How did the International Weeks against Racism come about?

Sharpeville, South Africa: On the morning of 21 March 1960, between 5,000 and 7,000 people gathered at various locations in the small town 50 km south of Johannesburg. They responded to a call by the Pan African Congress (PAC), which had announced a five-day non-violent and peaceful protest.

People demonstrated against the apartheid regime’s passport laws. These regulated the “right of residence” of black South Africans.

The number of black people outside the “homelands” was thus to be kept to a minimum, but their labour was to remain available. The demonstrators set off in the direction of the police station in the centre of Sharpeville. The police kept the peaceful demonstrators at bay with low-flying aeroplanes and tear gas. The situation finally escalated shortly after 1pm, when the police fired into the crowd, allegedly in response to stone-throwers. The people fled in panic, the police continued to shoot. 69 people were killed, including eight women and ten children. Many – the figures vary from 180 to over 300 people – were injured, some of them seriously.

Six years later, in 1966, the United Nations proclaimed 21 March the “International Day to Overcome Racial Discrimination” to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre. In 1979, this day of remembrance was supplemented by an invitation from the United Nations to its member states to organise an annual week of action in solidarity with those affected by racism and their allies.

On 10 December 1996, International Human Rights Day, Nelson Mandela finally signed South Africa’s new democratic constitution into law in Sharpeville. 21 March is celebrated in South Africa as South African Human Rights Day.

Since 1994, the Intercultural Council has coordinated the initiatives and activities surrounding 21 March in Germany. In 2008, the campaign period was extended to two weeks due to the large number of events and increasing participation. In 2014, the Intercultural Council established the non-profit foundation for the International Weeks against Racism in order to secure this important work in the long term. Since January 2016, the project’s operational work has been organised by the Foundation for the International Weeks against Racism.

What is happening around us right now? 

The electoral success of right-wing populist parties, current studies and investigations (e.g. racist discrimination in access to housing), the normalisation of violence against refugees and hate speech in social media as well as daily personal experiences show how manifest racist thought structures are, how racism affects all areas of German society and how low the inhibition threshold is for this to lead to the use of violence.

It is therefore all the more important to recognise the underlying social concepts and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, to deal with (one’s own) patterns of thought and action and to embark together on a path critical of racism in order to change the internalised patterns of thought and socially entrenched structures of inequality.

The International Weeks against Racism, their cooperation partners and stakeholders can provide a variety of suggestions, impulses and mutual support for this difficult – but unavoidable – task.

Who are we and what do we want to do in Lüneburg?

On the initiative of Ñurka Casanova, people in Lüneburg also came together for the first time in 2015 to prepare events for the International Weeks against Racism 2016. At an initial public meeting, ideas for the approach to planning the action weeks were collected on the basis of social experience. An essential basic idea was the binding and continuous cooperation of an open planning group.

We are the planning group for the “Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society” that emerged in 2016.

In the following, we present our agenda, which was developed in 2018 and is constantly being adapted, as well as our mission statement for organising the series of events as part of the International Weeks against Racism in Lüneburg.

Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an open society 

The events organised as part of the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’ have the common goal of changing our society into a society that is critical of discrimination and racism.

This can only succeed if the organisers have dealt with the issue of racism themselves in advance.

Many of us have learnt to think, judge and act in a racist way from an early age, it just wasn’t called racism.

It sometimes seems difficult to admit that we – unconsciously or even against our good intentions – (re)produce racism. As organisers, we want to confront our racism in order to create a basis for truly solidary and anti-racist action.

We would like to see diverse participation. All people, initiatives, associations and organisations in our region are invited to make their contribution to an open society.

How can events take place during the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’?

  1. We have developed a mission statement. This includes the demands we place on ourselves. Those who take part in the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’ are also guided by this mission statement.
  2. We have a basic understanding of the definition of racism that we would like to share with the other organisers:
    • What requirements are necessary for the realisation of an event and are the topics suitable?
    • How do we envisage the willingness to work together successfully?
    • How can the reproduction of racism be prevented?
    • How can accessibility be created?
    • How can safe spaces be made possible?
    • What actually is multiple discrimination?

Dealing with these aspects is a prerequisite for participation in the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’. All interested parties should check for themselves whether these criteria appeal to them and can be supported by them.

We invite all interested people and organisations/institutions to take an active part in the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’ and look forward to working together with them

What does our mission statement look like?

The ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’ are organised by various institutions, civil society groups and individuals.

