"There must be a responsibility for society as a whole to combat racism and discrimination."
Elisabeth Kaneza : First of all, thank you for your interest in interviewing me. An important milestone for me is the founding of the Kaneza Foundation. It has existed as an organization since 2016 and before that we worked as an initiative. Our focus areas are human rights, equal opportunities and diversity. Accordingly, on the one hand we do educational work on these focal points, but also advocacy and empowerment projects with communities and human rights activists.
Another milestone for me is my research on the rights of black people in Germany. Here I examine how the human rights obligations regarding the fight against racism and discrimination are implemented in Germany.
DevelopMind: Maybe you can go into a bit more detail right away: What phase of your research are you in right now and can you give a little insight into the project and your results?
Elisabeth Kaneza: I am in the final phase of my doctorate. On the one hand, I focus on the discrimination that is prohibited on the basis of the characteristic of "race". This characteristic is recognized in international law as well as in national law and is also listed in the prohibitions on discrimination. On the one hand, I look at the Basic Law, where the prohibition of discrimination is listed in Article 3 and at what measures we have in Germany to enforce this right. On the other hand, I also look at what measures are in place to promote equality for black people. In other words, there is the human rights principle that there should be no discrimination and at the same time equality should be promoted. I look at how these two priorities are being implemented nationally.
My point of view is that in Germany, compared to other countries, we have not yet made it so far that we can derive an equal rights requirement for all groups affected by discrimination from the ban on discrimination in Article 3 of the Basic Law. And I'd like to help change that for the better.
DevelopMind: So that would be the political level. What other societal components for equality can you derive?
Elisabeth Kaneza: It has several levels: On the one hand, as I just said, there needs to be legal requirements that make it possible to have positive action for affected groups. On the other hand, it must be possible to shape a policy of diversity. For example, I look at what structures exist, that e.g. B. Those affected by racism and discrimination can be strengthened and that they can be helped. In Germany, for example, we have the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency and it does important work. Nevertheless, it must be said that it is currently unable to capture the discrimination that can emanate from state agencies. In my view, this is a gap that can be closed. Another aspect concerns independent complaints bodies. A lot happens at the state level, but even here the structures in Germany are not so well developed, or the information is not so widely spread that those affected by discrimination always know where to turn. Then there is also the issue of racial profiling [ 1 ] . Complaints offices are important because the discrimination comes from a state actor, namely the police. In these cases in particular, it is not always easy for those affected to go to the police and report an infringement.
DevelopMind: In your opinion, how can it be possible for racism to be discussed as a structural phenomenon as well as for society as a whole and for each individual to become aware of his or her responsibility within the racist system?
Elisabeth Kaneza: I think it's important that we discuss racism at a societal level and also make racism visible. What I find difficult is when it is then understood in a simplified way. Namely that it is something that exists but is difficult to grasp for the majority. But the reality is quite different: namely, that racism arises from the fact that ideologies dominate and that these are solidified. Either because you accept them, or because you keep reproducing these ideologies through actions. And for those affected, this is a reality. It's nothing that theoretically happens for them. This is quite handy. It may be difficult for those who are not affected to understand this, especially when we are also talking about experiences that, unlike decades ago, are not always so obvious. Today we also have forms of racism that are not very obvious, such as microaggressions that have a dimension of violence that is not always obvious. But everyday racism takes place and everyday discrimination also takes place without it always having to be a visible violent act. I think that because there are so many different forms, it can be easy to absolve yourself of that, because then you compare and maybe find out for yourself that on an individual level you are not engaging in highly racist acts against anyone. What I also see as a challenge in Germany is that we have a history that is exemplary of what racism is: namely the experience of National Socialism and also the experience of the Holocaust. It is very important that we always have this historical reference to recognize what can happen when racism and discrimination are socially, structurally and above all politically promoted and also implemented as politics. At the same time, comparisons with the past must not lead to the conclusion that, because we have overcome this past, there are no longer any groups affected by racism and discrimination.
DevelopMind: What can we do as individuals and as a society to overcome and abolish racism?
Elisabeth Kaneza: It's not easy and you have to look at many aspects. Of course, an important aspect is education: that we as a society start with education very early on, so that a basis is created for diversity, tolerance and respect. Above all, respect for the individual in society. I think that's very important. On the other hand, it also needs a critical and above all self-critical reflection from many different places in society, many organizations, institutions in order to be able to see racist structures at all. I think that's difficult where diversity isn't visible today. In many cases, it is first necessary for people who are affected by racism and discrimination to enter certain rooms at all, and then the topics of racism and discrimination are discussed. When that happens, it's very positive. At the same time, however, it is also the case that this cannot be the basic requirement for racist structures to be illuminated and abolished. There must be – and this is very important – an understanding that society must be free from racism and discrimination, and this affects all social spaces and places.
