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Ethnicity_ »Race »_Culture
This paper is targeted at pedagogical staff who is interested in Social justice and reflections on racism. It is conceptualised as a paper for people who want to engage against racism, but it can also be read as a paper for people who hold some privileges like white skin colour, academic Education, eloquence, a certain financial security, the citizenship of the country the workplace is located in, etc. Of course we don't want to exclude anyone, but this is our main target group. Here, we want to give some inputs on racism and some space for reflection. Even though the topic is quite serious, we don't follow a super-serious or academic style, we work with irony and provocations and would like to encourage you to observe closely your emotion: do you get angry? Do you want to argue? Etc. these might be the points which are interesting.
First of all: Racism is a difficult topic, but not more difficult than others. But it can cause some fear because you can discover some inconvenient things, not only about a racist society, probably even about yourself. But, supposing you are not a bad person, you probably would like to change some things if you could. Be sure: you can.

Knowledge session:
... is a term we only use for dogs. Any ideas why?
  1. No.
  2. Yes, because science says so.
  3. Yes, because there is only one human race: Homo sapiens.

  1. is not country.
  2. is not ethnicity.
  3. is not identity.
  4. is a social practice.
  5. is in my yoghurt.
  6. is a complex system of different signs.

Reflexion session:

So, Ethnicity, “Race” and Culture are three quite different things which are often used without differentiating and which are often used to describe “the other(s)” on the basis of stereotypes and reductions. All three terms are used reciprocally; for example, one group uses them for themselves and they are also used to name other groups. Often, discourses on ethnicity; “race”1 and culture are sub-structured by a “we”, usually the speaker position, and a “the others”, usually those who are talked about or even talked to2 .
Therefore there are two important questions to ask, before we take a look at pedagogical practices:
 1.From which perspective do I speak? (And what does this mean?)
 2.Who am I talking about and how?

From which perspective do I speak?
Example: I am writing this text from a white perspective: my skin is white and I was born in Germany, I have got a German passport, most of my friends are white. This means I have never experienced discrimination and racism because of a black skin colour in a society which is white by the majority. I have also never experienced discrimination or racism because of an attributed affiliation to an ethnicised3 minority group. On the other hand, it means that I belong to a hegemonic group which is mostly the same by holding certain privileges. I could for example travel to most countries without any problems. I am not treated as a criminal when I get into a traffic control, because I am not targeted by racial profiling strategies of the police4 . I can always explain myself because I speak the hegemonic language and nobody would ask me “Where did you learn such proper Polish?”. Even though I might appear poor, a woman, a lesbian and/or disabled – which means I might have experienced a lot of difficulties – it is always clear that I experienced these as a white person. There can be similarities to the experiences of a Black5 person or a person of colour, but I can not understand them as inevitably similar. This is like a white man can not feel the sexism a white woman is usually exposed to. And – to make it even more complex – we can not even say, that a white heterosexual man has the same experiences as another white heterosexual man.

What is the result of this reflection? (« What does this mean? »)
- We don't know much about the others.
- We live in a society which treats people differently according to visible and/or assumed differences. There are always hegemonialised values which define these differences, define the meanings of the differences and mark the deviances. I should know in which concerns I am privileged by social structures.
- Which privileges do you hold? Which are structural; which are situational? Where are you in-between or where do you feel ambiguity (for example you have a working Class background, but managed to enter an academic career, which makes you feel homeless sometimes because you don't feel appendant to both spheres.)
- We can assume that there are intersections of experiences among people with similar categorisations (for example being homosexual and male). These experiences usually correlate with the hegemonialised and marginalised values of a society. But we can never be sure if all have the same experiences. And we can never be sure how the categorisations work together.

