December 17 2021
Even in the classroom, children with a migration history sometimes experience racism.BR
“Go back to your country.” That’s what a classmate said to her in elementary school, Chanel says – even though she was born in Germany. “He mostly annoyed me because of my skin color and treated me differently than the other girls,” the 11-year-old said in her room in the Munich area. Luckily, her friends came to her rescue. Chanel wants to talk to Bayerischer Rundfunk about her story to raise awareness about racism: “That you also know that there are some children who suffer from it.”
Particularly affected: Children with dark skin
Almost seven out of ten children and young people with a migrant background experience everyday racism in Germany – and almost all of them have dark skin. This is the result of a representative study by the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television at Bayerischer Rundfunk (IZI). Muslim children are also frequently affected.
Everyday racism includes, for example, the constant questioning of one’s “real” origin, jokes and stereotypical attributions or the supposed compliment: “You speak good German”. To some, this may seem harmless. But it is constantly suggested: “You are different from us. You don’t really belong. You’re something exotic,” says IZI’s Manda Mlapa. This is hurtful – especially at a young age when children want to belong.
When the person sitting next to you makes racist remarks
The study documents a broad spectrum of everyday racism: children report insults such as “black plague” or “brown chocolate”. From classmates not letting her play. That people want to grab their hair or stare at their hijab. Being called ugly or having others make fun of their parents’ country of origin. Some even experience physical attacks.
In most cases, insults come from peers. But even teachers are not immune to racism. Manda Mlapa tells the story of a 12-year-old who, because of his father’s Turkish origins, is always expected to comment on the culture there – in front of the whole class. “He welcomes honest interest, gladly in a one-on-one conversation. But this being special in front of the class, that bothers him the most.” Many children have found strategies to deal with racism – from quick-witted answers to ignoring it to solidarity among friends. But: Many feel left alone with everyday racism. The researchers therefore call for a better support system – and urgently more education about racism.How do children experience everyday racism? Chanel, 11 years old, tells us about it.
Nursery and primary school age is a sensitive phase
Tried and tested materials and teaching units on the subject have so far been available mainly for older children, says the head of the study Dr. Maya Götz – not for nursery and primary school age. However, this is precisely the pedagogically sensitive phase. “Scientific studies can show very accurately that the fundamentals of the sense of we, that is, who are we? And who are the others? That is laid in kindergarten and primary school.” Anti-racist education for children must start early, he said. In addition, there is a need for more and comprehensive further training for educators and teachers and for tried and tested explanatory materials and teaching units for the respective age groups.
Younger children are often not trusted to understand racism
Why aren’t younger children even more central to racism prevention? Many people mistakenly think that younger children cannot be racist and do not exclude anyone. Or do not trust younger people to understand the complex topic, BR learns in background interviews. Some teachers do not consider awareness-raising necessary because of a low level of migration in the school.
Eva Feldmann-Wojtachnia from the Center for Applied Policy Research at the LMU Munich also believes: “Because it seems a bit daunting as political education, I think the problem is that educators or primary school teachers are simply a bit shy about it. In addition, there is no place for it in the training. In principle, however, the interest is definitely there: After a model project for primary schools, which Feldmann-Wojtachnia helped to develop, there are still requests from schools.
School without racism: only 26 pure primary schools participate
Around 700 schools in Bavaria are part of the network “School without Racism – School with Courage”. Only 26 of these are purely primary schools. “Racism is considered by many to be more of a topic for Gymnasium, Realschule and Mittelschule,” says Eva Riedl from the Bavarian State Coordination. For many primary school teachers, other things would be in the foreground. “Perhaps there is also a desire to protect the children and not confront them – although PoC children are also confronted with racism at an early age.” PoC stands for People of Color. For children under ten years of age, there are significantly fewer educational offers, although early education is important.
Are projects just wastepaper?
It is controversial how much “School without Racism” actually achieves. This is because it is not an award for a high level of commitment, but a voluntary commitment with low requirements. Nevertheless, Eva Riedl does not consider the project to be a fig leaf. “Simply speaking, it’s too much work for that. You commit to doing a project once a year, some do much more, such as actions on social issues like the US ‘Black lives matter’ movement.”Children and young people develop different strategies to counter racism. Chanel and Soyii, best friends, support each other.BR
Roßtal primary school: initial scepticism among teachers
At the end of 2014, the Roßtal primary school near Nuremberg became one of the first pure primary schools in Bavaria to become a “school without racism” – on the initiative of the children. The prerequisite is that at least 70 percent at the school agree to some kind of code of values. “Of the teaching staff, only a few signed on at first. The overall tenor was: this is something for older children,” says teacher Monika Lang. “In the meantime, however, the college is very much behind it.”
There are even materials for younger children, says Lang, such as picture books. In addition, one can become active oneself. At Roßtal primary school, the children have written poems, performed musicals, made animated films and read books on tolerance. Often on their own initiative. “A lot of stuff comes from the kids,” Lang says. A creative and descriptive approach is important, for example through handicrafts, theatre games or eating.
It takes time to go in depth
Fun is important – but so is time to build trust, says Feldmann-Wojtachnia of the Center for Applied Policy Research. It is not possible to go into sufficient depth on a single project day. She has helped to develop a model project for primary schools. On a total of four days, various teams came to the schools. In the beginning, the workshops dealt a lot with a topic that at first glance has nothing to do with racism: self-esteem. For example, the children made clay figures to represent their strengths. Or had to give specific compliments to their classmates.
Plasticine figures and ego feeling
“To really reach the children in their hearts, it is important that they themselves first understand: I am very important, and I have special features,” says Feldmann-Wojtachnia. Internalising this is the key to breaking down stereotypes and prejudices. By looking inwards, children would learn to approach others in a very personal way: not to think in templates, but to perceive and understand others individually: We are all different – but equal and on an equal footing.
Only later did exercises deal directly with exclusion and racism. The children were presented with photos and had to say what was strange to them about them: for example, a woman with a headscarf, refugees, a punk, a gay couple. In the workshop we asked: Why? Does something frighten you? What is normal? What do you use to define normal? This is how you get the children to think. However, the model project was not continued due to lack of funding.
Ministries satisfied with prevention of racism
The Bavarian Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs as well as the Ministry of Family Affairs emphasise in general statements that children are sensitised to racism in kindergarten and primary school. For day-care children, however, the topics are very abstract: “Individual projects focusing on specific topics are therefore not very suitable for this age group,” writes the Ministry of Family Affairs in response to a question from BR. Instead, protection against discrimination is anchored as a cross-cutting issue “in all pedagogical areas of the day-to-day life of a day-care centre”.
The Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs states that tolerance and respectful behaviour are compulsory subjects in primary schools, for example, in home and science lessons and in ethics and religion. In addition, there are always project days on the topic, and democracy education and the prevention of extremism are also part of teacher training. The Ministry refers teachers to http://www.wertebildung.bayern.de for practical suggestions. There you will also find ideas for smaller children, for example for plays or project weeks. Elsbeth Bräuer