Requested by the Equal Opportunities Office of Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main, two speakers from our association glokal e.V. held a workshop on November 10, 2016 entitled “Racist? – Not me! Racism-critical sensitization in the university context”. One of the participants was Jonas B., who – as it turned out afterwards – is an assessor of the Young Alternatives (youth organization of the Alternative for Germany/AfD) in Hesse. Four weeks after the workshop, he wrote a youtube clip entitled “Experiences from the racism workshop” (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OHSdSj-Vsc) and addressed the public with the Junge Alternative via press release
In it, our speakers are accused of having called for violence against police officers in the workshop.
Two newspaper articles – one in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 9.12.16 (print only), another in the Frankfurter Rundschau of 10.12.16 (http://www.fr-online.de/campus/goethe-universitaet-frankfurt-umstrittener-rassismus-workshop,4491992,35001634.html) – took up the press release and let both representatives of the university and speakers from us have their say. The FAZ quotes a Goethe University spokesperson who announces that the university will refrain from further cooperation with our speakers because “their statements do not correspond to the liberal self-image of the university” and the “speakers are also biased as a result of their own involvement [möglicherweise].” In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Anja Wolde from the Equal Opportunities Office is quoted as saying that they will “not cooperate with the provider glokal e.V.” in the future. She adds, “However, this has nothing to do with the accusations of the Young Alternatives.” […] Rather, […] one had been disturbed by the fact that civil disobedience was called for in the seminar.”
As participants in our workshop can confirm, contrary to Jonas B.’s claim, our speakers did not call for violence against the police. Rather, we see the publication of the video of Jonas B. on YouTube as well as the press release of the Junge Alternative as a deliberate defamation and slander of our work and racism-critical educational work or anti-racist commitment in general. The website of the Junge Alternative(http://www.ja-hessen.de) features right-wing and racist slogans throughout: For example, a pop-up counts down the time until “we Germans have become a minority in our own country.”
We are very concerned about how representatives of Goethe University Frankfurt react to a press release of a right-wing organization, distancing themselves from the idea and practice of civil disobedience, which we consider an indispensable means against discrimination in a democracy. Even if representatives of the Goethe University try to deny a connection between the AfD agitation and their public distancing and termination of a cooperation with glokal e.V., the question remains, why the university positions itself only after the appearance of the video and the press release of the Junge Alternative in public. Furthermore, the statement neither comprehensively distinguished itself from the AfD position in terms of content, nor did it fulfill its responsibility to protect the invited speakers from right-wing agitation. Numerous other racist defamations followed on the Internet, the authors of which could feel vindicated by Goethe University’s statement. At this point, we see racism and right-wing agitation reproduced by two decisions of action on the part of Goethe University in particular:
[möglicherweise] Firstly, through the position that “speakers are also biased as a result of their own experience of racism”: to deny that people who are negatively affected by racism are not able to talk “objectively” about racism and to recognize and analyze institutional/structural racism in Germany is already part of the racist delegitimization strategy. Here, the colonial pattern of binary division into Europeans, who are rational, objective, and forward-looking, and people of color, who are overwhelmed by their emotions, is resorted to. By saying that people who experience racial discrimination are not the right people to formulate what racism is and how to intervene against it implies that people who structurally benefit from racism should judge what actually constitutes racism and when and how to intervene against it. In the context of AfD publications, this is more than just negligent, as it suggests that the outrage of right-wing actors is given correspondingly more credence. Furthermore, it is simply disrespectful to comment in such a way in the media about invited speakers and to question their competence by implying bias.
Second, racism is reproduced by the university’s failure to stand behind a person experiencing racial discrimination at a moment when that person is verbally attacked by right-wingers. Only in a second step could Goethe University have criticized the content of our workshop or our general approach. The opposite has been the case. No enquiries were made with the person attacked or the association attacked (glokal e.V.) as to how they perceive the situation and what they need in terms of protection or support. We do not see this as a slip, but rather as an example of institutional racism.