Who am I talking about and how?
After reflecting what the own skin colour, passport, etc., could mean regarding privileges and speaker position, one can move on to the question of representation. How are certain (marginalised) people represented in the world, for example can your Black or homosexual friends or your friends labelled as disabled feel a certain identification with the pictures the TV or the newspaper draws of Black people, homosexuals or people who are regarded as disabled?
Concerning youths, in the medial Discourse on education and disadvantages as well as in discussions on Youth Violence and crime, quite often we find the labelling of so called “risk groups”. Very common is the young, migrant boy, either as particularly disadvantaged or especially at risk (or both).
It is important to refuse a deficit perspective for migrant youths or members of marginalised groups. They are quite often regarded as being “stuck between two cultures”, which is seen as a cause for trouble for all involved parties. But it is seldom the case that a person can really decide freely which “cultural” aspect one wants to hold. It depends on the offer, on the situation, on the background, on the peer group and other factors, which aspects one finds useful or one acquires unconsciously. These searches for an own identity, the aspects of one's character which distinguishes a person from another, are contingent as well as contradictory, fluid and changing. So identity consists of various building blocks, clothing, habits, behaviour, etc. Apart from having a Migration background or not, in adolescence these components are mostly more fluctuating and conflicting than in the following life time (cf. Weber 2006) and – especially as an adult – it is important to acknowledge the ability to handle different identities and complex internal and external needs. Especially youths who access different culturalised or even marginalised backgrounds mostly don't experience this ability as a resource as well as they mostly don't experience their ability to speak another language than the hegemonic language as a resource (particularly because it is forbidden in schools, etc.). It is always the hegemonic “culture” which defines which skills are valuable, which languages and knowledge is regarded as useful.
But as social beings and individuals, social communities are important for becoming what we are, to maintain our preferences, values and skills if we wish. It might be useful for understanding a conflict to know the “cultural” affiliation, when concrete hints appear that this is of a certain importance. Then it is necessary that professional staff gain some knowledge on the significant orientation systems. It is sensible to learn in a careful and tentative way, for example in a dialogue which is organised as equal as possible. But, if we are talking about others we should be careful concerning reductions and stereotypes, especially when we are speaking from a hegemonic position about others who might be structurally marginalised. This implies to not use hegemonic names for marginalised groups, for example “coloured” for Black people, which is an attribution used by white people; “people of colour” or Black people are rather correct expressions, but the crucial factor is how people name themselves. Instead of searching for the fitting expression for a certain type of skin colour, it is the easiest to use a person's forename.

Have you ever
  • laughed about a racist joke?
  • used the n-word?
  • thought that the colonialist history of your country is boring?6
  • talked about Africa as a “country”?
  • found it normal, that a Black football player is “naturally talented”, while a white football player had to train hard?
  • found it ok that you have no friends with migration backgrounds?
  • talked about your own racist experiences from a white perspective, when a Black person told you their experiences?
  • heard about Critical Whiteness studies and found that you already know everything about racism?

No? Good, because these are common racist ways of acting. Then anti-racist pedagogics shouldn't be a problem because you have understood that one major problem is the difference in privileges....

Now, have a look at your pedagogical practices and your material; for example:
- In case you use books, films and images: are marginalised groups (like Black people, lesbians, single parents, people who are labelled as disabled, gay people, old people, female managers, migrants etc.) represented in an adequate way?
  • in numbers (which does not mean that they should be represented proportionately to their share in society but in a larger amount to make them visible)?
  • in an adequate way (without stereotyping, culturalisation, Ethnisation)?
  • Is there a reflexion of colonial history and a cautious use of descriptions or do you find dualism like “the west and the rest”, civilisation and barbarism, democracy and primitive culture?
- Have a look at texts of your organisation, at the homepage, leaflets and other material:
  • Check if you “other”, that means to make people or groups “the other” with a potential negative implication.
  • Try to read the text from a female and a migrant perspective. Does it still make sense or are there parts which annoy you or make you feel excluded?

