Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Women Fighting Global Poverty - World Poverty Day 2007

UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, together with the Women’s Funding Network are calling on people worldwide to Stand Up Against Women’s Poverty. Today, October 17th is World Poverty Day or as it is officially recognized by the UN since 1993 today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The UNIFEM/Women’s Funding Network campaign website has a slick Flash multimedia e-card feature to help raise awareness about women and poverty worldwide. They are asking people to participate in a 24 hour online signup campaign so that people will “stand up and speak out” in a worldwide action against poverty and inequality and for achieving and exceeding the Millennium Development Goals for 2015. Last year a similar campaign garnered more than 23 million participants but this year’s campaign is falling far short of that number. With only 5 hours and 22 minutes to go before the 2100 hours GMT deadline the campaign counter shows only 5376 participants.

So, what are you waiting for? If you believe that women and girls worldwide have an important role to play in the world economy and in helping to eradicate global poverty get over to the Women Fighting Poverty website and sign-up. Below are some facts and figures about women and their contributions to the world economy. Source: Women Fighting Poverty Facts & Figures (PDF download).

Correction Update October 24th:
Over 43 million people in 127 countries worldwide joined the Stand Up Against Poverty campaign on October 17th, the largest number of people ever to speakout against poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals in a 24 hour period. Visit the Stand Up Against Poverty website to read their blog, press releases, and enjoy the many photos from events around the globe.

World Poverty Day 2007
Investing in Women – Solving the Poverty Puzzle
Facts & Figures

1. The Premise: Women are the missing piece of the poverty puzzle

Though more people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 50 years than in the previous 500, 1.2 billion still subsist on less than $1 per day. Seven out of 10 of the world’s hungry are women and girls, according to the UN World Food Program. When women are afforded the equality of opportunity that is their basic human right, the results in terms of economic advancement are striking. The Economist estimates that over the past decade, women’s work has contributed more to global growth than China. The East Asian “economic miracle” of unprecedented growth from 1965 to 1990 offers an example of how all elements of the poverty puzzle must fit together. Gender gaps in education were closed, access to family planning was expanded and women were able to delay childbearing and marriage while more work opportunities increased their participation in the labour force. The economic contribution of women helped reduce poverty and spur growth. Being deeply affected by poverty, women also hold great potential to end it. But until their potential is recognized and realized, women will remain the missing piece of the poverty elimination puzzle, and will not fully enjoy the benefits of the economic growth to which they contributed.

2. The Challenge: Women are missing — and missing out

More people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 50 years than in the previous 500; yet more than 1.2 billion still subsist on less than $1 per day. Although poverty data is not reported by sex in most countries, it is widely estimated that women make up the majority of the world’s poor — owing to unequal access to resources and opportunities, discriminatory land and inheritance laws, and unequal distribution of household resources. WFP reports that 7 out of 10 of the world’s hungry are women and girls.

Of the 37 million people living below the poverty line in the US, 21 million are women, according to US Census Bureau figures from 2006.

More than two-thirds of the world’s unpaid work is done by women — the equivalent of $11 trillion or almost 50% of world GDP, according to a global UNDP study from 1995. The informal slogan of the Decade of Women was “women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the means of production.”

If the average distance to the moon is 394,400km, South African women walk the equivalent of a trip to the moon and back 16 times a day to supply their households with water, according to a 2006 UNDP report.

Women are missing from poverty statistics that measure poverty by household, rather than individual: systems of national accounts do not include unpaid domestic work as “productive.”

According to a 2004 report by ILO (reaffirmed in 2006), women make up some 60% of the world’s working poor, people who work but do not earn enough to lift themselves above the $1 per day poverty line.

Women in the US earned only 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man in 2005, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In the developing world, the ratio is just 73 cents, according to World Bank estimates. For women of colour, the gap is even worse — African American women earn 63 cents and Latinas 53 cents (IWPR 2004).

