NaDiRa short study: Recognising diversity in politics

On the Racism Sensitivity of Political Representatives in the Immigration Society

National Monitoring of Discrimination and Racism (NaDiRa)

Running time October 2020 until December 2020
Status Completed project

Project team:

  • Merve Schmitz-Vardar
  • Sarata Diane

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Project description:

The study investigated the awareness of political office holders in the Ruhr area with regard to racism. We were particularly interested in the following questions: To what extent are theoretical categories such as "trust", "solidarity" and "recognition" suitable as indicators for a racism-sensitive attitude of public officials? To which manifestations of racism are political office holders in a politically and culturally heterogeneous region sensitive, and how does this manifest itself? We analysed conversations with 16 politicians at municipal and regional level as well as with members of the state and federal parliaments in 2017 and 2020 from the Ruhr region.


The analyses of the conversations show that political representatives in the Ruhr area are aware of racism: public officials know that people are disadvantaged because of ascribed characteristics, but they rarely make explicit proposals for solutions. Furthermore, they generally associate racism with physical violence and understand it as an extreme form of 'xenophobia'. This sometimes gives the impression that the problem is not very big. The most important topics in the interviews were the discrimination of people of Turkish origin, 'prejudices' against Sinti*zze and Rom*nja as well as difficulties in Lebanese communities.

Political representatives rarely speak explicitly of racism when they perceive unequal treatment or reflect on opportunities for participation. Instead, they use terms like "exclusion", "discrimination", "xenophobia", "resentment" or "prejudice". The problematic intertwining of the terms "xenophobia" and "racism" was also evident in the interviews: On the one hand, officials perceive people of other nations and religions as a natural part of the Ruhr region. On the other hand, they exclude them by using the term 'foreigner'.

Surprising insights:

In order to determine whether political representatives recognise diversity, we developed a series of dimensions for a quantitative analysis. In doing so, we assumed that the recognition of diversity has the following preconditions:

Trust in supposedly foreign groups,
renunciation of an ethnic understanding of belonging, and
turning away from prejudiced resentment.

It seems that the category "trust in perceived foreign groups" can capture whether citizens recognise diversity, but is less suitable for political office holders.

Furthermore, we recognised that conversational situations do not always allow us to distinguish the production or reproduction of prejudiced resentments beyond doubt. Moreover, social desirability plays a greater role in personal conversations than in anonymous surveys. In this respect, anonymous surveys might be better suited to capture certain dimensions of "recognition".

Relevance for practice:

Especially for democratic systems it is crucial that political representatives understand the population as free and equal citizens. From our results it becomes clear:

  1. Even public officials who perceive structural inequality and reflect unequal opportunities for participation sometimes reproduce racist categories.
  2. Political representatives rarely address racism explicitly, even if they are very accepting of diversity.
  3. In order to be able to represent groups affected by racism, office holders would have to deal more intensively with othering processes.

Short studies to prepare the Racism Monitor:

In order to prepare a comprehensive racism monitor, DeZIM called on researchers from the DeZIM research community in 2020 to develop innovative study ideas. These should extend existing research projects, pursue new and innovative approaches or build an infrastructure to research racism. By 2021, more than 120 researchers at the six locations of the DeZIM research community had conducted a total of 34 short studies. These are divided into six thematic priorities:

  • Health system
  • Education system and labour market
  • Institutional racism
  • Dealing with experiences of racism
  • Participation and the media
  • Racist ideologies and attitudes

Funding: Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Third-party funding)