945 and continued to work with the same staff and the same files until 1970. [2]

Racism against Sinti and Roma

This practice was possible because the racist images of Sinti and Roma were established as socially recognized knowledge and are still widespread today. According to the centuries-old construction of an alleged Roma culture [3], Roma are fundamentally different from "we" because their culture (and in the Nazi ideology also their genetic makeup) is different from "ours". Under National Socialism, this supposed knowledge formed the basis for seeing Sinti and Roma as a homogeneous group, with the result that people who were perceived as Sinti and Roma were reviled, insulted, "educated", punished, persecuted and killed. However, they are no more or less social or criminal than other populations; accordingly, it was not their behavior that led to their persecution and extermination, but rather their construction as a "race" to which a certain culture and specific behaviors were ascribed (also called racialization). The fact that Sinti and Roma were persecuted under National Socialism because of their racialization was only recognized in the 1970s through the dissolution of the "Landfahrerzentrale" and in the 1980s through minor compensation payments. The political, media and everyday stigmatization of Roma and their discrimination in many areas of life persist. [4] The racist knowledge about Sinti and Roma, which combines biological with cultural and social characteristics, has been preserved. Today the cultural and social aspects are emphasized over the biological ones. Culturalization is therefore the current form of racialization.

Defining oneself in the counter-image of the constructed other and imagining oneself as more civilized is a central aspect of racialization, which as Othering referred to as. In doing so, supposed or actual differences are summarized in group characteristics and declared to be the (culturally, religiously or biologically determined) "essence" of this group. All members of a group constructed in this way are viewed as basically the same and are homogenized. The outgroup produced in this way as essentially different, i.e. as essentialist, is contrasted with the ingroup. It is only the othering process that gives rise to different races, whereby biological, cultural, religious and other characteristics and attributions are used to racialize others. "Race", "culture", "ethnicity" and "religion" as each homogeneous and essential characteristic of a group that is opposed to its own dichotomous, is therefore an effect of racialization (and not the other way around).

The racializing othering process follows a logic and has the function of legitimizing the relationship between "races", "cultures", "ethnic groups" and "religions". This relationship is pervaded by power: which discourses assert themselves as knowledge, who is in the position to enforce them, whether they are institutionalized and are reflected in rules and laws - all these are powerful processes that affect the relationship between "us" and Redefine "the other" over and over again. Those who belong and remain unmarked (whether they want to or not) benefit from the fact that "the others" are labeled and treated as backward, uncivilized, anti-social, unwilling to integrate, criminal, etc.

A similar process underlies colonial racism. While racism against Sinti and Roma primarily had the function of defining oneself in the counter-image of the constructed other, colonial racism primarily served to enslave and colonize Africans, Latinos and Latinas, Aborigines and first nations peoples to legitimize. They too were homogenized ("all the same"), essentialized ("because their nature is like this") and dichotomized ("completely different from us"), and this too happened from a position of power. Their racialization served to reinterpret the aggression against them and their own privileges through their enslavement and colonization as a civilizing mission. Their exploitation was redefined, for example, as education for work and their violent Christianization as the salvation of their souls.

German colonialism - the exploitation of people and raw materials, the expulsion and killing of Africans, the destruction of their livelihoods - and its current importance are only gradually moving into collective consciousness and national historiography. [5] The reference to the colonial rule of the German Empire, which was short compared to other European colonial powers, belies the brutality and systematic nature of discrimination, exploitation and extermination as well as their anchoring in racist discourses. Compensation of various kinds, which are demanded by the colonized and their descendants, remain largely unconsidered to this day or the negotiations are tough (e.g. the material compensation for the appropriation and exploitation of raw materials and land; the return of the skulls of Herero and Nama; the Repatriation of colonial art theft that is exhibited in German museums; the renaming of streets and squares that are named after actors in German colonial policy).

These examples make it clear that it is shortened to address murderous racism in the German context exclusively in connection with the systematic persecution and murder of Jews under National Socialism. The persecution and murder of other groups was legitimized and systematically promoted through racism. In all cases there is an othering process that turns people into Jews, Roma, Blacks and thus "the others". The othering process serves to develop one's own identity and legitimize privileges. In this respect, the murderous racism against Jews, Sinti and Roma as well as Africans is embedded in a general knowledge about "us" and "the others" as well as their relationship to one another.