Answer from the author of the brochure: Where please go to weltwärts? to our open letter to the ASA Program and Welthaus Bielefeld

Welthaus Bielefeld – Education Department

Georg Krämer ( 13-5- 2012

Brochure Welthaus Bielefeld: Where please go to weltwärts?

Your letter from May 3, 2012

Reply to “glokal e.V.”

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, your verdict is so beautifully clear: our brochure is “very problematic and racist” or uses “racist stereotypes throughout”, “people of the Global South are consistently portrayed as corrupt, primitive, underdeveloped, ignorant…”, for example, while “German Weltwärts volunteers are in a position of superiority according to which they are supposed to act”.

The first reaction for me as an author was understandably to look for evidence to support these statements. Without claiming to be free of stereotypes, I would have assumed that I have a different view of the world than the one that is so widely circulated here. In addition: The brochure “Wo bitte geht’s nach weltwärts?” has a completely different objective than to tell the young volunteers how to see the world, but wants to stimulate and support self-reflection before leaving the country. It asks the volunteers about expectations and fears, but also confronts them with critical objections (e.g. M3 “Stay at home”, M6 “Weltwärts – a contribution to development?” or also M9 “Ego trip into misery”).

To read out of this a position of superiority attributed to the volunteers can only succeed if the frothing at the mouth blocks the view and one cannot bear the brochure’s approach of asking open questions. And to single out words from a fantasy journey, which has the very objective of making preconceptions and stereotypes a matter for discussion, in order to then claim that these statements permeate the entire brochure, is simply untruthful.

“Corrupt, primitive, ignorant, dependent on financial and spiritual help” or on the other hand “civilized, emancipatory and morally upright” – all these words are not in the brochure, but they are your interpretations and evaluations, which say a lot about your world view and its categories. Their interpretive patterns are falsification-proof anyway.
If the brochure does contain an article questioning the Weltwärts program (e.g. M3 “Stay at home”), this can only be a nasty trick aimed at practicing “argumentation training” against potential critics.
When intercultural conflicts (M 21) are addressed, as they repeatedly occur among experts in development cooperation, there can only be a “rigid and homogenizing” concept of culture behind it, although it is precisely a matter of dealing with heterogeneous ideas.
When volunteers are asked (M20) how they would decide in certain situations (all conflict situations presented have been experienced by volunteers themselves), you assume certain implicitly given socially desirable answers, which you can then strike at, although volunteers usually position themselves very controversially here.

Your problem is not the brochure or individual, more or less successful pages. You don’t like the whole approach. They miss the confrontation with “logic of exploitation and racism” as they understand it. For you (cf. blätter des iz3w 329), development education has the task of exposing the “powerful and colonial-racist structures”. There is as little room for open questions, for contradictory motivations on the subject side of the volunteers as there is for a factual analysis that needs more differentiated categories than racism or colonialism to describe the world. In my observation, this “anti-colonialist and anti-racist educational work” aimed at unmasking has two fatal consequences: First, it leads to a climate of fear, intimidating precisely those people who want to work for a better coexistence. Because no one wants to be racist and at the same time racism is an insinuation that is confirmed by denial as well as by racist unwords, it is important to avoid everything that could expose us to suspicion. Open questions, justified or unjustified indignations, taking offense at strangeness – all this often remains unspoken and thus inaccessible to any discourse. Where the cudgel of anti-racism threatens, we usually reap political correctness, but not an honest confrontation with one’s own prejudices, because this presupposes the renunciation of intimidation and overpowering.

What is also fatal in “anti-colonialist and anti-racist educational work” is the dichotomous world view for which there are only victims and perpetrators, only good and evil. Here the “global south”, characterized by colonialism and exploitation, there the “global south”, enjoying its privileges. He who knows the root of all evil needs no differentiation. Accordingly, exploitation and the most serious human rights violations occur only in North-South relations or are the result of neocolonial relations. But anyone who, 50 years after the independence of the last colonies, denies personal responsibility to the governments in Africa, Asia or Latin America must ask himself whether his view of humanity is not itself racist. They have not only clear analyses, but also clear practical conclusions: All subscribers of our brochure – of course also retroactively – should receive by letter an anti-racist warning – best to be formulated by you. And: The distribution of the brochure is to be “discontinued with immediate effect”. So much certainty of truth is rare today. Good thing you have no power to put publications on the index. Now, one could ignore this “anti-colonialism” and “anti-racism”, which basically writes white “culture” only with quotation marks, as ideological thin soup of a few groups, who probably rather want to promote their anti-capitalist system overcoming fantasies with the cudgel of racism and colonialism. However, a feeling of guilt towards the people in the “developing countries” is also present in large parts of those involved in development policy and also among Weltwärts volunteers.

There is widespread shame about the crimes of colonialism and slavery, as well as about the inequality of the world today and our privileged life chances. It is an indication of a valuable sensitivity that does not only focus on one’s own person. But it is unacceptable that this attitude is instrumentalized for one’s own ideological overpowering. Perhaps it would be a matter of moving from shame and guilt to an attitude of responsibility. Such responsibility would be guided by certain ethical values (e.g. human rights) and ask what our task is today in terms of global responsibility.
This included the perception of unfair North-South relations, without, however, denouncing all international relations as exploitation and denying the economic and political space of the “developing countries”.
This includes being aware of one’s own prejudices and stereotypes, but without ignoring different cultural ideas and without any attitude of self-hatred. Finally, this includes our right and duty to intervene in the internal affairs of foreign peoples when human rights are massively violated there, even if these countries were formerly colonies.

To see the world as a haven of racism and colonialism not only shows a lack of differentiated perception. Such a worldview also has the effect of making it impossible for people to get involved. The infatuation with what is broken, the constantly recited statement of what is bad, from which only one’s own fantasies of redemption lead out, destroys all hope. But behind the idea of the Weltwärts program is a hope, namely that encounters and learning are possible. Many Weltwärts volunteers are likely to bring questionable ideas, overestimate their own capabilities, not know how to meet people in the destination country. And yet time and again such encounters succeed, volunteers come back with a new view of the world and the people.
They are not racists or colonialists, but young people who are capable of learning and changing, just as our world has not finished its development with colonialism.

Educational work that denies this potential for change and instead prefers to go along with the verdict of racism is counterproductive.

George Krämer