The lack of diversity should be seen as a sign that an institution or an organization may have a problem with diversity, with integration and with inclusion. What I mean by that is: if an institution or an organization does not see any diversity in the team or in the organization, not to leave it as if you have to wait until people from certain groups apply or are accepted, but also to be proactive and to ask the question: How can we become more diverse ourselves and what can we do about it?
DevelopMind : You already mentioned that anti-discrimination education is important to drive change in thinking. What opportunities do you see in development policy and intercultural educational work, and what challenges do you see there?
Elisabeth Kaneza: I think in this area the main thing is that there is no homogeneous picture or understanding, but that there are diverse perspectives. And it's about making these perspectives visible. That's why I think the first thing that's important here is that we don't talk about people, about groups, about countries, but that there is always a dialogue, that those affected and their perspectives are included on an equal footing and that they themselves are speakers . I think that's very, very important. Because we often see that a Eurocentric perspective exists because the narratives that have been told for a long time are reproduced again and again, because at some point they are considered the norm and are told as "the" perspective. It is very important to experience that there are different and equal perspectives and that they are heard and included. The challenge, of course, is that you have to do it in a context that is not equal. If I look at development cooperation as an example: I see many positive developments in that people want to bring together perspectives, that they also want to create cooperation on an equal footing, but that is often made more difficult by the fact that the balance of power is not the same internationally . So that someone from the European area still has advantages over someone who is in the African context. And I believe there are many ways to overcome this inequality. I see that digitization is increasingly becoming a tool to bring people together without the distances being too big a barrier. But here, too, you have to make sure that there are concepts that are inclusive right from the start. These are both opportunities, but as I said, also challenges.
DevelopMind: We are currently in the UN Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). What does it mean for black people in Germany?
Elizabeth Kaneza: From my point of view, the decade is very important and I was lucky that I was involved from the start, when the decade started internationally and then also took place in Germany. In 2015 I was a fellow of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and in this context I was able to learn a lot about the decade that also began in 2015. After my fellowship, I worked on promoting the decade in Germany. On the one hand, that it becomes known and, on the other hand, that we as communities can also get involved in the Decade, that we can bring forward the demands for recognition, justice and development and that we can also help politics to carry out and perceive this Decade . A lot has happened since then. I would say the decade has also helped black people become more visible. For example, since 2017 we have had a new federal government action plan against racism. This action plan also refers to the UN Decade and uses this as an opportunity to take more account of the situation of black people and to focus on their discrimination and racism.
But a lot more could happen. We are now halfway through the decade and from my point of view we are still slow here in Germany. And the fact is that the decade is also initiated by the civilian population. It would be good if more action could also be seen from the state side. But something is happening here too, due to the demands that are being made. You can also see that there have been reactions and actions at the federal level. I think we can still do more overall, especially considering that the decade will end in 2024.
DevelopMind: How do you bring your results or your work from research together with your work in the Foundation? What does your everyday life as a human rights activist look like?
Elisabeth Kaneza: I would say that my two areas of work enrich each other. I can bring the work I do as a human rights activist to my research. And vice versa as well. I can use the knowledge that I acquire as part of my research to advance my work as a human rights activist, because above all it is important knowledge about human rights.
As a human rights activist, I am active in many areas: on the one hand in the activities within the Kaneza Foundation and as its chair. We do a lot of projects, but I also take part in consultations with organizations and institutions. I am also active as a human rights trainer and offer educational opportunities both nationally and internationally.
DevelopMind : What projects are you currently planning in the Foundation and how can your work be supported?
Elisabeth Kaneza: We are always happy when people are interested in our work. On our website or on our social media you can see what we are planning in the near future. We look forward to cooperation opportunities. You can also support our work with a donation.
DevelopMind: Is there anything else you would like to get rid of?
Elisabeth Kaneza: One message I would like to convey is that it is important, especially in the context of racism, that those affected experience solidarity. This is of great importance because it is necessary for those affected to report on their experiences of racism. However, it must be understood that those affected are not the ones who have a duty to abolish or overcome racism. You are certainly making an important contribution to this. There must be a responsibility for society as a whole to combat racism and discrimination. It is important for me to say this because I think that many people are right to ask what their contribution can be if they are not affected by racism. And the first thing you can do is show solidarity and actually look at how you can use your position in society to fight racism.
DevelopMind: Thank you very much, Elisabeth, for the exciting interview!
More about Elisabeth Kaneza, her work and the Foundation:
[ 1 ] "Racial profiling" refers to the method in which police measures such as identity checks, investigations and surveillance are carried out based on the physical appearance, such as skin color or facial features of a person (cf. https://www.institut-fuer-menschenrechte. de/topics/racial-discrimination/racial-profiling)
An interview with Elisabeth Kaneza about her research, her work as a human rights activist and what would be necessary to actively combat racism and discrimination in Germany.
DevelopMind: Dear Elisabeth, when I look at your CV, I am overwhelmed by what you have already done and what you are currently doing. Perhaps you would like to introduce yourself, tell a little bit about yourself and what are the most important milestones in your work?
Photo: Elizabeth Kaneza