(Un) Learning ‘Race,’ White Fragility, and Mobilizing Antiracist Pedagogy in Germany
by Nasima Selim
On 6 June 2020, thousands of people gathered at Berlin Alexanderplatz in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
While a singular event does not necessarily exemplify the heterogeneous field of antiracist activism in Germany, this demonstration accumulated a critical mass of public protest against structural racism and white supremacy. As teachers and students of anthropology, many of us in Berlin participated in the demonstration. In the aftermath of the protest, among many other statements that were circulating, the newly formed working group AG Public Anthropology of the German Anthropological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie, DGSKA) issued a public statement in solidarity with the BLM movement with a call for dismantling structural racism in Germany (Selim and Albrecht 2020).
The document was signed by seventy anthropologists and members of the DGSKA. A crucial call in that statement was to foreground critical, intersectional approaches to ‘race,’ racism, and antiracism as compulsory and widely taught topics. More than two years after the 2020 statement, this article reflects on the challenges and lessons from translating ‘race,’ racism, and antiracism in an anthropology classroom in Germany.
There is no publicly available data about the various curricula used in anthropology classrooms in Germany. There is no empirical evidence if and how BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) perspectives are integral to the anthropological syllabi about and beyond the topics of ‘race’, racism, and antiracism in Germany. My argument in this article is, therefore, anecdotal, drawing mainly from pedagogical engagements with my students during an online undergraduate course at the Free University Berlin in the summer of 2021.
Teaching ‘Race’ and Racism in a Classroom of Social and Cultural Anthropology
“Do you think anthropology is still a colonial discipline where white scholars travel to faraway places to study people of Color and make a career back home?” I asked my students on the first day of the course, ambitiously titled “Anthropology, ‘Race’, and Racism Globally” (the global, however, consisted of three countries: Germany, the United States, and India) (15 April 2021). The provocative question emerged as part of my growing frustration with the apparent hegemony of white scholars and the lack of adequate representation of BIPoC scholars in German academia. My question also directed a critique to the distinction between “außereuropäische” (outside Europe) and “europäische” (European) anthropology maintained in Germany. The students were rather confused about this distinction and asked me if social and cultural anthropology in Germany concerned itself with only “people outside Europe”?
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