Afrozensus: “We are legitimate subjects of our research !”

, by Arnisa Halili

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Afrozensus: “We are legitimate subjects of our research !”
#Afrozensus. Photos made available by Each One Teach One (EOTO) e.V. and edited by Anja Meunier with material from Pixabay und Unsplash

Data on the lives of black people in Germany are almost non-existent. Under the direction of Muna Aikins and Teresa Bremberger, the first German-wide survey of the black community is being launched - for the benefit of the community and conducted by some of its members. In this interview, Aikins and Bremberger speak about the beginnings of the project, the role of empowerment and about the importance of the survey for Anti-Black Racism on a European level.

It is less of an idea and more of a need. Although Black people have lived in Germany for centuries, there is currently no data that highlights their experiences. The Afrozensus wants to change this.

The community-based education and empowerment project Each One Teach One (EOTO) in Berlin, the civil society organization Citizens for Europe (CFE) and the Center for Integration and Migration Research are jointly launching the first survey in Germany to directly assess the needs of Black people. Its results will serve to address the issue of Anti-Black Racism, which is a specific form of racism whereby Black people of African origin experience degradation, dehumanization and/or racial discrimination. The four-week survey is funded by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency and will start in early July. Among the project leaders are Black political scientist Muna Aikins and economist and social scientist Teresa Bremberger, who are members of Each One Teach One (EOTO).

Nothing like the Afrozensus has ever existed in Germany before. Why is this?

Teresa Bremberger: For historical reasons, Germany finds it difficult to collect data on minorities. The German government has a paradoxical relationship with the topic: on the one hand, the National Action Plan against Racism acknowledges that Black people are a vulnerable group that is particularly affected by racism. On the other hand, no relevant data is collected, which means that we cannot take any action at the state level. As a result, Black people’s needs are not taken into account and how to best support them is not considered.

However, we are not interested in simply registering ethnic minorities in Germany in figures. Rather, we want to survey the realities and social circumstances of Black people and give them a political voice. Above all, we see the Afrozensus as an opportunity for empowerment of our community.

The community is spread geographically but also for example across socio-economic strata. How do you reach your target group?

Muna Aikins: We use social media, but also various organizations and outreach partners of the Black communities, which are distributed decentrally in Germany. Our contacts include churches as well as associations or young people who are more likely to be on Instagram. It is very important to us to include different life experiences and perspectives in the survey.

Teresa Bremberger: The advantage of the survey is that it is conducted, among others, by EOTO. We as a Black people’s organization have contact with the communities and we have been working with various Black organizations and associations for a long time.

Studies on racism already exist. What distinguishes the Afrozensus from other surveys?

Muna Aikins: The unique aspect of the Afrozenzus is that the study is led by Black people and accordingly we can include and address a variety of life realities. Furthermore, the study is the result of a community process. Many organizations are involved in the Afrozensus. Many processes have contributed to the existence of the Afrozensus. At the same time, the results of the Afrozensus are being brought back into the community. So, it is not others doing research on us, but it’s us doing it ourselves.

Teresa Bremberger: The German mainstream research landscape regarding discrimination or migration throws a very white perspective on these issues. In the process, a predominantly white research group takes another constructed non-white group as its research object. This is seen as legitimate and objective research, while the objectivity of groups that do research on themselves is questioned. We are legitimate subjects of our research and there is no reason why we should not do research about ourselves. Because we are affected ourselves, our research is perceived as subjective, yet white researchers also work subjectively because they are the profiteers of racism.

I am strongly convinced that we ask questions differently. By speaking from within the community, we can ask questions that cannot be considered from a white perspective. In common questionnaires, for example, family constellations portraying very traditional family relationships of father, mother and child are being asked. We know from our community that there are also other family constellations. With this knowledge, we can conceive questions differently and represent different life realities.

Beyond this survey, the approach provides an important impulse for research in a new direction that is community-based and truly participatory. Not only on paper but with real involvement of the Black community.

How has your survey been received by the Black community so far? Is there any criticism?

Teresa Bremberger: We have received positive feedback - but also constructive critique! It was not about the fact that the Afrozensus should not exist, but how it can be improved.

Muna Aikins: The Afrozensus is among other things a matter of empowering our community. It is very important to us that they [the community] are part of the process and that they can express their concerns and suggest changes. Within the community there is a sense of caution: many people want to know how the data is being used, how their data privacy is being protected, and also for what purpose we are collecting the data. We all see the need to collect information. Nevertheless, it is not easy to engage in research due to the historical background of Germany.

