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The Relevance of Visibility. The Afrocensus 2020 and its Meaning.

Text by Marie Dudek |

Since the start of the new year 2022, the Afrocensus pops up in social media and websites of established media companies in Germany. People are talking about the Afrocensus on Instagram and TikTok, as well as at the SWR, the Deutsche Welle or at Fluter, the youth magazine of the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb).

But what exactly is the Afrozensus?

Originating from the latin term census, Afrocensus means the population count of Black, African and Afro-diasporic people in Germany. It is the first of its kind, there has never before been any statistical survey on the life and situation of people of African descent and their communities in Germany. Up to now, the public visibility of Black people has been created through associations and organisations such as the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD), which, however, only represents a fraction of the Black, African and Afrodiasporic population with its members. The Afro Census also only represents a small part of the group of about one million people: just under 6,000 people took part.

No quantitative data on the basic population, i.e. on the number of all Black, African and Afrodiasporic people living in Germany, is available so far. For this reason, random sampling (a random selection of a subset of the total number of Black, African and Afrodiasporic people) could not be carried out for the Afrocensus. This means that the Afrocensus cannot be statistically generalised to the population of Black, African and Afro-German people. Statements about correlations can therefore only refer to the participants of the study, which makes the Afro Census not a representative survey. Nevertheless, the Afrocensus is relevant in that it creates visibility and public attention.

A survey like that, dedicated to the non-white population in Germany has never occurred before. The reason can on one hand be found in the lack of research fields like Black Studies, Dr. Maisha Maureen Auma told the newspaper taz in an interview. There is no place in the academic world in Germany, that is specifically aimed at Black History or anti-Black Racisms. The Black Lives Matter Movement and the Black History Month as means of visibility of Black and African life in Germany are important, but civic and not academic movements.

Another problem in researching racist discrimination at the official level is the Microcensus Act (BGBI. I p. 2868). In the microcensus, the migration background of the respondents is collected. However, a migration background is not necessarily synonymous with discrimination based on appearance. Even people without a direct migration background, in the second or third generation, can experience discrimination on the basis of their appearance. However, skin colour and ethnicity may not be surveyed according to the Microcensus Act. This is certainly a sensible decision, not only with regard to German history. However, this makes the study of discrimination based on skin colour and foreign attribution virtually impossible and remains a problem for which a solution is needed in the long term in order to draw a realistic picture of the experiences of non-white people in the German population and to be able to formulate recommendations for action based on this.

In the short term, the Afro Census can give a first impression of the reality of life of non-white, African, Afrodiasporic and Black people in Germany. Since the study was not conducted by a government institution, but by the organisations Each One Teach One e.V. and Citizens for Europe, the questioning of self-attribution and attribution by others regarding appearance did not pose a problem.

What did the Afrocensus report?

The results of the survey were no surprise to the researchers, as Joshua Kwese Aikins from the University of Kassel told Deutsche Welle in an interview. What makes the Afro Census so special is the collected presentation of experiences of discrimination, sometimes with frightening individual case studies, according to Kwese. While discrimination is always perceived individually, some experiences can be shared among a large group of respondents: being grabbed in the hair without being asked, sexualisation and criminalisation are common experiences people of African origin have in Germany. What is striking here is that the body and skin not only make African and Black people recognisable as such, but also play a major role in the concrete forms of discrimination. It also stands out that 90% of the respondents report that they are not believed when they point out racism. Phrases like "I didn't mean it that way" or "I was just kidding" are not uncommon. People who point out the racist quality of statements are often labelled as angry or aggressive. And that, as the saying goes, is precisely where the crux of the matter lies. Because this is where the significance of the Afrocensus for the entire German population becomes apparent.

What relevance does the Afrocensus have?

The Afrocensus takes it place among the emerging amount of books, reports and articles that shed light on structural racism in Germany – especially since the resurrection of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2019. The survey helps to identify and raise awareness concerning racist statements, regardless if they “meant harm” or not. This awareness is a first step on the way to a less racism in Germany, and should not be underestimated in its societal effect.

The authors of the Afrocensus summarized the significance of their research in six points. Here, the importance of the problem of anti-Black attributions and racism is not only addressed, but they also the fact stated, that through the survey anti-Black racism can be recognized and classified on a large scale for the first time. The life and experiences of Black, African and Afro-diasporic are being valued and portrayed as important – including people, that are of African descend but are not officially seen as people with a migration background. For the first time, their voices are heard and documented as equal. The Afrocensus helps to realize that “the African Community” or “the African” as generalizations do not exist. People of African descent in Germany are a young and heterogeneous group that should be perceived as such and not be generalized.

In the German society, Africa is still too often portrayed as a homogeneous landmass with a uniform culture and language. The Afrocensus tries to change this. Finally, the authors of the survey were able to formulate concrete recommendations for action, not only for Black people in Germany and for politics in the fields of health, education, science as well as professionalization, anti-discrimination and representation. Thus, the Afrocensus directly contributes to a possible improvement of the reality of life for African people in the Federal Republic.

Apart from the discussion of the Afrocensus, it is noticeable that the African continent is still often presented in public discourse as a homogeneous land mass with a uniform culture and language. The differentiated representation of black, African and Afro-diasporic people in the Afrocensus can counter this problem.

Finally, the authors of the survey were able to formulate concrete recommendations for action for the Black and non-Black population in Germany as well as for politics in the areas of health, education, science as well as professionalisation, anti-discrimination and representation. In this way, the Afrocensus directly contributes to a possible improvement of the reality of life for people of African origin in the Federal Republic.

However, the most important function of the Afrocensus is to create visibility of Black, African and Afro-diasporic people in Germany. The study has given them a voice that can reach more than just the usual migrant, non-white communities. Making the white German population aware of discriminatory structures in their own country is a prerequisite for reflecting on their own discriminatory actions.

What is the significance of the Afrocensus for development cooperation?

For development cooperation, these insights are essential. Only with constant awareness of discrimination structures can reflective and self-critical development cooperation happen. The beginning of global action lies in our immediate, local environment. If we do not learn to reflect and critically question behaviour even in Germany, how can we then engage in political, social and individual networking on equal footing in a global context?

The Afrocensus cannot end anti-Black racism in Germany. It cannot reach and sensitize the entire German population. That is not the claim of a scientific study. However, as the first census of Black, African and Afro-diasporic people, the Afro-census represents another important building block on the way to a more discrimination-free, reflective and conscious society and should be recognized and appreciated as such.

For a detailed insight into the study and specific information concerning the recommondations for action by the authors, you can access the Afrocensus here for free (in German):


Aikins, Muna u.a.: Afrozensus 2020: Perspektiven, Anti-Schwarze Rassismuserfahrungen und Engagement Schwarzer, afrikanischer und afrodiasporischer Menschen in Deutschland, (2021), (As of March 20, 2022)

Hoeder, Ciani-Sophia: „‚90 Prozent geben an, dass ihnen ungefragt in die Haare gefasst wird‘, Zeit Online, December 3, 2021, (As of March 6, 2022)

Prado, Simon Sales: Black Studies Matter, taz, August 7, 2020,!5700152/ (As of March 6, 2022)

Ritz, Nelly: „‚Wir schreien und werden nicht gehört‘, Zeit Online, May 28, 2021, (As of March 6, 2022)

Wittig, Volker: „Afrozensus: Verbreiteter Rassismus in Deutschland“, DW, November 30, 2021, (As of March 14, 2022)

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