At the rate the wage gap is closing, women in the US will not see equal earnings until 2050. Women account for 64% of minimum-wage workers in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007.

Elderly women are 70% more likely to be poor than elderly men. 35% of American women work too few hours to participate in their company’s plan compared with 20% of men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

In some regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, women provide 70% of agricultural labour, produce over 90% of food, and yet are nowhere represented in budget deliberations, noted the World Economic Forum in 2005.

Two-thirds of children denied primary education are girls and 75% of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women, reports the Millennium Campaign in 2007.

Gender inequality in education and employment in Sub-Saharan African has reduced per capita growth by 0.8% per annum, according to recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates.

The global average proportion of women in Parliament in 2007 is just 17.3%, according to the Inter Parliamentary Union; the US ranks 67th with a mere 16%.

The BBC reports that only 10% of directors of UK’s FTSE 100 firms are women.

Women currently hold only 1 in every 10 top decision-making positions in California’s 400 largest publicly traded companies.

Women account for less than 1% of directors on corporate boards in Japan.

Inadequate reproductive health care limits female labour productivity — in some cases by 20%, costing the world 250 million years of productive life per annum, according to an Alan Guttmacher Institute 2004 study.

Nearly 60% of the reasons given by women in Latin American and the Caribbean for either not entering or leaving the job market relate to their care-giving obligations, according to a 2007 statement from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Out of $69 billion of overseas development assistance made available in 2003, only $2.5 billion or 3.6% was earmarked for gender equality as a significant or principal objective, according to a 2007 Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit (CPSU) Policy Brief.

3. The Solution: Invest in women — finding out about the payoffs

The Economist estimates that over the past decade, women’s work has contributed more to global growth than has China.

The UN Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women reported in 2001 that eliminating gender inequality in the labour market in Latin America would both increase women’s wages by about 50% and increase national output by 5%.

The Economist notes that if Japan raised the share of working women to American levels, it would boost annual growth by 0.3% over 20 years.

Research in Africa shows that reducing structural gender inequality can increase agricultural yields by more than 20%. For example, a 1996 study conducted in Kenya estimated that crop yields could rise up to 22% if women farmers enjoyed the same education and decision-making authority as men.

Worldwide the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) estimates that for every year beyond fourth grade that girls attend school, wages rise 20%, child deaths drop 10% and family size drops 20%.

Countries that do not meet the internationally-agreed target of gender parity in education risk foregoing 0.1–0.3 percentage points annually in per capita economic growth, according to a 2004 estimate by development economists Dina Abu-Ghaida and Stephan Klasen.

If men and women had equal influence in decision-making, the incidence of underweight children less than three years old in South Asia would fall by up to 13%, resulting in 13.4 million fewer malnourished children; in Sub-Saharan Africa, an additional 1.7 million would be adequately nourished, UNICEF studies show.

In export industries, women provide up to 80% of the labour force in sectors such as textiles or electronics.

Evidence from micro-credit lenders indicates that women have superior repayment records, invest more productively and are more risk-averse.

Research shows that shareholders benefit from greater corporate representation of women. In analyzing the companies that make up the Fortune 500, Catalyst found that companies with the highest representation of women in management positions delivered 35.1% more return on equity and 34% more total return to shareholders than companies with the lowest representation.

60% of senior executives said that domestic violence, which limits women’s participation, has a harmful effect on their company’s productivity, in a recent survey by the American Institute on Domestic Violence. It also found that lost productivity and earnings due to intimate partner violence costs the US almost $1.8 billion each year, and that domestic violence victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year — the equivalent of over 32,000 full-time jobs.

Editor's Note: Bold emphasis added to text above. See the Women Fighting Poverty Facts & Figures PDF download file for original text style and formatting.

