Makda Isak did her volunteer service in Tanzania from 2012 to 2013, and now she’s studying sociology in Frankfurt. Since 2015 Makda has been involved with Weltwärts in Color. This is where volunteers who experience racial discrimination meet. The name Weltwärts in Color is drawn from the term People of Color. A name chosen by people who are seen as non-white by the white majority society and who therefore miss out on many privileges enjoyed by the majority society.
You founded Weltwärts in Color because you experience racism in everyday life in Germany. We keep hearing the term “everyday racism” used. What exactly is this?
Makda Isak: Everyday racism often takes place without people intending it to. For example, when I get to know someone somewhere and they won’t accept that I am German. Everyday racism is something subtle. You get minor remarks such as: “You’re not from here, are you?” or “How long have you been in Germany?” I mean, I was actually born here! It’s often difficult to coherently articulate experiences such as these and interpret them as racist.
Everyday racism often happens without intention.
What made you two, as former volunteers of colour, team up?
Makda Isak: Support seminars also tackle racism. But the issue is often only given one single afternoon to be dealt with. The methods used are mostly aimed at making whites aware of their whiteness. The fact there are people of colour in the same room is not considered. Then, it can happen that participants of colour are the victims of racist remarks. For example, when participants are asked the question, ”What does ‘being German’ mean to you?” and they answer with, “German ancestors, white skin, etc.”. This is a continuation of discrimination in society, carrying it over into the seminars.
Many team members cannot handle the topic, the incidents get washed over without listening to those discriminated against. Instead, they tend to protect the unsettled whites, who really should have to scrutinise their privileges. This occurs in spite of the fact that it is the people of colour whose feelings have been hurt and who have been marginalised. We promote empowerment spaces, where people can retreat to.
What precisely is empowerment?
Makda Isak: The term “empowerment” covers measures that help people to increase their power and self-determination. I need a place where I can relate my experiences without doubt being cast on them. When accompanied by others, it is easier to remain above the situation and to say: It isn’t my fault that I am being discriminated against now. Then, I ask myself: In which situations can I and do I want to respond to racism?
You don’t have to go straight away and speak to whoever has discriminated against you; just talking to a friend on the phone can make things easier. I think it’s important to report such incidents to anti-discrimination bodies. Only by documenting racism can awareness be raised in society.
What do you demand from politicians who are responsible?
Makda Isak: First they have to admit that Germany has a racism problem. All too often, racism is seen as a problem from skinheads or the AfD political party, rather than Grandma or our fellow students who might vote SPD. An important step to take here would be to include anti-racist development education work in school timetables.
Only by documenting racism can awareness be raised in society.
And in the weltwärts programme? Has anything changed already here in the last few years?
Makda Isak: Some organisations are aware of the problem. We receive requests to support volunteers of color in seminars. Most planning processes pay no heed to the fact that people of colour also participate. We see time and again the urgent need to make trainers aware of this issue.
weltwärts is often depicted as an exchange programme. In the end, young Germans travel to countries in the Global South and support projects there. It is good that in recent years people from the Global South have also been able to do volunteer service in Germany. But unfortunately this exchange sometimes fails because these people are denied a visa. Racism within the weltwärts programme thus affects not only volunteers of Color from Germany, but also volunteers from the Global South
Birte Mensing was asking the questions for mitten.drin I freiwilligenmagazin.de