"You Have Rights"

The Research Institute for Migration and Racism (iMiR) in Hamburg is responsible for compiling annual reports on the situation of various groups affected by racism in Germany. Dr. Andreas Hieronymus, director of the institute, explains the centre's role to Susan Javad

The Research Institute for Migration and Racism (iMiR) in Hamburg is responsible for compiling annual reports on the situation of various groups affected by racism in Germany. Dr. Andreas Hieronymus, director of the research institute, explains the centre's role to Susan Javad

Andreas Hieronymus (photo: private copyright)
Racism is not about morality - it is a structural principle of colonial and post-colonial societies, says Andreas Hieronymus

​​Mr Hieronymus, what kind of racism are we seeing today in Germany?

Andreas Hieronymus: The iMiR takes a special approach to racism. To us, racism is not about morality; it is a structural principle of colonial and post-colonial societies. It also has to do with the creation of nation states, with the construction of national identities, and with mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion by means of which such nation states have developed in the imperial context.

Racism is also multi-faceted. Let me give an example, though admittedly a rather grotesque one, of racist discrimination. A student who had worked as a hairdresser in Hamburg before beginning her studies told me once in a seminar that her former boss had forbidden her to accept Arab women as customers. His justification for this was that Arab women had more hair to wash and so needed extra shampoo, and this cost more. Racism for economic reasons, one might say.

Racism is about more than just skinheads, Nazis and the like. Racism today takes many forms. You can talk of a "racism of the elite", for example, a closing of ranks, so to speak, on the part of the European or "white elites" as a whole towards the socially less privileged classes. This new sort of racism uses sophisticated arguments, different from the racism of the past that was just directed against anything that was different. Gays, women, but also specific immigrant groups can all be targeted.

The new phenomenon of Islamophobia that has taken hold in the Western world since September 11 and which has ostracised an entire religious group simply – and there are parallels here to anti-Semitism with its dominant image of the bearded and black-robed Easter European Jew – on the basis of externals such as beard, kaftan or headscarf, can also be seen in this light.

What exactly, then, does the Institute for Migration and Racism do?

Hieronymus: Our work can be divided into different spheres of activity. Locally, which for us means Hamburg and the local region, we are involved in working closely with migrant organisations. In addition to this, we actively seek contact with businesses and work with them on revising and adapting their recruitment procedures; we also offer research services such as the provision of experts' reports and assessments. In this sense we see ourselves as promoters of organisational development, which includes elements of diversity management as well as the promotion and encouragement of equal opportunities.

We are involved at national level in the "Netz gegen Rassismus" (German Network Against Racism), along with the likes of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the Central Council of Sinti and Romanies, Muslim organisations, the German Sports Federation and the churches, for example.

We are also active at international level. The institute has been a member of the "European Network Against Racism" (ENAR) since 2002 and is responsible for compiling the annual shadow report on the situation of the various groups affected by racism in Germany, this, in turn, has been part of the European shadow report since 2004.

And last but not least, the iMiR was represented in Durban in 2001 at the UN World Conference Against Racism where we were able to bring influence to bear in shaping the content of the final documents.

The iMiR was co-publisher of the 2004 handbook "Cross-Cultural Skills as Opportunity", which promises to provide guidance for young people from migrant backgrounds in discovering their career potential. Who is this handbook aimed at, and just what is it that is to be discovered?

Hieronymus: First and foremost it is intended as a guide for young people from migrant backgrounds and as an aid to self-assessment of potential, to help make them aware of their abilities in a positive way, and through allowing them to reflect on this, enable them to improve the way they then present themselves to potential employers.

But it should also be of interest to teachers, social workers and people who work in the occupational field and are involved with young people from migrant backgrounds. It is intended to allow the strengths and weaknesses of school pupils to be assessed in order to allow potentials to be developed or problems addressed.

Do you see the "General Equal Treatment Act" of 2006 as the right way to work against discrimination?

Hieronymus: I would say this law is simply about defining fairness. It has its origins in European guidelines and it's only in Germany that their implementation has been so problematic. It has been described as a bureaucratic monstrosity and people were talking of it initiating a flood of lawsuits.

Nothing of the sort has happened, however, and I really think that the law can help to initiate a process of consciousness raising and to define what a fairer society should be like.

What we have to do now is make people aware of the law and to say to those who feel themselves discriminated against: "You have rights"

That's why iMiR collaborated on the preparation of guidelines to help people to understand the law and why we are now endeavouring to set up a federation of independent anti-discrimination offices, which would operate at both regional and federal state levels. In many cases these advice centres already exist, and have done for some time, what has been missing is their proper organisation.

Due to the massive political resistance to the law at the time it was introduced, the SPD/Green government formulated it in such a way that it did not have to go through the CDU dominated upper house of the German parliament.

The situation today is that we have an anti-discrimination office responsible for overseeing the implementing of the law and for advice, but there are no corresponding institutions at state or regional levels.

A head without a body, you might say. Now the federal association of anti-discrimination offices, which we created on May 22 2007, is to supply that missing body and to make advisory services possible, bringing them to where they are needed, and, to the people who need them.

Interview conducted by Susan Javad

© Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Ron Walker


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