Update October 18th: PANOS London collection of oral testimonies on poverty

Risha Chande of the PANOS–London foundation sent me an email yesterday about their latest campaign to document and share voices of the underprivileged and poor. PANOS-London is a great organization that helps train and support journalist and media professionals in developing countries around the world, so it is always worth the time to visit their website and follow their work and projects. Here is the text from the email that I received on October 17th:

Living with poverty: new collection of oral testimonies reveal the many faces of poverty

A new online collection of oral testimonies gathered from communities in Zambia and Pakistan powerfully convey, in their own words, the reality of poverty and its daily oppressions.

Published for International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17), the testimonies,, show that poverty has different faces in the two countries. Nevertheless, a number of underlying concerns are common to the different communities, such as the frustration of battling against entrenched power structures, and indifference and corruption among those meant to be representing their interests.

Whoever comes here make tall promises, but nobody ever helped us. We just hope that after listening to our conversation through you, the government might help us - may pay heed to our voice. – Fatima, Pakistan

Lack of voice is just one way that poverty reinforces poverty, as these stories vividly illustrate. Panos London’s head of oral testimony, Siobhan Warrington, says, “The value of these testimonies is that they are driven by what the narrators want to talk about. As a result they highlight not only the daily hardships of poverty but tell us what people actually living in poverty think needs to be done. These are the real voices that policy-makers should be listening to.”

Although development organisations frequently invoke the importance of participation and ownership in poverty reduction initiatives, the views and voices of the poor and marginalised are often excluded. To ensure that these personal accounts are heard as widely as possible, we would be delighted if you could place a link to the Living with Poverty section on your website.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Germany & the EU: Sind Wir Auch Deutschland?

The following essay “Sind Wir auch Deutschland?” (Are we Germans too?) is the original German-language version of the essay published in my previous post about black European women speaking out against racism and discrimination. The author, Patricia (Trish S.), is an African-German university student who grew up in the old Hanseatic League city-state of Bremen and is pursuing a degree in American Studies at the Universität Bremen.

This post is written in both the German (Deutsch) and English languages so if you have trouble understanding one just focus on the other. At the end of this post I have included related articles and online resources about national and cultural identity in Europe, racism and discrimination, and immigration challenges facing Europeans and new immigrants to Europe. More resources on these subjects can be found in the previous post referenced in the paragraph above. There are also new updates from Adrianne George about the excellent speakers and organizers of the 1st Black European Women’s Congress 2007 held in Vienna, Austria last month.

Sind wir auch Deutschland?

In der Bundesrepublik Deutschland leben schätzungsweise 300.000 schwarze Deutsche beziehungsweise Afro-Deutsche. Wir sind hier geboren und aufgewachsen und sehen in Deutschland unsere Heimat. Wir betrachten uns als Bundesbürger und werden doch immer wieder in die Lage gebracht, uns über unsere „ursprüngliche“ Herkunft ausfragen lassen zu müssen. Als Bonbon gibt es dann meistens noch ein grosses, herziges Lob für unsere wirklich „hervorragenden“ Deutschkenntnisse. Sollte wir dann freundlich darauf hinweisen, dass dies mit der Tatsache zusammenhängt, dass Deutsch unsere Muttersprache ist, besteht die Möglichkeit, damit das ein oder andere Weltbild unwiderruflich zu zerstören. Die Enttäuschung ist gross. Oftmals wird uns zudem noch angeraten, nicht so überempfindlich zu sein und uns nicht ständig auf unsere Hautfarbe angegriffen zu fühlen.

Aber wie sollen Rassismus und Stereotypisierung keine Rolle in meinem Leben spielen, wenn ich quasi damit aufgewachsen bin und sie seit dem Kindergarten bis jetzt - ich wurde 1976 in der wunderschönen Hansestadt Bremen geboren - immer wieder auftauchen? Konstant und nervtötend, ganz so wie ein nicht tot zubekommender Seifenoper-Charakter. Leider sind die Szenen des Alltags meistens eher spärlich ausgeleuchtet und es gibt keine Auflösung zu Gunsten der Afro-Deutschen Protagonistin. Diese taucht nämlich eher selten, und wenn, dann nur in einer Nebenrolle auf. Liebevoll verpackt in leichtverdaulichen Klischees: als illegale Einwanderin, Putzfrau, Sängerin, Rapperin oder Tänzerin.

