How is Germany dealing with racism? Q&A with activist, author and ADEFRA co-founder Ika Hügel-Marshall

23.11.2020 - Article

The GIC Africa spoke to celebrated Afro-German activist Ika Hügel-Marshall and her perspective regarding Germany’s efforts to tackle racism.

Your world-renowned book Invisible Woman: Growing Up Black in Germany, recounts your experiences growing up as a mixed race child in post-World War II Germany. Comparing your life then and now, in the context of personally experiencing racial discrimination, has anything changed?

Ika Hügel-Marshall
Activist and author Ika Hügel-Marshall© Ika Hügel-Marshall

Something has changed as I've gotten older. This means that in the course of my life I have learned to deal with racist hostility. As a child I did not know that being black means to be discriminated against, to experience no human appreciation, to be excluded from society, not to be part of society. Today Germany is  a multicultural society, and the Afro-German community is growing. I fought for my place in society and took a place in the Afro-German community. Racism is still there. More subtle in my childhood, more open and direct today.

Germany is one of many European countries struggling to tackle the scourge of racism and discrimination. From the outside looking inwards, it’s difficult to see what exactly is being done to foster more tolerance. In your view, what plans or policies currently in place are working?

As long as parties such as the AFD have a voice in our [parliament], I find it difficult to believe in fundamental changes with regard to racism and discrimination in our society or in decisive changes. We have an anti-discrimination law which is rarely applied. As long as there are right-wing tendencies in the police force, or in other institutions, we will still have to deal with racism. Our government should speak out against racism much more aggressively and act accordingly. 

What more do you think can be done to encourage anti-racism in Germany, and should this be tackled from an institutional or day-to-day level, or both?

To combat racism it has to take place at both the institutional and day-to-day levels. 

You had a deeply personal friendship with American activist Audre Lorde. What's one of the most impactful things that you learned from her, especially in terms of black feminist politics?

Ika Hügel-Marshall (third from left) and American feminist activist Audre Lorde (fifth from the left) with the initiative Schwarze Deutche in 1990.
Ika Hügel-Marshall (third from left) and American feminist activist Audre Lorde (fifth from the left) with the initiative Schwarze Deutche in 1990.  © Ika Hügel-Marshall

To be proud of me. Not to be silent as a black woman. Calling on white feminists to address racism. To position myself proudly as a black woman and to demand the respect that is the same for us as it is for all other people.

As an activist and co-founder of ADEFRA (Initiative for Black Women in Germany), what advice can you give young German women who want to follow in your footsteps stand up against racism and discrimination?

[Be] proud of yourself, your skin color and your origin. Demand respect where it is necessary. [Do] not to fight a fight that cannot be won while at the same time fighting with allies where necessary. Enjoy life, even if it is not always that easy.

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