In the meantime, the University of Frankfurt has written another statement in which it apologizes, among other things, to our Black Speaker for speculating about a “connection between concern and bias”(http://aktuelles.uni-frankfurt.de/aktuelles/stellungnahme-der-pressestelle-der-goethe-universitaet/). Otherwise, she mainly regrets the reporting, but not her non-response to the statements of the Junge Alternative and her lack of support for the speakers under attack. This statement of the university was also taken up again by the FAZ in an article on 16.12.2016. In addition there was now also a statement of the equalization office(http://aktuelles.uni-frankfurt.de/aktuelles/stellungnahme-des-gleichstellungsbueros-der-goethe-universitaet/), in which finally “from the student member of the ‘young alternative’ represented sentences” one dissociates oneself – however without the joint responsibility for the following mediale agitation to point out. Last but not least, a staff member from the Equal Opportunity Office personally apologized to the two speakers. We welcome all of these steps. We see the renewed statements and apologies as a result and success of the many protests that there were from individuals, associations and groups. For us, however, the reappraisal of the events on the part of Goethe University cannot merely be about an apology, and the statements that have been made are not sufficient. We call upon Goethe University and the Equal Opportunity Office accordingly,
- to explain themselves in detail regarding their dissociation from civil disobedience;
- and to conduct a public debate on the complex of civil disobedience and racial profiling in the context of a post-colonial and post-national socialist German society.
Furthermore we demand
- the Equality Office to apologize to us for not having adequately protected the speakers commissioned by you against insults, false statements and defamation by the Junge Alternative or the AfD.
- to call upon Goethe University Frankfurt and the Equal Opportunities Office to clearly and unambiguously distance themselves from the positions of the Junge Alternative in terms of content and to retract their statement to fundamentally exclude further cooperation or to explain in detail and publicly why they are sticking to it and what they mean by “organizational reasons” (http://aktuelles.uni-frankfurt.de/aktuelles/stellungnahme-des-gleichstellungsbueros-der-goethe-universitaet/). In doing so, we do not wish to evade criticism, which can of course exist of our workshop. However, we see the assessment of the contents and the format of our workshop meanwhile clearly influenced by the following events (video of the member of the Junge Alternative, press release of the Junge Alternative, defamations on the internet, newspaper article incl. quotes of the Equality Office, statement of the press office of the Goethe University). Here, an evaluation of the workshop by the participants, who attended it to reflect on racism and not to feel confirmed in their racism, would certainly be more purposeful.
We are convinced that people with experiences of racism make and will continue to make essential contributions in education, teaching and research critical of racism. We also take the position that racism is a social relationship of domination that contributes in many ways to the perpetuation of inequality and violence. State institutions such as the police or universities are not exempt from this! Nonviolent civil disobedience is therefore, from our perspective, an adequate means to point out the reproduction of racism and to counteract discrimination. Neither the successes of anti-colonial resistance (e.g. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar), nor the American civil rights movement (e.g. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King), nor many other struggles against exploitation and discrimination would have been conceivable without actions of civil disobedience. That is why we also address the possibilities of non-violent civil disobedience in our workshops, but without actively calling on participants to do so. Rather, our understanding of education is based on formulating (self-)critical questions rather than prescribing solutions or forms of action.
We thank you for the great solidarity and support we have received over the past week! It is a good feeling not to be left alone in the face of defamation, and we would be pleased if many people would take note of the following statements or co-sign open letters.
- Press release of the Initiative Black People in Germany (ISD Bund e.V.): http://isdonline.de/ein-appell-an-die-kritische-tradition-der-goethe-universitaet-frankfurt-a-m/
- Open letter from scientists and university lecturers of different departments at Goethe University and other universities: https://rassismuskritischebildungstaerken.wordpress.com/
- Open letter from students of color at the University of Frankfurt: https://studentsofcolorgoetheuniversity.tumblr.com/
- Statement from participants of the workshop: http://isdonline.de/gegendarstellung-von-teilnehmenden-des-anti-rassistischen-workshops-am-10-11-2016-an-der-frankfurter-universitaet/
- Press release of the Anti-Discrimination Network (ADNB) of the Turkish Federation Berlin: http://us9.campaign-archive2.com/?u=9bbd3ec3c6617ea1f88baa33a&id=1b81547f35&e=8bb958781f