Man muss in der Tat nach relativ normalen Darstellungen von Afro-Deutschen Menschen in TV-Serien und Filmen suchen. Die „Exotik“ und das aufdiktierte „Anderssein“ schwingt stets unterschwellig mit. Es ist fast so, als wäre es unmöglich, dass ein Charakter einfach Schwarz ist und Deutsch. Oder zumindest akzentfrei Deutsch spricht. Das passt nicht ins Bild. Das passt nicht hierher. Glaubt man nämlich dieser perfekten Klischee-Welt, die uns die deutsche Fernsehlandschaft tagtäglich kredenzt, gibt es in Deutschland nur ein kleines Grüppchen schwarzer Menschen, das ihren Alltag damit verbringt sich vor der Einwanderungsbehörde zu verstecken, Drogen zu verkaufen, zu tanzen, zu rappen oder im Gospelchor zu singen, wenn man nicht gerade damit beschäftigt ist sich über seine Hin-und-Hergerissenheit zwischen Deutschland und Afrika ( weil ja bekanntlich alle schwarzen Menschen aus Afrika kommen …) ernsthafte Gedanken zu machen.

Ich frage mich manchmal wie das Leben in der Welt der Klischees und Stereotypen für die Repräsentanten dieser Gruppe wäre. Der (Sarotti-) Mohr ist ja schon länger wieder da. Wie wäre das so für ihn und seine Freunde die „zehn kleinen Negerlein“? Elf kleine Stereotypen, die versuchen den Einbürgerungsbogen auszufüllen, die brav versuchen ihre „rassische“ Herkunft zu erklären, und dann aus unerklärlichen Gründen von unseren Freunden und Helfern, nach ihren Ausweispapieren gefragt werden. Sie werden geduzt, durchsucht und damit sie besser verstehen, was da mit ihnen passiert, spricht laut mit ihnen, weil sie a) mit Sicherheit kein Deutsch sprechen oder verstehen und b) es besser und schneller lernen, wenn man sie anschreit (Ich rate hier nur). Es handelt sich beim Deutsch bei Amtshandlungen dieser Art in den meisten Fällen um eine eher rudimentäre Abwandlung der deutschen Sprache, in der es zu derart kreativen Satzkonstruktionen kommt, dass es selbst eingefleischten Literaturkritikern Tränen der Rührung in den Augen treiben würde. So werden sie dann angebrüllt, unsere elf „Schwarz-Afrikaner“. Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden – und Helfern. Nur so ein Gedanke.

Wenn mich die Mutter meiner Nachbarin für die Putzfrau hält, weil ich einen Stausauger aus dem Keller nach oben trage, und mich zudem noch mit einem freundlichen „ Cleaning?“ auf Englisch anspricht, kann ich danach trotzdem noch einen gelassenen Tag verleben. Selbst, wenn in der Konditorei jemand vor mir einen Negerkuss bestellt, mich dann entdeckt und ihn hektisch zu einem Mohrenkopf umwandelt, muss mir das nicht gleich den ganzen Tag verderben. Kritisch wird es erst, wenn ich den Fernseher einschalte, und Angehörige des Deutschen Adels, die in der Öffentlichkeit stehen ,die Aids-Problematik auf dem afrikanischen Kontinent mit der Tatsache erklären, „dass der Schwarze an sich halt gern schnackselt“.

Mein Wunsch nach lauten, medienwirksamen Protesten verstärkt sich dann um ein weiteres wenn ich mir im Fernsehen eines dieser vielseitigen Comedy-Formate, in denen stets ein und dieselben Comedians auftreten, ansehe und einer dieser Comedians den Begriff Kohlen-Latte, natürlich nur im Scherz, als Bezeichnung für das Genital eines dunkelhäutigen Mannes erklärt. Ein Brüller. Das Publikum tobt. Einfach Genial – daneben.

