Open letter to the textbook publishers Westermann Schroedel Diesterweg Schöningh Winklers GmbH

November 14, 2013

Image of Africa in textbooks (Diercke Geographie 8, Westermann; Seydlitz Geographie 8, Schroedel)

Recently, we have been made aware several times by parents and students that stereotypical, sometimes racist images about people of African origin and the African continent prevail in textbooks on the subject of geography. Black people appear here mainly as helpless and passive, “speechless” victims or are part of ridiculous dehumanizing caricatures. In the textbook, they are exoticized, sexualized, and located as non-European, although they are just as much a part of German society.

Such hierarchical messages lead teachers and students to use terms without reflection and reinforce stereotypical attitudes towards Black people. Involuntarily, colonial images and role conceptions are thus perpetuated, which can lead to transmissions and have a detrimental effect on students of African origin in the classroom. Nationwide research has shown that racist content of this kind is found in all the books analyzed (cf. also Dr. Elina Marmer, University of Hamburg: project “Image of Africa in Education”).

We refer here by way of example to the Bavarian editions, since in these the subject area “Africa” is treated most extensively, leading to the greatest accumulation of racist representations. In addition, the editions for other German states contain isolated attempts to criticize racism, which are completely absent from these Bavarian textbooks.

The topic complex Africa (according to the Bavarian curriculum, Gymnasium, Geography, 8th grade) is treated in the current textbook editions of Diercke Geography 8 (Dietersberger et al., 2006, Westermann) and Seydlitz Geography 8 (Büttner et al., 2006, Schroedel) under cross-sectional topics such as “wars, crises, diseases, disasters, crime”. The pre-colonial history, cultures and philosophies of African societies are barely mentioned. Derogatory content, images and terminology are assigned to Africa and reflect colonial racist thought patterns. Right at the beginning of the textbook edition of Diercke Geography 8, students are asked to assign the faces of people according to racial aspects continentally (Diercke, p. 8f). The reproduction of a culturalizing image of man means a reproduction of racism in the educational context. The UN human rights conventions also refer to this.

Terms such as “negrid” (Diercke, p. 68), “Black Africa” (Diercke, et al. p.68; Seydlitz, et al. p. 87), “tribes” (Diercke, p. 84), “white African” (Seydlitz, p. 93), “mulatto” (Seydlitz, p. 135), “half-breed” (Seydlitz, p. 118), and “race” (et al.Diercke, p. 90, Seydlitz, p. 118, among others) belong to a racializing language entrenched in the colonial and National Socialist tradition and practice of thought. This implies the already scientifically refuted false assumption of the existence of different “races”. Accordingly, even the continent of Africa is divided in two in textbooks and marked as “black” in order to make an artificially constructed distinction according to “civilizational aspects” from a colonial racist perspective. In this context, the regular assessment of teaching materials from the perspective of racism-critical aspects is important, so that racism is not legitimized and not made acceptable at the expense of affected minorities (cf. also: Laja, Modupe (2009): Alltagsrassismus und institutioneller Rassismus anhand dem Beispiel Schule. In: Landeshauptstadt München Direktorium, Antidiskriminierungsstelle für Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund, AMIGRA München (ed.): Dokumentation Fachtagung “München Schwarz Weiß. Everyday Racism” 11.12.08 Munich).

Black persons are repeatedly referred to in the aforementioned teaching materials only as field or fieldworkers. plantation workers (e.g. Diercke, p. 66f; Seydlitz, p. 122). This suggests that these are the only intended natural roles for them in the world of work. Sources for photographs are missing (Diercke, p. 84; Seydlitz, p. 98f, 133). Furthermore, we would like to point out that in particular the personal rights of (black) children are significantly violated in these textbooks. An approximately 9-year-old child with a weapon (“child soldier”) (Diercke, p. 84, Seydlitz, p. 98) and a terminally ill child supposedly infected with HIV (Diercke, p. 90) are depicted. In addition, the necessary source information and names for the identity of those depicted are missing. No corresponding images of white children appear in this book that exude this high potential for violence. In one book, a Black girl is shown wearing a condom and the text next to her refers to the incompetence of Black men in using condoms (Seydlitz, p. 97). By relating only Black people to these issues, the authors responsible criminalize and sexualize them, including children in particular, through representation and language. By the nature of representations, “white” is constructed as a norm and “black” antithetically to it as an abnorm.

Political topics and systems such as colonialism, development aid and apartheid are sometimes referred to inaccurately and misleadingly in the textbooks (Diercke, pp. 71, 91f; Seydlitz, pp. 118, 134). Information and facts that reveal the active influence of Europeans on political (apartheid, dictatorships) and economic systems that are dysfunctional for African societies are concealed. It is impossible to expose a system of injustice as inhumane if racist terms from this system are used in a legitimized form to explain it. The artificially constructed, invented “racial” divisions are part of such systems of injustice and power.

