School without racism - school with respect


My speech at the Ohm-Gymnasium in Erlangen

Dear teachers,

Dear Headmistress,

Dear Parents, Dear Parent Council,

But above all, Dear Students,

I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for renewing your commitment to the "School Without Racism" project today. I thank you for standing up against racism last week and showing your colours against exclusion and misanthropy under the motto "The Ohm is colourful". And finally, I would also like to thank you for giving me the courage to continue the fight against racism.

You can imagine that when I came to Germany as a young woman, many things were still different. Not only were the internet, smartphones and social media a distant future, but the freedoms that many people in our society enjoy today had to be fought for.

I'm sure many of you know that I was a teacher here at Ohm High School for many years. I was the first Black woman to teach here. Before that, I was the first Black woman to earn a doctorate at the Friedrich Alexander University. Later, I was the first Black woman city councillor in Germany in Erlangen and today I am one of very few Black people in the European Parliament.

I had to fight for the possibility to achieve all this. Moreover, many before me, people who fought without being rewarded, prepared my way. I want to tell you that everything you do today, when you stand up against racism and indifference, against misanthropy and exclusion, is not only for yourselves, but also and above all for everyone else.

I know it is hard to imagine what it is like to be affected by racism if you have never experienced it. And believe me, I wish you from the bottom of my heart that you will never experience it either. But imagine this for a moment: You are all between 11 and 18 years old today, which means that some of you will start studying next year or the year after. And now imagine that you decide to spend a semester abroad, a good choice, I want to say to you quickly. FAU, for example, has over 60 partnerships with universities abroad, such as with Taras Shevchenko University in Kiev, Ukraine.

But as you have probably all noticed, there is a war going on there. In a European country that is exactly 844 kilometres away from this point, war has been going on for just over two weeks. And in the midst of this horrific scenario, there are young black students who wanted to flee the war in the last few days and couldn't because they were stopped at the border because of the colour of their skin, sometimes for days.

You see, racism is not always far away, but it is always worth fighting against it. That is why I am even more pleased that you decided to donate the money you collected last week to a project for the evacuation and support of young black people from Ukraine. I would also like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this!

Finally, I would like to leave you with the following: Even though the big problems of our society like racism and discrimination often seem so big and unconquerable, the solution to these problems always starts in small ways. So how do each and every one of us fight racism every day?

For me, it starts with a simple insight, but one that is of great significance for each of us: we must not remain silent. "I'm not racist" is not and must not be the answer to racism.

As long as racism exists in our society, in our environment, in our neighbourhood, but above all in our own attitudes, prejudices, thought patterns, we cannot remain apathetic, but decide, every day, consciously or unconsciously, in our actions as well as in our inactions - where we stand, on which side we stand.

So it is not enough to simply be "not racist". No we have to be anti-racists, every day, every hour, every minute, always and everywhere. Racism requires counter-position, counter-speech, action, criticism and - what is always most difficult - self-criticism, self-examination. Anti-racism must be learned, practised, but above all lived.

You have shown here today that this is possible and that we are on the right track. If I were to come to Germany again today, I would certainly find a better country. We have courageous people like you to thank for that!

Thank you very much!