Teresa Bremberger: The focus of the questionnaire varies according to the background and expertise of the people in our community. Together we negotiated how detailed we want the data we collect about different aspects of people’ s lives to be. It has helped to clarify that the Afrozensus is the first survey of its kind that has been allowed to evolve and needs to be continued. The Afrozensus serves as a starting point for future research.

What will happen with the results of the survey?

Teresa Bremberger: First, they will be documented in a final report and made available to politicians and the community. On the one hand, we are aiming to establish a database to increase pressure on politicians. We want to identify and communicate the need for action to the federal government.

On the other hand, we want to reflect back into the community: how are we actually doing? How diverse are we as Black people in Germany? What are our living conditions? And above all, what contribution do we make to German society?

The survey regarding experiences of discrimination against Black people in Germany also aims to show that what I experience as an individual in everyday life does not always have to do anything with me as a person. The data can show that many people feel the same way. Thus, they become an expression of structures. We are living in racist structures. Muna once expressed this very well: racist discrimination does not only show itself when someone is insulted on the street but also when you don’t get a certain job, a certain apartment. On the basis of the results, we want to show that it is not due to you as a person, but that society is designed in such a way that Black people experience exclusion.

In the last few weeks, people in Germany and all over the world have taken to the streets as part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. What do you think about the significance of the current protests?

Teresa Bremberger: I find myself ambivalent: on the one hand, it was incredibly powerful to see the media attention the debate around #BlackLivesMatter got, how many people took to the streets and positioned themselves. It was also interesting to see how the movement made its way to Europe. On the other hand, I sense scepticism. Although it feels like something big, I wonder why this is happening right now. Many other Black people before George Floyd have died due to police violence.

Muna Aikins: And it happens in Germany too! This is not only an American problem. It is also about thinking on how to show solidarity in a way that will bring about structural changes. Awareness itself is not enough. People need to share resources by making a long-term commitment with regard to equal rights for Black people. For this reason, I also view the developments of the last few weeks with caution. Action has to follow. It remains to be seen what will happen in the coming months and years.

Have you been in touch with other organized Afro-Communities in Europe?

Muna Aikins: Our colleague Karen Taylor is the person responsible for political communication at EOTO eV in the European Network Against Racism (ENAR). ENAR is a Brussels-based NGO working across Europe against racism, but also on migration issues in general. Among other things, there is a symposium on Black Perspectives in Science and Education, that EOTO organizes and in which we have exchanges with academics from European and British communities.

In 2018, the EU launched a publication called “Being Black in Europe”. For the first time, the European Parliament takes a stand on Anti-Black Racism and thus on the specific discrimination against people of African origin in Europe. Did the results influence your project?

Muna Aikins: About five hundred Black people from Germany were interviewed for “Being Black in Europe” on their experiences of racism and discrimination in Europe. But five hundred people are not enough for us, that is why we try to reach as many people as possible. We can also be a reference point for other European countries. The Afrozensus represents an important step beyond Germany’s borders. For example, we have also oriented ourselves towards the Black Census 2018 in the USA, which was surveyed for the very first time with 30,000 participants.

Teresa Bremberger: From a scientific perspective, we wanted to start by considering the state of research in this area. “Being Black in Europe” was one of many orientation points for us. Whereas the discrimination experience of people with direct experience of migration from sub-Saharan Africa was surveyed there, we include all Black people in Germany. Furthermore, our survey is specifically related to the Black community in Germany. German-speaking countries such as Switzerland and Austria can follow on more easily.

And on a supranational level: what measures must the EU undertake against Anti-Black Racism?

Teresa Bremberger: The EU must not view this in isolation, but consider the relevance of other issues: for example, when it comes to migration. We live in an EU that in some instances refuses to accept refugees completely. This also is linked to the image that people in some EU countries have of Black people. Action plans and strategies against Anti-Black Racism must be developed together. Europe must acknowledge its own history - and that colonialism has led to many Black people living in EU countries today. Here the EU is not fulfilling its responsibilities.

Muna Aikins: Anti-Black Racism is too big for the fight against it to be considered only on a national level. Europe is turning into a fortress and we have to take a comprehensive look at the reason for this. Particularly with regard to police violence, a German but also a European solution must be found. Conversely, a European solution can bring about change at the national level more quickly. People who experience police violence in Europe are mainly refugees, be it at the borders, in refugee camps or in everyday life. This is a European responsibility that is being neglected. We speak a lot about the United States, but we must talk about what is happening here.

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