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

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.

'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

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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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.