Prof. Fereidooni, have everyday racism and xenophobia really disappeared in the world of work?
I don’t think that “xenophobia” is the right expression because most of the people who experience racism in Germany are not strangers, but are made strangers through racism. In addition, the white Dutchman does not experience racism, because being white is an ideal of beauty all over the world; rather, Germans of Color and Black Germans experience racism. We should call the child by name: everyday racism. Racism is a structuring feature of our society. Wherever people come together, racism plays a role. There are no places without racism.
You did your doctorate on experiences of teachers with a migrant background.
Yes, I interviewed 159 people using a questionnaire and then conducted ten interviews; namely with five teachers who stated in the questionnaire that they had frequently experienced racism in a professional context and with five teachers who stated that they had not had any experience of racism in the professional context. The result: Even those teachers who stated in the questionnaire that they had not had any experience of racism in a professional context told me about experiences relevant to racism. My conclusion: Even those who experience racism cannot name it as such, because talking about racism is taboo in our society. Because it is suggested to all of us that racism is a thing of the past or only occurs in the extreme right, we have not learned to talk about racism. We need to learn a language to talk about racism and experiences of racism.
Can “enlightened” people be racist? Does racism have to do with a lack of knowledge?
Racism-relevant ways of thinking, speaking and acting have nothing to do with a lack of knowledge. If so, it would be enough to read three books to become free of racism. But unfortunately it’s not that simple. We are not born racist, but learn to be racist and not because our parents were particularly malicious or our teacher would like to teach us racist things, but rather because apparently normal knowledge is not criticized for racism . There is a little bit of racism in everything we know. Racism teaches us all. Some learn: “I am worth more than other people”; the others learn: “I am worth less than other people”. The so-called “middle of society,” whatever that is, is not free from racism. Just because you vote for the Greens or get involved with refugees doesn’t mean you have nothing to do with racism. The fight against racism starts in your own head.
Does the intention play a role in racism?
Not wanting to be racist is an important start because just as we learn racism, we can unlearn racism. The second process, however, is significantly more complex than the first. In research on racism, however, we are not primarily concerned with what intention people have, but what effect their thinking, speaking and acting has on those affected. Not wanting to be racist does not mean that one is actually critical of racism. Those who do not want to be racist have to deal with their own racism.
Open forms of racism are known or easy to imagine, which are the hidden forms?
Racism is a multi-faceted phenomenon. Racism kills, but only in the rarest cases with the weapon, with the knife or with the help of Molotov cocktails. Much more often, racism kills the belief of people of color and black people that they are a natural part of this society and that with the help of pejorative looks, in the form of jokes or brief allusions from colleagues, superiors or partners. Racism kills trust in our police force when people of color and black people are repeatedly checked for no reason and imagined as dangerous. Racism kills the ambition of people experienced in racism when Ayşe wants to become a doctor, but the career counselor advises her to become a nurse. Racism kills the principle of achievement in our society when teachers give black students lower grades than white students despite the same performance.
How much have you personally been confronted with this topic in your career?
Racism is not a desk science for me, but a practice of life. I don’t have the luxury of being able to choose the time and place when racism plays a role for me. Even when I’m out and about in the supermarket, racism can play a role if someone looks at me with contempt or if my ascribed or factual origin is devalued. People who are privileged about racism and do not experience it can lightly claim that it does not exist. People who look like me feel every day that racism exists. Science is not a place free of racism either.
Has the situation got better or worse over the years?
As well as. We have to think in simultaneity. In the year 2021 the FRG is more critical of racism than ever in its history, because a lot of people are committed against racism. At the same time, many things relevant to racism that were unthinkable ten or twenty years ago are now socially acceptable. Sensitivity to racism has increased noticeably, but a small noisy minority is continuously working to make racism socially acceptable. The fight against racism is a lifelong task and it is fulfilling to stand up against racism and for justice