Think the Afrikaans language is racist

Language and racism: let's finally talk about "Räiss"!

Can one speak of “race riots” in Ferguson? The events there revealed how uncouth the German language is.

We talk about euthanasia and deportations without using Nazi words - we can also talk about “race”. Image: dpa

We need to talk about races again. The events in Ferguson gave us that. Was that race riot? And what do they say about racial relations? When discussing “race relations” we only have this word, defiled by the Nazis, as if the post-war period had not existed for 70 years. An understanding about how we want to talk about racism would be good, because that is not only available in Ferguson, but also in Germany. And in order to talk about racism, we have to talk about race too. Or better: about race. Crack.

Simply translating the word “race” as “race” is not possible, because this word has not undergone the same change in meaning in German. There are no human races in the sense of a zoological taxonomy, but people, institutions and states treat other people as if they existed. We need to be able to talk about that. In English you do this with "race", which means nothing more than "randomly assembled groups of people who are treated as if they were a race". It's a political category.

We also need this vocabulary in German, because race is negotiated here every day. When the NPD uses the slogan “Germans help Germans”, it naturally only means white Germans - when the taz ironically headlines “Bratwurst only for Germans”, it assumes this equation of white and German. When Union politicians rant about “hostility towards Germans”, the perpetrator-victim scheme is unspokenly clear: non-white German youths bully white German youths. “German” is “white”.

This equation has its continuation in the pseudo-contrast “German / Migrant” with which journalists tense try to get over race to speak. Only in the rarest of cases is it really about migration; mostly they are poorly worded substitutes for “whites” and “non-whites”.

When taz editor-in-chief Ines Pohl calls for a quota of migrants, does that also mean white Germans with an Austrian parent? Probably not. It gets absurd when Mirror online exported our cramp back to the USA and described them as "children without a migration background" in a report on white children in US schools.

Generalizations are everywhere

Fear of the Nazis and their choice of words made us unable to talk about problems that are far more topical. We have to be able to talk about the privileges white Germans have and the hostility Afro-Germans are exposed to. We have to talk about the fact that Turkish-Germans and Arabic-Germans are often racially classified into a group, despite their diversity, are generally assigned to be Muslims and - in contradiction to Vietnamese-Germans, for example - are assumed to be “poorly integrated”.

Racist generalizations are everywhere. The discussion would also be good for being German, because “German” as a racist category is at least as old as the slogan “Germans, don't buy from Jews”.

The fact that the Nazis occupied the word “race” does not have to be an obstacle. We manage to talk about euthanasia - in English "euthanasia" - without using the Nazi word "euthanasia". We talk about deportations - in English "deportations" - without immediately recalling the Holocaust.

We can also over race speak, or as we last Germanized it on the fringes of a meeting: about Räiss. Given the effort we put into getting everything wrong, this may not be the worst translation.