The annual „Black History Month“ in Germany examines history from a black viewpoint, raises awareness for the Afro-German identity, exposes institutional racism, and makes societal diversity visible.
What is the Black History Month?
Black History Month focuses on historical events that are of importance to black people. Biographies of black people are told to make diversity visible in history. The purpose of Black History Month is to look at history from a black perspective. This includes, among other things, understanding that black history is German history. Long before the colonial era, black people were a part of German society. For instance, Anton Wilhelm Amo, the first black professor in a German university, received his teaching license in Jena in 1737.
What is the origin of Black History Month?
Black History Month has its origin in the USA in 1926. At that time there was only a Black History Week.
The African-American historian Carter G. Woodson, finally declared Black History Month in February since it coincides with the birthdays of former US President Abraham Lincoln and civil rights activist Frederick Douglas. The goal was to liberate black people from stereotypes and prejudices. In Germany, Black History Month was established in the 1990s by the Initiative Schwarzer Deutscher (ISD).
Every February, the ISD and other organizations such as Each One Teach One (EOTO) host online and in-person Black History Month events.
Why is the Black History Month important in Germany?
Most people imagine a white person when they think of a German. The notion that Germans are white is a relic of the German colonial era when it was defined who can and cannot be “German”.
Today there is no widespread awareness for an Afro-German identity, especially in the majorly white society. The typical recurring question “Where are you from?” is a mirror reflection of the dilemma. Black citizens may find it difficult to identify as German since they are rejected and excluded by white Germans in their daily lives. Therefore, it is important to understand that being German does not mean denying another part of your identity and that black people can be German as well. Diversity in society is a strength, not a weakness.
As a result, the goal of Black History Month in Germany is to expose unconscious racist thought patterns, combat systemic racism, and make societal diversity visible.
Afro.Deutschland – A DW report with Jana Pareigis
Jana Pareigis, the presenter of DW Germany’s documentary, depicts the realities of life for black people in Germany with other people.
Germany and racism towards black people
When we talk about racism in Germany, we frequently refer to National Socialism. However, very few history books mention that black people faced discrimination at the time.
When we talk about racism against black people today, we have only lately acquired a specific database from the Afro-census, because the federal anti-discrimination agency does not collect ethnicity data. This implies that the data does not reveal if the person who experienced racism is, say, of Turkish or Nigerian heritage. The “Afrozensus” project counteracts this. The report, published towards the end of 2021, demonstrates that racism remains a constant companion for black people.
Racism is a structural problem in Germany that pervades all aspects of society. According to Karim Fereidooni, Junior Professor for Didactics of Social Science Education at Ruhr University Bochum, there are no rooms free of racism.
Black people in politics, business, and television
Awet Tesfaiesus has been the first black woman in the German Bundestag since June 2021. After the attack in Hanau in February 2020 on people with a visible migration background, Tesfaiesus decided to run for the Bundestag. With success. Tesfaiesus is a lawyer and party member of the Alliance 90 / Greens. She obtained political experience as a city councilor and assessor in the Kassel party executive.
She aspires for “diversity and equal opportunity in our society to become a matter of course”. This includes, for example, enacting a strong anti-discrimination law.
Janina Kugel is one of the most successful managers in Germany. As head of Human Resources, she was responsible for around 370,000 Siemens employees by 2020. Under her direction, a Pride Community was developed at Siemens. Her devotion to a more relaxed dress code and the flexibility of work patterns are also noteworthy.
Kugel was born in Stuttgart in 1970. In the 1980s, her parents sent her on a school exchange. She came to Siemens by chance. Her ambition was to work at the United Nations. Looking back, she states: “My motivation was to discover the world. Which I did too”.
Theodor Wonja Michael
Theodor Wonja Michael was born in Berlin in 1925 to a German mother and a Cameroonian father. As a child, he became part of Völkerschau. In other words, zoos in which black people were presented like animals. He worked as an actor in Nazi films during the Nazi era.
Following World War II, he studied political science, worked as a journalist and eventually became a government official in the Federal Intelligence Service.
His ambition was to make life easier for the next generation of black children. That is why he wrote, „Being German and Black: Memories of an Afro-German.“
What you can do to reduce structural racism
1. Join an initiative or an action group
Many initiatives try to counteract racism. Amnesty International, for example, explains seven points that white people, in particular, can use as a guide to reduce racism.
Another worthwhile endeavour is the media kit “Stereotypical Diversity and Diversity in Families and Lifestyles” for people who work with children under the age of six. A further fantastic project is “Skin color crayons for everyone“. The purpose here is not to first build any racist behavioural patterns and then combat them if they exist.
2. Consume diverse media and share it with young people
Likewise, importantly, is to reduce institutional racism by introducing children to a diverse range of books and movies. On the one hand, such offerings illustrate the ideal of a diverse society, and on the other hand, they serve as a role model and orientation function. You can find a list of 30 diverse books here.
3. Help others and accept help
If you are affected by racism and need support, the advice portal of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency can help you. In addition, associations such as ADAN (Afro-German Academic Network) assist Afro-Germans in advancing their professional careers. These include get-togethers for networking and mentoring programs from the age of 16.
The FOGG (Future of Ghana Germany) starts earlier with its mentoring program for black children. You can find out more here.
If you want to participate in Black History Month-related online events, NOW is the time.
Have a wonderful Black History Month!