Situationen wie die oben genannten kommen immer wieder vor. Sie häufen sich sogar, denn niemand entlarvt diese verbalen Entgleisungen öffentlich als das, was sie sind: Rassismus. Scheinbar glaubt man tatsächlich, dass wenn man jegliche Form von Rassismus ignoriert, er von ganz alleine verschwindet. Doch genau das tut er nicht, er nimmt nur andere Formen an und weitet sich somit zu einem Problem aus und zwar für alle Menschen in diesem Land. Man sollte daher endlich damit aufhören, ihn wie einen Mythos zu behandeln.

Ein Anfang wäre da die Abwendung von dem Gedanken, dass „Deutsch“ automatisch „weiss“ bedeutet. Meines Erachtens liegt eine grosse Verantwortung da bei den Medien und ihrer Darstellung von schwarzen Menschen in Deutschland, denn wie bisher kann es nicht weitergehen. Wenn ich den Fernseher anschalte, möchte auch ich mich repräsentiert sehen und zwar nicht als eines der vielen Klischees, sondern als ganz normalen Menschen und vor allem als Bürgerin ,und somit Teil, dieses Landes.

Author: Trish S., Universität Bremen – Juli 2007


Related news articles, blog posts, and other online resources

Jewels in the Jungle
Austria and Germany: Black Women Speak Out Against Racism and Discrimination in Europe, 10/02/07

The New York Times
Immigration, Black Sheep, and Swiss Rage by Elaine Sciolino, 10/08/07
The ruling Swiss political party runs a national election campaign driven by racial fears.

Spiegel Online International (English edition of Der Spiegel magazine)
Interview with the Turkish-German author Dilek Güngör
‘My Identity is Constantly Present’

Dilek Güngör, author of the recently published “The Secret of My Turkish Grandmother”, talks about her relationship to Turkey, German ideas about nationality, and the absurdity of being considered a poster child for successful integration.

Reuters article about the Turkish-German journalist and author Dilek Güngör: “
German Author Grew Up Battling Cliches" feature article about the journalist and author Dilek Güngör and her popular Berliner Zeitung newspaper column “Unter Uns
Vom Nachttish geräumt (09/08/04)

AFRA – International Center for Black Women’s Perspectives (Austria)
Press release:
Conclusion of the 1st Black European Women’s Congress 2007 in Vienna, Austria (Deutsch)

Black Women in Europe blog on the 1st Black European Women’s Congress
Profile: Dr. Grada Kilomba (Humboldt Universität – Berlin, Germany)
Profile: Hellen Felter (Tiye International, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Profile: Dr. Ama Mazama (Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. USA)
Profile: Sylvia Serbin (journalist, author, historian – France)
Zeedah Meierhofer Mageli (Director of Center for Black Women - Zurich, Switzerland)
Profile: Brenda King (European Economic and Social Committee – SOC Section, Brussels, UK)
Black European Women’s Congress Vienna Declaration (English)
Wiener Deklaration der Kongresses europäischer Schwarzer Frauen (Deutsch)

BlackPrint blog by Victoria Robinson (German, English)
Die Vienna Declaration of the Black European Women’s Congress (post includes a group photo of several of the conference attendees)

Community-Beitrag in Kolonialismus-Broschüre
Essay about the controversy over a memorial to the 18th Century German merchant, slave trader and slave holder Heinrich Karl von Schimmelman. Also see a similar controversy over the monument for 19th Century German colonialist Capt. Hermann von Wissmann at the Afrika-Hamburg Project website.

Mügeln aus afrodeutscher Perspektive
Germany’s newspaper Die Zeit Online interviews Manuela Ritz, an anti-racism trainer and black German who grew up in the East German town where neo-Nazis attacked Indian immigrants in August 2007.

