Duisburg anti-litter campaign accused of racism over use of Turkish names

Some members of Duisburg's Turkish community say a new trash can campaign encouraging "Mehmet" and "Gülcan" to throw away garbage is racist.

Duisburg anti-litter campaign accused of racism over use of Turkish names
Photo: Wirtschaftsbetriebe Duisburg

The western German city of Duisburg launched a campaign about a month ago to encourage people to throw away their trash, posting motivational slogans on around 6,000 bins with sayings like “Come here, Kevin” and “Clean, Steffi”.

Some also include Turkish names, with phrases like “There you go, Gülcan” and “Do it, Mehmet.” And for those who only see these last two examples, the campaign may come across as targeting the Turkish community.

“Does Duisburg have the impression that only Turks throw their trash on the ground,” wrote one person on Twitter. “What’s next?”

The trash cans even made it into Turkish newspaper BirGün in an article with the headline “Trash discussion between Turks and Germans,” according to Focus

Spokeswoman for the campaign Silke Kersken said she was “surprised” and that “we did not expect this reaction,” according to the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ).

Kersken explained that the campaign simply wanted to inspire people to clean up after themselves with a bit of humour.

“The names were absolutely randomly selected and there was no intention to insult anyone,” she said, adding that they also wanted to be inclusive of the Turkish community.

“If we have not done that, it would certainly also have been wrong.”

Local Green party integration politics spokesman Melih Keser spoke out to the Turkish community through a Facebook post in both German and Turkish on Monday, saying that the campaign was not racist. Rather, he explained that the campaign was a reflection of ignorance in regards to Turkish names: The name Mehmet comes from the Arabic Mohammed, and therefore may be considered a holy name.

“For many days, I have noticed how my Turkish friends have been flustered by the campaign,” Keser wrote.

“I would like to say that it is not a deliberately Turkish-hostile campaign… If it were a case of discrimination or exclusion, I would be one of the first to stand up and go against it. But here this was not the case. We must simply communicate more with one another.”

He also pointed out that the campaign website allows users to pick their own name and slogan to share with friends on social media.


Black people in Germany face ‘widespread’ racism, survey finds

In the Afrocensus, a first-of-its-kind survey charting the lived experiences of black people in Germany, the vast majority revealed they experienced 'extensive' discrimination in almost all aspects of public life.

Dr Karamba Diaby
Dr Karamba Diaby, an SPD politician and anti-racism advocate, carries out voluntary work in his constituency of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

“The results of the Afrocensus indicate that anti-Black racism is widespread in Germany and anchored in institutions,” the authors of the new report said in a press release on Tuesday. “There is no area of life in which discrimination and racism are not extensive problems.”

Though the overwhelming majority of respondents said they had experienced discrimination at least ‘sometimes’ in almost all areas of life, housing was the area where they said they were discriminated against most often.

Just two percent of respondents to the Afrocensus said they had ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ experienced racism in the housing market, compared to more than 90 percent who said they had experienced it ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

READ ALSO: ‘Black lives need to matter in Germany’ New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Experiences with police and security personnel also counted among areas of life where racism was particularly prevalent: 88 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination from security staff ‘often’ or ‘very often’, while around 85 percent had had the same experience with police.

More than 85 percent had also experienced racism in their education or in the workplace ‘often’ or ‘very often’ in Germany. One in seven had lost their job during the Covid crisis. 

According to the report, 90 percent of respondents had also experienced having their hair grabbed, while more than half (56 percent) had been stopped by the police or asked for drugs by strangers.

Meanwhile, 80 percent said people had made comments about the colour of their skin or sexualised comments about their race on dating apps. A vast majority – 90 percent – also revealed they hadn’t been believed when they’d spoken out about racism in the past, or that people had said they were “too sensitive”. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: My experiences of everyday racism in Germany

In spite of widespread discrimination, almost half (47 percent) of the respondents were engaged and active in their community – mostly carrying out some form of social or voluntary work.

First of its kind

Based on wide-ranging data, the findings paint a vivid and concerning picture of what life is like for the one million or so black people living in Germany today.

To produce the report, researchers from Berlin-based Black community group Each One Teach One and Citizens for Europe conducted an extended survey of 6,000 black people from the Africans and Afrodiasporic community to try and discover more about on the everyday lives and experiences of this group. The survey was carried out between July and September 2020. 

It represents one of the first attempts to gather a wealth of quantitative data on this subject, and as such offers some of the first truly scientific insights into anti-Black racism in modern Germany.

“With the Afrocensus, we have succeeded in doing exactly what has long been demanded within the black community for a long time: making the realities of our lives visible within the framework of qualitative, but above all quantitative research,” Dr. Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana und Dr. Karamba Diaby wrote in a foreword to the report. 

Diaby, a high-profile politician within the centre-left SPD party, was one of only two Afro-German politicians in parliament when he first took his seat in 2013. He has since become known for promoting political engagement and empowerment within the migrant and black community. 

In January 2020, an unknown gunman fired shots through the window of his constituency office in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, in a suspected racially motivated attack. 

READ ALSO: How people with migrant backgrounds remain underrepresented in German politics

Since the Second World War, Germany has avoided gathering data that allows people to be traced by ethnicity as a means of protecting persecuted groups.

However, critics say this approach only works to make the issues faced by these groups invisible. 

Writing on Twitter, Daniel Gyamerah, Division Lead at Citizens For Europe, called for an “action plan for tackling anti-Black racism and for empowering black, African and Afrodiasporic people” and the establishment of advice centres for people facing racism and discrimination.

More research into the intersectional experience of black people in Germany is needed, he added.