The myth that population growth is the cause of poverty, which was already scientifically disproved in the last century, is stubbornly propagated (Diercke, pp. 72, 82). Terms such as “population explosion” (Diercke, p. 82) are used, which are considered inappropriate in scientific literature because of their dehumanizing effect. The term “development” is sometimes used uncritically; behind it lies the Eurocentrist colonial racist assumption that all societies must follow the Western model. The so-called “development aid” of the West is uncritically presented as positive (Diercke, p. 73), while the self-benefits (regulation of immigration, securing of raw materials, strategic and economic advantages, political dependence) are completely concealed. Ultimately, the role of the IMF in the deterioration of the social systems of many African states and their systematic disadvantage on the world market is not discussed at all. Many contexts are simply poorly researched and misrepresented (e.g. Diercke, p. 87:The genocide in Rwanda is described as “confrontation with other tribes”).

If the authors are already so careless with these topics, how can students be expected to view them at the same level?

(Teaching) materials addressed to children and young people must be both diversity-conscious and critical of discrimination. It is urgently necessary to analyze and perceive childhood against the background of social relations of inequality and to take this into account accordingly in the knowledge production of teaching content aimed at young recipients (cf. also: Eggers, Maureen Maisha (2013): Diversity Matters. Thematizations of Equality and Difference in Education and Social Work Critical of Racism. In: Landeshauptstadt München Direktorium, Antidiskriminierungsstelle für Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund, AMIGRA München (Eds.): Documentation Symposium on Education and Social Work Critical of Racism. 23.03.12 Munich).

Open call:

– Revision of textbooks in terms of content and methodology from a racism-critical, diversity-conscious point of view in accordance with UN and EU conventions (see below)

– multi-perspective approach to the representation of the African continent, its history and people of African descent

– Avoidance of culturalizing ethnocentric stereotyping

– Consideration of our criticisms of the textbooks in the next textbook revision.

– Statement on the future handling of deficiencies to ensure non-discriminatory content and language in textbooks

We refer with our request among other things to the UN “General recommendation No. 34″ of 2011, the UN proclaimed Year of the “People of African Descent”. This recommendation is a deepening and interpretation of general international law and forms part of the declarations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the general human rights conventions.

The recommendation written by CERD in 2011 refers in particular to people from Africa and the African diaspora. With the ratification of Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany, and thus also every federal state, enters into the human rights obligation to ensure, among other things, non-discriminatory educational content and equal access to education:

1. review all the language in textbooks which conveys stereotyped or demeaning images, references, names or opinions concerning people of African descent and replace it with images, references, names and opinions which convey the message of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings.

Ensure that public and private education systems do not discriminate against or exclude children based on race or descent.

Take measures to reduce the school dropout rate for children of African descent.

4. consider adopting special measures aimed at promoting the education of all students of African descent, guarantee equitable access to higher education for people of African descent and facilitate professional educational careers.

5. act with determination to eliminate any discrimination against students of African descent.

Include in textbooks, at all appropriate levels, chapters about the history and cultures of peoples of African descent and preserve this knowledge in museums and other forums for future generations, encourage and support the publication and distribution of books and other print materials, as well as the broadcasting of television and radio programs about their history and cultures.

(Source: )

We request a statement and the initiation of steps on the part of the publishers as well as on the part of the institutions to review and revise the content of the textbooks according to the above-mentioned parameters, taking into account the above-mentioned aspects on the basis of the human rights conventions for a racism-critical approach to educational content.

Sincerely yours,

Joshua Kwesi Aikins (Political Scientist, Advisory Board ISD Bund e.V.)

Austen Brandt (Phoenix e.V.)

Prof. Maisha Eggers (Diversity and Childhood Studies, University of Magdeburg Stendhal).

Modupe Laja (Philologist, NeRaS Network Racism in Schools)

Dr. Felicitas Macgilchrist (Georg Eckert Institute – Leibniz Institute for International Textbook Research)

Dr. Elina Marmer (Educational Sciences, University of Hamburg)

Dr. Florence Tsagué (Political Scientist, University of Siegen)

This correspondence is conducted publicly. The cover letter as well as your response may be published for documentation and educational purposes.

Signatory Organizations:

NeRaS Network Racism in Schools (e.g. Hamburg, Munich)

AK Pan-Africanism e.V., Munich

Phoenix e.V.

ISD Federation e.V. Initiative Black People in Germany

ADEFRA e.V. Black Women in Germany

IAF e.V. Association of binational families and partnerships

AfricAvenir e.V., Berlin

Berlin Postcolonial

[muc] munich postcolonial

“NeRaS – Netzwerk Rassismus an Schulen”, contact address Munich:
Please use this email address if you are an individual or organization that would like to support and co-sign the letter at!”

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