Der Braune Mob e.V. Online – website about black Germans in the media and public life
Der Scwharze Blog - a media watchdog blog from African-German perspectives

Spiegel International Online
Articles published in the popular German news magazine about the ongoing struggle with immigration, radical right-wing groups, and violence against “foreigners”.

In Wake of Racist Attacks in Mügeln
Germany Wonders How to Stop the Neo-Nazis

Racism Alive and Well
After Attack on Indians, Germany Fears for Its Reputation

A New Broom in Paris
France to Pay Immigrants to Return Home, 05/24/07

United on Fighting Hate
EU Agrees on Watered-Down Anti-Racism Law, 04/20/07

An African Dream
I’ll Make It to Europe or Die Trying, 05/18/06
Photo galleries:
Chasing the European Dream,
Getting to Europe at All Costs

Assaulting Ceuta and Melilla
Through the Razor Wire and Into the EU

The Financial Times (London)
EU told to accept 20 million migrant workers by 2025, 09/12/07
Immigration: the quest to become a magnet for migrants, 09/04/07
Spain tops destination list for EU migrants, 02/18/07

Foreign Policy Association blog –
Migration Europe archives Europe’s New Immigration
An overview of Muslim and African immigration in Europe

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Austria & Germany: Black Women Speak Out Against Racism and Discrimination in Europe

Yesterday I had a brief conversation with a young Nigerian male friend of mine and as we were talking two young African women passed by. I could see that his attention was focused on the women’s bodies instead of what I was saying and I chided him about how attractive the ladies were and asked if he knew them. He stated that he did not and added “I don’t like African women.”

Normally I would have jumped down his throat for making such a stupid comment but instead I took time to try and explain to him why harboring such feelings is wrong and that what he was telling me was a lie. I reminded him of the everyday prejudices and racism that he and other black African men experience not only in Germany but all across Europe and around the world. I went on to explain that black women and women of color face even greater obstacles than black men in being accepted and respected in modern European society simply because they are women.

I asked him “Do you dislike your mother or your sisters?” He replied that he of course loved his mother and sisters. So I responded, “Every time that you see a black woman walking down the street you think about your own family, that that woman or girl is someone’s mother or sister and should always be approached with the greatest of respect.”

I cannot say that he got the point I was making or not, but I began to wonder how many other young black African men in Germany think the same way as this guy does? It goes to show that discrimination and prejudice against women of color in modern European society is not only a black/white problem but is much more complex than some experts on the subject would have you believe. Fortunately the voices of more and more black women and girls in Europe are beginning to be heard as they make their impact felt in literature, news and entertainment media, education, and European politics. This month I want to draw attention to the work online by some courageous women of color at the heart of Europe today who are choosing to speak up for their civil rights by sharing their thoughts and ideas and experiences.

Last weekend while the eyes of the world were focused on the unfolding events in Myanmar (Burma) or some other hot news story there was a quiet gathering of women (black, white, and black & white) in Austria to discuss issues that affect the everyday lives of black women and girls in Europe. The Black European Women’s Congress 2007 was held from September 27th thru 29th in Vienna under the patronage and sponsorship of Frau Barbara Prammer, President of the Austrian National Assembly (Parliament). The BEW congress was organized by the Vienna-based organization AFRA and the Tiye International foundation of The Netherlands. The International Herald Tribune published an AP (Associated Press) article about the conference titled “Black European women at Vienna conference urge recognition, equality”. Here is an excerpt from the September 29th AP article:


Black women play a crucial role across the EU and deserve to be recognized and respected, and have equal opportunities, organizers of a black European women's congress said Saturday.

The three-day gathering, which ended Saturday afternoon, drew more than 80 black women from 16 European Union countries, as well as from Switzerland and the United States.
The conference was deemed the first of its kind by the co-organizers, the Vienna-based, nonprofit International Center for Black Women's Perspectives, also known as AFRA, and Tiye International, a Dutch umbrella NGO aimed at promoting equal opportunities for effective participation of black and migrant women. It was held under the patronage of Barbara Prammer, the speaker of Austria's parliament.

