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Racism and Xenophobia: Cause of Immigrant Segregation in Germany in the 1900s

            Throughout this course, we have looked at topics ranging from the reunification of Germany, politics, and women in politics to the refugee crisis, immigration and racism in contemporary Germany. German culture, like all cultures, is complex; Language, art, social norms and mores, behaviours, and beliefs are interwoven into the fabric of contemporary Germany (Kopp, 2002). Understanding the past is integral to understanding the present and changing the future.

            Comprehension of the historical background of pre-unified Germany makes it is easier to understand the current discourse on racism and xenophobia plaguing contemporary Germany. The hegemonic view that immigrants do not want to integrate into German society is often supported by citing parallel societies (Kaes, 1995). As seen in the video, how the woman made the comments about the black male’s “customs” were not in order. In the film, the woman complained that the male chose to sit in the same seat that she was in because there were plenty of open seats around. She then went on to rant about how him sitting by her on the tram was a pester and that if the black man is going to “live off of their taxes” then he should at least behave. These statements came at no reason at all, for the black male approached the woman when he arrived on to the tram and in a polite manor, he simply asked “is that seat taken”. As then, the woman looked the man up and down, seeing that he was in fact negro, turned the other way with no reply. Seeing the situation as it was, the black man then took his seat and remained quiet for the entire trip. So when the comments were made about the man needing to behave and act appropriately to the German customs, he in fact did not violate any sort of customs, if anything he honored them with politeness, as he did not react to the racist activity in any violent manner.

            In the film, the woman stated, “What’s more – they smell awful. But of course, there is no law against that.” For this statement was just plain out uncalled for. Remember that these comments were made in the middle of the ride, after the woman had said plenty enough to antagonize the average man, but this man had stayed calm, sitting there quietly, while munching on a snack ignoring the harsh woman he chose to sit next to. These rash judgments play into the way of the whole racial views of each other globally. In the film, the camera constantly panned to different individuals that were riding the bus and hearing the woman rant. A little boy was constantly laughing, an old man was shown nodding and agreeing, and a middle-aged man was shown looking up in judgement of the old woman and then going back to his own business of reading the newspaper. When it comes to different view of people by different age groups of people, it is hard to keep a constant up-rise of outstanding citizens when there is no clear right or wrong judgement of a person.  This whole scene is a perfect example.

            Segregation generally focuses on physical differences, such as skin colour and hair type (Kaes, 1995). In Germany, as seen in the video, racism today has evolved to appear similar to xenophobia. This is because “new racism is based on a purported insurmountability of cultural differences”. After the holocaust words like “rasse” (race) and “rassismus”(racism) were problematic. However, the Holocaust was not the first or last time Germany was at the forefront of racism. Racism was not left in the past; it is omnipresent in German society today (Schilling, 2014).

            In the film this comment is made, “We don’t need these savages living off us. We’ve got enough unemployment of our own. And then they all work illegally.” These words are simply fueled by the past of this woman’s life. Being an elderly German it is safe to say that this lady grew up during the Hitler and Nazi era. Therefore, she was not raised to accept those other than pure Germans. Then she lived through the separation of Germany, the east and west era. So, when these comments were made, it was a pretty close recollection to the claims that Germans in the West made about those in the East. Not unsurprising that this woman felt the way she did, but she is not in fact judging this man on her own, but instead she is using her roots, peers, and forced ways to spurt out unreasonable things to a polite man that was just looking to get from place A to B.

            Segregation intersects on cultural differences between white Germans and minority groups. Many Germans fail to comprehend the importance of cultural relativism when new immigrants arrive in Germany (Kopp, 2002). In direct opposition to the stance Germany is a country of migration, they feel that immigrants should adopt German culture fully and abandon their own cultural identity, instead of embracing the diversification of Germany’s culture. Immigrants bring their values, beliefs, and religious preferences. Many of the refugees arriving since 2015 have come from Muslim countries, though many do not identify as Muslim. Due to German preconception that Christian ideology is correct, there has been a rise of Islamophobia against anyone coming from the Middle East and many Africans. When immigrants move into neighbourhoods with other immigrants with similar or the same nationality, they become listed as “problem neighbourhoods”. Yet this voluntary self-segregation is in response to systematic xenophobia and covert racism in German society.

            Notably, “even if people of colour totally assimilate into German culture, they are still not regarded as Germans”. The lack of acceptance as German, even when fully assimilated, should bring a more public focus on how and why more discourse is not taking place on the reason that immigrants and people of colour feel the need the be segregated. If Germany had more lenient laws on learning German formally, other necessary classes, work opportunities and education opportunities, immigrants’ integration into German society would be smoother. While laws have recently updated, German policy is a reflection of segregation on a systematic level. Many immigrants face difficulty finding a place to live and work because of the laws in Germany (Kopp, 2002). Germany has attempted to help alleviate some pressure by assigning social workers to help immigrants find work and by offering financial aid.

            Racism and segregation go hand in hand, specifically in contemporary German society. As a result of being excluded, both directly and indirectly, many immigrants find solace within immigrant populations. Assimilation is made nearly insurmountable for refugees and immigrants due to xenophobic laws dating to post WWII. Through disuse of eugenic words like race and racism, Germany invokes a historical amnesia that has negative current and future implication. Additionally, even though words like race and racism is no longer socially acceptable, the disuse does not refute the fact racism is still plaguing German society. Furthermore, even when full assimilation is successful, immigrant Germans are still seen as “others”, foreigners. Current rhetoric surrounding immigrants and refugees in the political sphere is sometimes reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. Though Germany has strived to move away from its past, many of its laws tether it from social inclusion. If such rhetoric and systematic discrimination continue, it could have a negative implication for Germany on the global stage.


“Schwarzfahrer-short film with English subtitles”, YouTube. 10 November 2011, Accessed           August 9, 2019,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiuv5hzj5i4

Kaes, A. (1995). German cultural history and the study of film: ten theses and a postscript. New   German Critique, (65), 47-58.Kopp, K. (2002). Exterritorialized Heritage in Caroline Link’s” Nirgendwo in Afrika”. New    German Critique, (87), 106-132.

Schilling, B. (2014). Postcolonial Germany: Memories of Empire in a Decolonized Nation. OUP   Oxford.

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