By organizing this annual series of events, we want to send out a clear signal for change in our society towards a community that is critical of discrimination and racism. With our wide range of events and campaigns, we would like to continue to work together in this tense political climate to encourage discussion of this complex topic.

‘Racism – cause and effect’. The aim is to work together to tackle the overall social task of living together in dignity.

For us, colonialism and racism are not issues of the past, but rather an integral part of everyday social life in Germany, which repeatedly calls for a critical debate.

We try to recognise our own entanglement in racist patterns and our own reproductions of internalised racist images of ourselves and others.

We try to recognise our own entanglement in racist patterns and our own reproductions of internalised racist images of ourselves and others.

We consider it necessary to reflect on our positionality, which can be both privileged and non-privileged, in order to expose racist power and inequality relations in society.

What do we mean by racism?

Our basic understanding of racism can be found in the following text (1):

‘Racism is the conscious and unconscious hierarchisation and discrimination of people on the basis of constructed differences of an external and/or cultural nature, which goes hand in hand with a division of society into those who belong (’us‘) and those who do not (’them”). The ascribed physiognomic and/or cultural differentiations are associated with positive (‘we’) or negative (‘you’) characteristics.

(character, morality, ability to reason, etc. …).

The existing balance of power (majority, legislation, money,

Staatsgewalt, Zugang zu Medien und Bildung, etc. …) setzen die Etablierung eines gesellschaftlichen “Wissens” um diese vermeintlichen Differenzen und künstlichen Zuschreibungen durch und ermöglichen damit Ausgrenzung und Unterdrückung der als nichtdazugehörig Definierten. At the same time, racism can serve as a justification for existing conditions of social inequality and as a legitimisation of domination and subjugation.

Racist acts are often not the result of malice, but of conscious or unconscious ignorance of the meaning and consequences of these acts.

Racist acts, even those that are not categorised as such by the perpetrators, are always degrading, discriminatory and serious in their consequences.

The social, structural anchoring of these practices of violence and dehumanisation points to racism as a phenomenon of the centre of society, which is expressed in the actions of individuals, but cannot be explained without the social anchoring.

Racist representations are passed on in the media and art, in education and science, which leads to a problematic normalisation of psychological and physical racist violence. Racism is subject to different historical and social developments and manifests itself accordingly in different social practices.

Racism is subject to different historical and social developments and manifests itself accordingly in different social practices.

Since there can be no division into races on biological grounds, any hierarchisation and discrimination must arise from artificially constructed differences, which in turn are reinforced or diminished by education and tradition.

Unfortunately, however, it is not the racist routines, traditions and structures that are perceived as problems in social discourse, but only the racist actions of individuals, preferably on the right fringe of society, who need to be informed, persuaded or prosecuted.

With these reactions focussing on individuals and individual cases, the structural instances of racist oppression and barriers, which are at least as important and decisive in the long term, are wrongly overlooked – whether intentionally or not, remains to be seen.

Anti-racism work therefore begins with educational work on the structures of the emergence, spread and exploitation of artificial external and/or cultural differences in people, as well as education on the serious degrading and discriminatory consequences of racism – even in the absence of malice and actions based on ignorance. At its core, anti-racism work manifests itself through actions that uncover and dissolve racist structures in order to remove the basis for individual racism.”

[1] NeRaS (Ne)tzwerk (R)assism (a)t (S)choolsSome formulations were taken from the websites of the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD- Bund) e.V. and the Informations- und Dokumentationszentrum für Antirassismusarbeit e.V. (IDA).

What commitments are necessary for the realisation of an event and are the topics suitable?

In the run-up to the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’, we as a planning group developed common criteria for content and event formats.

All organisers inform the plenum in advance which event they would like to hold. As a planning group, we offer support and guidance for questions and uncertainties.

We look forward to a variety of events that are critical of racism.

We as the planning group reserve the right not to include events that do not fulfil the criteria or do not fulfil them to the required extent. Together with all those involved, we want to take responsibility for the success of the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’.

How do we envisage a willingness to work together successfully?

A prerequisite for the success of a large series of events such as the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’ is the reliable and active cooperation of the organising groups and individuals. Participation in planning meetings is expressly desired and required.

The organisers are encouraged to promote interaction with each other and joint design. Events should be organised in such a way that there is no room for critical debates to reinforce the existing power relations in our society.

This must also be taken into account for the planning phase of the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’, as well as for the event formats beyond this.

Co-operation and joint events between those involved in the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’ are desirable and promote the community.

How can the reproduction of racism be prevented?