"I think one of our messages is that we don't want to be invisible," Hellen Felter, director of Tiye International, said at a news conference at a Vienna hotel.

Conference delegates — including activists, academics and other black women of all ages — focused on themes such as identity and empowerment, challenges faced by the young, political participation and access to the labor market.

AFRA Director Beatrice Achaleke said black women looking for jobs were often discriminated against because of their skin color, negative stereotypes and the general population's unwillingness to accept them.

"It doesn't matter if I speak German perfectly or not — we have to take into consideration that we are a visible minority," Achaleke said.

End Excerpt

Adrianne George of the award-winning Black Women in Europe blog (Sweden) attended the congress along with other Europe-based female blog authors such as Victoria Robinson of BlackPrint (Hamburg, Germany). Adrianne has published a series of posts about the conference (in English) while Victoria will soon be writing about the congress “auf Deutsch” (in German). Hopefully more articles and posts and essays from other BEW Congress attendees will be published online in the near future in a variety of European languages.

One of the most popular series of articles published to date at Jewels in the Jungle was our group project for Black History in Germany and Europe* (see related articles listed below). One member of that 4-person-plus team of amateur historians and academic hacks is herself a woman of color, an African-German woman named Patricia (Trish). I have known her for perhaps 5 years and we share a deep interest in world events, history and cultural studies, new media technologies and citizen journalism, and lots of other stuff.

Trish submitted an article for our black history series some months ago that did not make the original submission date deadline so I have sat upon it waiting for the right time to publish it here at Jewels. Now is that time, particularly in light of the Black European Women’s Congress 2007 in Vienna and the growth of excellent writing online by some of Europe’s outstanding women of color, voices that have been ignored and marginalized by the European and international press, the news and entertainment media, academia and broad sectors of European society for decades. “The Silence of the Lambs”, an expression that I have often used to describe the hesitant and weak public voice of Europe’s black population, is finally being broken and Europe’s women of color are leading the way.

Trish’s essay is about the need for recognition and acceptance in German society with a special focus on how the German news and entertainment media must work harder to honestly portray the everyday lives of African and African-German women and men who live here. This essay is of special significance today as the 17th German Day of Unity holiday approaches, a day set aside every October 3rd to recognize the contributions made by world figures and ordinary citizens to the re-unification of the two Germanys irregardless of their nationality, ethnic origin, or the color of their skin.

Aren’t We Germans Too? (Original essay written in German)
Trish S., Universität Bremen - July 2007
Edited by BRE @ Jewels in the Jungle – Sep 25, 2007

Between 300,000 to 500,000 African-German people are living in the Federal Republic of Germany today, and I am one of them. Born and raised in this country we regard Germany as our home and see ourselves as citizens of this country. Yet we still find ourselves in situations where we must explain repeatedly where we were originally born. For example, some people compliment us for our great fluency in the German language and then are disappointed to learn that our proficiency in the language stems from the fact that we are German, that there will be no exciting or romantic adventure story about how we came to this country.

At other times people advise us not to be too sensitive about the colour of our skin. But how is racism and racial stereotypes not supposed to have a big impact on my life? I have grown up with racism and prejudice in Germany, it has been a part of my life since my childhood and even today as a 30 year-old woman I am still confronted with it. It is irritating and ever-present like a TV soap-opera bad guy who always returns when you least expect it.

Of course the reality is that racial prejudice and discrimination cannot be easily erradicated in modern German society. There will be no dashing African-German film hero who overcomes one obstacle after another to emerge victorious on the silver screen. We Germans first need to give long overdue recognition to our black German film stars and TV personalities and promote their work to German and international audiences. African-German (Afro-Deutsch) men and women working in German film and television today mainly play supporting roles where the character is wrapped in strongly embedded cultural stereotypes: an illegal immigrant, a cleaning woman, a singer (Jazz, Blues, Soul, Reggae- never Rock), or a dancer.

