The ugly americans
German Art, Design, and Taxes

Racism by any other name

The other presentations today including a session with Aydan Ozogus, one of the two Germans of Turkish background in the Hamburg Parliament. She is part of the Social Democrat party, which lost to the Christian Democrat party.

She talked to us about the immigration situation in Germany. The change from naturalization based on blood to land in 1990. Germany admitting it is an immigrant nation in 1995, and thus beginning to provide language training and other services to enable Turkish youth to integrat into German society, as Germans. The fact that the integration of the Turkish is a social problem, not a racial one, although the Turkish face discrimination due to lack of language skills, different codes of behaviors, and Moslem religious background.

The interesting thing from a comparative perspective is that discourses of race and racism that have been so effective in the US struggle for civil rights is not possible in Germany due to its Nazi history. Aydan would never say that the Turkish in Germany experience racism, but rather discrimination, and discrimination mostly due to 30 years of neglect because everyone assumed the Turkish would return to Turkey, not stay and have children. In lunch afterwords, some of my colleagues were upset that she would not call it racism. I pointed out that the US attachment to the concept of racism is important because it has proven effective in forcing the American legal system to fight discrimination, so much so that in the 1990s you had white men claiming "reverse racism." As a person working inside the German system (in which only 10 years ago they could say they have immigrants), there is no strategic advantage in calling it racism, in fact it would only shut down dialogue.

The General Counsel did make one interesting comment about the immigration debate in the US versus German. Currently in the US, people for the most part believe that legal immigration is good. Immigration is part of our national mythology, much to the dismay of Native Americans. The focus of the current debate is on what to do about illegal immigration. But in Germany, they are still unsure whether legal immigration is a good thing. This makes a huge difference in the base assumptions one can make about the immigration solution.

What is sad is that Germany seems to be taking a assimulationist model for Turkish integration. You can look like your Turkish, but you must speak, act, and think like a German, completely. There is no anti-discrimation statement that will allow government forms to be printed in Turkish as well as German. In our conversation with Theo Sommer, he talked about how the people editing the news for Die Ziet are different because they are younger or there are women, but their ideology has to be the same. Both he and Aydan stressed that there is "No Affirmative Action" as if AA is a bad thing. But what you my lose by creating assimilated Turkish German citizens is the potential for the diversity of thought and perspective that drives creativity and innovation.

But maybe its a Maslow level of needs, when it comes to race and discrimination, the focus in Germany is on gaining basic security. In post-1964 US, the focus may be on self-actualization.

I asked Aydan that with such diverse histories what is the possibility for a transatlantic dialogue on immigration between Germany and the US. She spoke about visiting a school in the US and seeing the social workers who were there to help immigrant children and their families learn to navigate the system. She went back to the SD party and said they need to do this as well.

The model of the social problem of immigation in Germany feels closer to the plight of American Americans pre-1964 than that of the Hispanic community in terms of the discourse of criminalization and the fact that AAs represent the opposite of the model of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male Americaness. Yet some of the solutions used to help integrate Hispanic immigrants into US society seem to be the most practical in dealing with the German situation.

Which leads me to reconsider the appropriateness of using the term racism in its prescriptive mode for Germany although descriptively it may be accurate in addressing the institutional discrimination against the Turkish in Germany.


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