At the end of the session, some
Reflection on the reflection

Maybe you like to think for 10 minutes, if you have gained new knowledge here.
New knowledge:
16.(joke! If you can fill in one line, we are satisfied. Are you? Send us your feedback
Are there some things which are ...
...unclear? ______________________________________________________________
...wrong? _______________________________________________________________

Maybe you would like to share your concerns in the forum [link] (in english)?

Can you find one little thing that you will change in the future? Ask a friend to remind you of this little thing once in a while.

Thank you.
This text is based on many experiences non-white people have told and written down, on their research and struggles. Some books and media which might be interesting are listed in the end. Thanks to them and thanks to you.

Do you want more??? There are more sessions...
...on Gender and on violence. [links]

Small variety of suggested media (German and English)

  • ADB Köln /CyberNomads (Eds.): TheBlackBook. Deutschlands Häutungen.(2004)
  •  bell hooks, Christopher Raschka: Skin Again (2004)
  •  bell hooks: Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981)
  •  bell hooks: Feminist Theory from Margin to Center (1984)
  •  bell hooks: Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (1989)
  •  bell hooks: Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994)
  •  bell hooks: The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (2004)
  •  bell hooks: We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004)
  • Gloria T. Hull et al. (Eds.): But Some of Us Are Brave. Black Women's Studies. (1992)
  • Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi: Destined to Witness (1999) [in German: Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger! Meine Kindheit in Deutschland. (1999)]
  • Liz Fekeke: The Deportation Machine: Europe, Asylum and Human Rights (available from http://www.irr.org.uk, 10 € (plus 1.50 € for postage and packing)
  • Maisha Maureen Eggers et. al.(Eds..): Mythen, Masken und Subjekte. Kritische Weißseinsforschung in Deutschland (2005)
  • Markus R. Marrus: Die Unerwünschten - The Unwanted (1999)
  • Noah Sow: Deutschland Schwarz  Weiss (2008)
  • Patricia Hill Collins: Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (2000)

  • L.A. Crash
  • La haine
  • American History X
  • Blue eyed
  • Bread and roses
  • It’s a free world

Check your local anti-racist group for more insider tips!


http://www.ida-nrw.de/ (Informations- und Dokumentationszentrum für Antirassismusarbeit NRW)
http://www.irr.org.uk/ (Institute of race relations)
http://www.cwsworkshop.org/ (challanging white supremacy)


Weber Martina: Heterogenität im Schulalltag. Konstruktion ethnischer und geschlechtlicher Unterschiede. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2003
UNESCO-Workshop: Stellungnahme zur Rassenfrage. In: Biologen in unserer Zeit, Nr. 5/1996, 71-72
IDA  (2004) (Hg.):  Was heisst eigentlich ... Rassismus? http://www.idaev.de/antirassismus_publikationen.htm?http://www.idaev.de/html/MPubTextFlyer.htm#Flyer_Rassismus~mainFrame (access on 28.8.2008)
1 In some countries, “Race” is used more frequently and follows a different meaning as f.e. in Germany, where is it linked to the national socialist usage and is therefore hopefully abandoned everywhere.

2 Here I refer to the criticism passed on the white middle-class women's movement(s) by marginalised women at least since the 70’s. The feminist “We” was questioned, differences between groups and experiences were described and general representations and speaker positions were challenged (see for example the work of bell hooks).

I used the word ”ethnicised” instead of ethnic because it describes the process of producing a group or a category instead of taking its existence for granted of even natural.
4 Some countries have abandoned the practice of “racial profiling”; the police controls which are made independent of a certain incident. In Germany it is still common and because proportionately more ethnicised people are controlled, more delinquents are found among them.
5 In this text, the word “Black” is written with a capital B, because it refers to a political category, a social reality as well as practise of resistance and it is also a self-chosen term by Black people. Black is not biological. White isn't biological either, it is a social construction as well, but because it is a hegemonic term, it is written in small case letters.
6 This question is only for native Germans, Dutch, British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Belgian, Russian, Japanese, Italian, Danish, Austrian, Hungarian,Turkish, Swedish, Norwegian, Chinese and American people.