Minorities In Germany Are Sounding Off Against Racism With #MeTwo Hashtag
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In Germany, the #MeToo movement is in the headlines again, but it is being used in a different way. It is #MeTwo – T-W-O in English – and it’s a hashtag minorities are using to share stories of racism. Many tweets describe discrimination that starts in early childhood and follows people into their adult lives. Here’s reporter Esme Nicholson.
ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: It’s early evening at a Berlin bar where hip, young things sip artisanal gin cocktails. Miriam Davoudvandi is among them and feels right at home – until the barman asks her where she’s really from. Davoudvandi was born in Romania to an Iranian father and Romanian mother, and she’s been living in Germany since she was 6. She’s one of many Germans with a so-called migration background who’s taken to Twitter to share her #MeTwo story.
MIRIAM DAVOUDVANDI: (Through interpreter) It started in elementary school. I was a good student and thought that kids with good grades like me end up at the more academic high school. But my teachers said I’d be better off among my own sort at a more vocational school.
NICHOLSON: Davoudvandi’s parents ignored her teachers’ advice, and she went to the more academic school and then to university. But she says she faces the same discrimination 20 years later.
DAVOUDVANDI: (Through interpreter) I’ve been looking for an apartment for a month without hearing back from any landlords. So my boyfriend and I decided to look for one together. He’s German, blond and blue-eyed, with the right kind of name. And, lo and behold, we got five offers in no time at all.
NICHOLSON: Meike Bonefeld from the University of Mannheim says that if Germany wants to tackle racism, it has to start at school. And she says it’s the teachers who are in need of education. Her latest study looks at the behavior of trainee teachers who are tasked with grading tests.
MEIKE BONEFELD: (Through interpreter) Our studies showed that students with foreign names were given lower grades than students with German names, even if they made the same number of mistakes.
NICHOLSON: Bonefeld says this bias, which has also shown up in previous studies, is causing long-term damage. At a playground in central Berlin, a group of children are making the most of their freedom before school starts again. One elementary school teacher here says these kids could be in for very different experiences at school. She spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing her job.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) I have colleagues who have stigmatized pupils of Arab or Turkish descent without even getting to know them, lowering the children’s expectations about what they can achieve.
NICHOLSON: She says at the official school policy of inclusion is far from a reality.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) Some teachers complain that kids with non-German names are assigned to their classes. More often than not, more tolerant colleagues end up teaching the students the others don’t want.
NICHOLSON: While Berlin’s state education authorities wouldn’t comment, Germany’s Teachers Association acknowledges there are problems. Heinz-Peter Meidinger is its president.
HEINZ-PETER MEIDINGER: (Through interpreter) The #MeTwo debate is definitely a sign that schools need to take a long, hard look at themselves. But I don’t believe racism is widespread among teachers in Germany. These are one-offs.
NICHOLSON: But figures suggest that these are not isolated incidents. Research shows that 19-32 percent of Germans with foreign roots are encouraged to go to a more academic school, compared with 45 percent of Germans whose parents were born here. Meidinger, who’s also a school principal, says there’s good reason for this disparity.
MEIDINGER: (Through interpreter) I’ve often recommended that students with immigrant backgrounds might be better off at another school, one with lower academic standards, where foreign languages are not on the syllabus. This isn’t discrimination, but an attempt to offer the best opportunities.
NICHOLSON: Back at the bar in Kreuzberg, Davoudvandi says she remembers hearing the same argument at school.
DAVOUDVANDI: (Through interpreter) A high school teacher said I’d never be a grade-A student because German is not my mother tongue. Now I’m an editor in chief of a magazine, proof enough of my German skills.
NICHOLSON: Davoudvandi is fluent in five languages. But she says she was lucky. Unless more people start to call out the de facto segregation in schools, she says racism will thrive instead of the children. For NPR News, I’m Esme Nicholson in Berlin.