During the events of the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’, racism should not be repeated, perpetuated and multiplied. Racism can only be effectively dismantled if people without racist experiences emphasise the importance of becoming aware of their privileged position and are prepared to share their privileges.

The organisers have an interest in becoming aware of different power structures and questioning them. The organisers therefore take responsibility for a sensitive approach to their own choice of words and intervene in the event of discriminatory behaviour.

For example, they actively speak up to name racist contributions as such and can create other formulations themselves and/or with those present. The organisers also pay attention to who takes up a lot of space when speaking, for example, so that they can intervene to regulate this.

A responsible approach to copyright and authorship is of great importance in the context of racism. In particular, we expect the knowledge of marginalised groups (e.g. BIPoC [1] ), which is made available in events of the white German majority society, to be named and acknowledged as such.

[1] BIPoC is the abbreviation for Black, Indigenous, People of Colour and the term People of Colour (PoC) is explained further here. All these terms are political self-designations. What BIPoC have in common are shared experiences of racism, marginalisation from the majority society and collective attributions of ‘otherness’. In the majority society, ‘white’ is still regarded as the norm and non-white as a deviation from it. (Source: Tina Adomako, see also: https://missy– Status 02.11.2017

As a term, ‘people of colour’ refers to all racialised people who have different proportions of African, Asian, Latin American, Arab, Jewish, indigenous or Pacific Islander origins or backgrounds. It connects those who are marginalised by the white dominant culture and collectively devalued by the violence of colonial traditions and presences.

Source: Kein Nghi Ha- ‘People of Colour’ as a diversity approach in anti-racist self-naming and identity politics’. Siehe: Stand 02.11.2017

How can accessibility and social participation be created?

We hope that many people from all areas of civil society will take part. People should be able to take part in the events regardless of any individual restrictions.

The organisers are requested to be appropriately prepared for the participants in terms of language. In essence, it’s about being understandable, both in terms of language and expression. For individual events, this may mean considering a translation.

In order to enable people with limited financial means to attend events, a socially acceptable sliding scale should be considered for admission fees and accessibility.

Not only people with disabilities benefit from accessible event planning, but everyone. The event formats should be designed to avoid excluding people. To ensure that an event can be planned and organised with as few barriers as possible, the venue and its facilities should be as accessible as possible, include a low-barrier toilet and have enough space for everyone. Information regarding accessibility should be communicated together with the invitation.

It is advisable to enquire about a possible need for support. More information on the topic of accessible event planning can be found on the website of the Federal Accessibility Agency.

How can safe spaces be made possible?

Events are often embedded in a historical context. It should be noted that this can have a very individual meaning for the visitors. It could be, for example, that people who have suffered traumatising experiences of war, persecution and oppression do not want to visit historically relevant buildings or places associated with these themes.

Safe spaces should also be understood as offering participants a safe environment. This can also mean that people want to remain in an internal circle and that events are only organised for certain groups of people (e.g. women, BIPoC and religious communities).

The internal assembly of a group of people can promote a culture of trust. If, for example, an event is only held for BIPoC, then a protective space is created – for this time – against conscious and/or unconscious racist behaviour by people who practise racism.

Participants would therefore have more opportunities for a self-determined approach and scope for development within their event. This must be made possible and supported.

What actually is multiple discrimination?

The organisers of the ‘Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society’ want to develop and create awareness of the need to address multiple discrimination.

People are often discriminated against due to their membership of various (constructed) social groups, not just on the basis of a single characteristic, but are also exposed to various forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia, ableism (social marginalisation and discrimination against people with disabilities), classism, etc. This specific form of discrimination based on a combination of oppressive conditions constitutes multiple discrimination.

The combination of different forms of discrimination directed against a person creates new constructed discrimination and further reduces access to resources and their social influence.

It is important to realise that it is not enough to abolish a power relationship, such as sexism, while all other mechanisms of oppression remain intact.

See also: RCG – Magazin zu Intersektionalität AG Postkoloniale Migration(en) und Anti-Rassismus

The planning group

The planning group (2018) were: Kevin Beck, Tsepo Bollwinkel, Ñurka Casanova, Dirk Garvels, Isabel Gerstl, Bernd Grafe-Ulke, Nuria Miralles, Ulrike Steinert, Ludger Wessels

The planning group (since 2022) are: Ñurka Casanova, Isabel Gerstl, Bernd Grafe-Ulke, Nuria Miralles, Valentina Seidel, Ludger Wessels