'Black lives need to matter in Germany': New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
'Black lives need to matter in Germany': New project to uncover racism in everyday life
A Black Lives Matter demonstration in Berlin on July 4th. Photo: DPA

Germany's black population is highly visible when it comes to discrimination and anti-black racism, but largely invisible when it comes to capturing the lived realities of people of African descent. This is set to change. The Local spoke with one of the organisers of the new 'Afrozensus' project.


How does being black in Germany affect your job prospects, health care or finding a flat? That's what researchers of a new project aiming to shine a light on experiences hope to find out.

"The Afrozensus is the first major survey about the lived experience of people of African descent – that means black people, African descent, African diasporans – in Germany," said Joshua Kwesi Aikins, political scientist and senior researcher at Citizens for Europe which is the NGO partnering with Each One Teach One for the project.

The survey, which is funded by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, will collect standard demographic data – age, gender, disability – and experiences of discrimination and racism. It will also ask respondents about their lives, civic engagement and expectations from politicians in Germany.

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

So far, more than 7,000 people have signed up to take part in the survey. But time is running out to fill it in.

"Not every one of these people has taken the survey yet, so as we enter the final days of the project we want to invite people to participate and raise their voice while this unique survey is still open, said Aikins.


The survey is available in English, German and French and is open until the end of Monday August 31st.

As the coronavirus pandemic has made direct outreach difficult, Aikins is appealing to communities to get involved. "Let people know, encourage every black person you know to take part," he said.


#Repost @eoto_blackyouth • • • • • • Germany [⬇️Français & English⬇️] #AFROZENSUS im Endspurt! Tausend Dank an die fast 3000 Menschen, die bereits am #Afrozensus teilgenommen haben! Die Umfrage endet am 31.08.2020 – bis dahin könnt Ihr Euch noch auf registrieren. Tell your family and tell your friends! Alle unsere Perspektiven zählen! #afrozensus #blacklivesstillmatter #allblacklivesmatter #blackempowerment [Français] #AFROZENSUS dans le sprint final ! Mille mercis aux près de 3000 personnes qui ont déjà participé à #Afrozensus ! L'enquête se termine le 31.08.2020 - d'ici là, vous pouvez toujours vous inscrire sur Parlez-en à votre famille et à vos amis ! Toutes nos perspectives comptent ! #afrozensus #blacklivesstillmatter #allblacklivesmatter #blackempowerment [English] #AFROZENSUS in its final days! A thousand thanks to the almost 3000 people who have already participated in the #Afrozensus! The survey ends on 31.08.2020 - until then you can still register at Tell your family and tell your friends! All our perspectives count! #afrozensus #blacklivesstillmatter #allblacklivesmatter #blackempowerment

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'Completely invisible'

So why is this project needed?

Germany hasn't collected information on the ethnic or racial background of residents since the end of World War II in a bid to stop authorities from ever being able to identify communities at risk of persecution.

Despite this action being well-meaning, it's left a large gap in data on minority communities, which many argue has allowed racism to be hidden from view.

"Anti-black racism is a specific form of racism people of African descent face," Aikins told The Local. "Many of us experience a certain kind of heightened visibility and we are a target of this specific form of racism.

"For example, with racist profiling – a certain projection, in this case by police, leads to a certain kind of discriminatory experience.

"We know in Germany that racial profiling can range from the unpleasant to the dangerous and, in some cases, all the way to the deadly.

"So the point is we are very visible but then we are completely invisible in the country’s data on discrimination. Because there is no data that’s advocated in Germany beyond so-called migration background."

The criteria is "too broad," said Aikins, and "doesn’t capture the diversity of the population beyond the idea of migration".

READ ALSO: 'I'm an American and I was racially profiled in Berlin 23 times'

"Anybody at all who migrated to Germany would be captured in that, for example white Austrians, white people from Norway, they would be classed together with black people of African descent and people of colour who of course have a very different experience in Germany," said Aikins.

"I know people – black people of African descent – who’ve been here fifth or sixth generation. So they don’t have a so-called migration background."

Not just the US

Racism has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the killing of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer in the United States in May. There have been Black Lives Matters protests around the world including Germany.

But campaigners say they've been dealing with these issues for decades.


"The current moment might be an insight into something new for some segments of the white population in this country but for people of colour, and people of African descent, this is not new," Aikins said.

"All these things we are debating now are part of our daily life and have been for a really long time. Generations have spoken out in this country about these issues."


Aikins says it's "disappointing" when people say or think racism is 'just a US problem'.

"We have been not only marching in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in the US, but we have been pointing out that black lives need to matter in Germany as well," he said.

"We have been talking about cases of deadly police brutality and racist police violence in this country as well."

Discrimination rising in Germany

As The Local reported in June, cases of discrimination are rising in Germany.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency found in 2019, a total of 1,176 people turned to counselling services because they "felt discriminated against on the basis of their ethnic origin" in work or in their everyday lives".

It marks an increase of 10 percent compared to the previous year.

"The number of requests for advice on racial discrimination is growing disproportionately," said the provisional head of the agency, Bernhard Franke.

Joshua Kwesi Aikins. Photo: Tania Castellvi

The agency said people in Germany had dealt with racism in a variety of settings including while trying to find a job and a new home.

At a series of town hall meetings in Germany, researchers of the Afrozensus project also heard similar stories from black community members who've faced discrimination.

"If you have experienced discrimination in the housing market you might not look for a new place even if you might need one," said Aikins, highlighting the effect that these incidents have on people.

'Wide variety of experiences'

There are estimated to be more than 1 million black people in Germany. The project wants to find out what life is like for all members of the black community.

"We are looking at this through an intersectional lens, we are convinced that different forms of discrimination and exclusion intersect," said Aikins. "So for example my wife who is Afro-German will certainly have a different experience of racism and sexism in this country than I have as a black male.

"But there are other intersections: if you are of a certain age, if you are part of a LGBTIQ community. If you live with disability. These are all factors that intersect; your educational background, your social background."

It's not only about discrimination or racist experiences.


"Of course people live here and are an active part of German society – we ask about the level of civic engagement, contributions that people make in Germany, contributions they make to other countries, as well as what people do for a living," he said.

READ ALSO: Do internationals in Germany face discrimination in the workplace?

Aikins said the research project is looking for a "wide variety of experiences" and to "ask for people's opinions."

The study could help shape political issues and action in the coming years.

"We are also asking people: 'Do they know their rights?' Aikins said.

"We feel that it’s time for us in Germany to gather a stronger political voice," Aikins said. "What do black people think and feel about an issue?"



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