In German film and television productions one must search hard for a realistic and accurate portrayal of black people. It seems nearly impossible for many German production companies and filmmakers to understand that a leading character in their productions can be both black and German and also be fluent in the German language. Instead, cinema and TV producers and directors here almost always choose to convey an air of the exotic and other-worldliness around dark-skinned German characters in their works, as if people of colour born-and-raised in Germany cannot be portrayed as an ordinary “typical German”.

If one were to believe this “perfect cliché world” image of the country distributed by the vast majority of German entertainment media industry and news media then foreign audiences would think that there are only a small group of black people living in the country who spend their days hiding from immigration officers, selling drugs, dancing, rapping or singing gospel music. That is if they are not busy dealing with the agonizing decision to remain in Germany or go home___ home being Africa since all black people are from the dark continent.

I sometimes ask myself how life in a world of racial stereotypes and clichés would be for the people who propagate these negative images of blacks in Germany (role reversal). The Sarotti-Mohr, a logo character for a famous German chocolate brand, has been around for quite a while. How would it be for Sarotti and his friends die zehn kleine Negerlein (a popular German children’s story with racist characterisations of black African children)? Attempting to fill out immigration forms and not knowing what to write down as your racial origin or to be regularly confronted by police officers asking for your identification papers and yelling at you in such a rudimentary form of the German language that it would shock any decent German citizen.

When my neighbour’s mother thinks I’m the cleaning lady because I carry the vacuum cleaner from the cellar to my apartment it won’t ruin the rest of my day. I can also live with the insult when someone at the confectioners orders a so-called “Negerkuss”, and then when they realize I am standing right behind them they hastily change their order to a “Mohrenkopf”*(1).

It is irritating but it does not come as that big of a surprise to me because although there is still a great deal of racism in our society few Germans want to appear to be racist. As long as the true underlying problems that support racism and prejudice in our society are seldom openly discussed in a national dialogue, racism can and will continue to grow and spread in Germany. The attitude of some of our political and civic leaders seems to be that if we don’t talk too loudly about racism and prejudice in our society, then it might just disappear on its own.

Unfortunately it (racism and prejudice) does still exist in Germany today. There have been several instances while watching a program on German television that I have asked myself, “How long it will take until we (black Germans) will be respected for who we are and accepted as individuals?” Moreover as citizens of this country with a long history here that goes back much further than the end of the 1st World War. Anton Wilhelm Amo, one of the earliest known Africans to live, study, and teach in Germany, came here in the 18th century as a child slave from Ghana. Amo went on to become a noted philosopher and professor of his day, teaching at both Halle University and Jena University. Until this day, I have never seen a report about him on German television such as ZDF’s popular education series “History”.

It is necessary that we as Germans begin to move beyond the common belief that being German is synonymous with being white. This means there are many challenges ahead for African-Germans and other people of colour living in Germany as we struggle for acceptance as equal citizens, equal as we go about our daily lives and being honestly portrayed in the media and cinema. As long as loopholes in German law exist for the continued propagation of racial stereotypes in our society there will be an awful lot of work to do.


*(1) Editor’s Note: the expressions Negerkuss and Mohrenkopf refer to a chocolate-covered marshmallow confection created around 200 years ago in Denmark. Literally translated from the German language the word Negerkuss means “Negro’s kiss” and Mohrenkopf translates to “Mohr’s head”. David’s Medienkritik, a German press and media watchdog blog authored by David Kasper and Ray Drake, delves into the subject of Negerkussen in their May 2005 post titled “German’s aren’t racist” (see comment threads). Andrew at German Joys goes even deeper into the subject of Negerkussen and other "politically incorrect" Negro memorabilia and long-standing cultural traditions in Europe with pictures and everything.

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