The Absent Presence of Race in Postwar Germany

On October 20, IES was pleased to have Prof. Rita Chin of the University of Michigan present on the historical, political, and cultural contexts surrounding the reason why the term Rasse, or race, has been so controversial in German political discourse, unlike in the United States where it is still frequently used. Chin divided her lecture that was attended by 21 people into three parts: 1. The historical context that rendered guest workers or immigrants “invisible” in Germany society; 2. Psychic patterns in public pronouncements; and 3. Cognitive limits of race as category in public discourse.

Chin began by discussing a quote from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who declared in October 2010 that “multiculturalism had completely failed in Germany.” It was this statement that prompted Chin to contemplate the task of approaching racism, which according to her present in reality yet absent from sources and public discourse because Germans tend to shy away from using the term Rasse. According to Chin, the conspicuous lack of discussion on the topic of race in Germany constitutes a particular epistemological obstacle. While she admits that there is a lot of “slippage” with the term Rasse due to the manifold negative or eugenic connotations involved with its use during the Nazi regime, she suggests that Germany might try to re-appropriate the term Rasse and invest it with critical possibilities so that public discussion on racism and immigration might in the future be more productive and beneficial. You can watch Chin's presentation on YouTube.