Glossary of notions in need of explanation or definition



First being used in the context of the transatlantic slave trade, the term »native« serves as a common denominator for those people living in colonised areas. Until today, the use of this term reminds of a view which associates the »other« with the attributes »uncivilised«, »barbaric«, »heretic« and »cannibal«. Simultaneously the term implicates that its designated subjects might happen to be born in a specific area but cannot exercise any legal claim on this area. For these reasons we avoid to use »native« in our texts and replace it in citations by the word »indigenous«.

Further reading:

Susan Arndt und Antje Hornscheidt (Hrsg.): Afrika und die deutsche Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk. Unrast: Münster 2009.


Anthropology is the study of anybody shorter and darker than you. This allegation has for a long time been equally applicable to ethnology, a discipline that portrays itself as »study of the peoples«, with the task to investigate »foreign cultures« outside of Europe. In this respect, it fulfilled an important function in the framework of colonialism, and was accordingly intimately connected to the colonial structures, the mere existence of the colonial properties of the European powers for one allowing ethnologists a direct access to the »field«. Furthermore, the colonial administrations from their side hoped that the ethnological studies would produce more information and insights about the colonised populations, knowledge that could in turn be adapted into more advanced strategies of control in regard of these populations.

Ethnology for a long time barely reflected upon this problematic history, leading to strong critique in the last decades, both from within the discipline itself as from the proponents of postcolonial theory. In the meantime intensive discursive discussions have been instigated which address these issues, propelling ethnology to develop research perspectives towards its own societies. Notwithstanding, ethnological research does have trouble overcoming the exoticising of its subjects.

Further reading:

informationszentrum 3. welt (Hrsg.): Die Spur des Fremden führt zum Eigenen. Beiträge zur Kritik der Ethnologie. Freiburg 2001.

Im Fokus der Forschung – Die Ethnologie und ihr Objekt. iz3w Nr. 257, Nov./Dez. 2001.


»Exotic«, meaning »foreign« or »alien«, was introduced into German during the European Enlightenment and colonialism. With this in mind, the addressees of the »exotic« were therefore mostly the inhabitants of the colonies, serving White Europeans as an object for projecting their own wishes and desires – such as for example the imagination that the colonised are sexually permissive and live »in a close bond with nature«. While the colonised where as such seen as »noble savages« they were at the same time labelled as threatening, incomprehensible and uncontrollable. Exoticism as a »fascinated observation of the supposedly outlandish« can in this sense thus be said to reveal more about the ones describing than those described.

On first sight, exoticism seems to have nothing to do with racism, mostly emphasising supposedly positive aspects of the other, invoking such associations as closeness to nature, tropical warmth or indulgence, while racism being connected to xenophobia, discrimination and violence. Yet in fact, exoticism and racism are closely intertwined, as the Eurocentric process of making aesthetic and sexualising the »other« implicitly harbours a degree of degradation and depreciation. On the one hand exotic images always convey imaginations of primitivism and an »uncivilised« fitting whilst on the other hand these images solely address those originating in the global south. Exoticism and racism can thus be described as being two sides of the same coin.

Further reading:

Danielzik, Chandra-Milena und Daniel Bendix: Exotismus. »Get into the mystery …« der Verflechtung von Rassismus und Sexismus

Diebold, Jan: Exotik, Oktober 2011


In most general terms, imperialism can be defined as the ambition of a Great Power to expand the reach of its political, military, economic and cultural power and influence in other regions (of the world). The notion therefore summarises all efforts and activities contributing to both the construction and preservation of such a sphere of domination, positing imperialism beyond the mere acquisition of colonies itself. The term is explicitly used here in connection with the expansion movement of the European powers at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, during which most colonies were established.

Further reading:

Osterhammel, Jürgen: Kolonialismus. Geschichte – Formen – Folgen.
C.H. Beck: München 1995.


can be described as a relation of dominance between collectives in which the fundamental decisions considering the conduct of life of the colonised are absolved and enforced, primarily in consideration of external interests, by a minority group of colonial masters which is culturally different and with little motivation to adapt.

In the modern era, those structures of dominance can be related to ideological regimes of justification, which rest on the belief of the colonial masters in their own cultural superiority. The different forms of colonialism have in common that they are systems of domination, based on physical, military, epistemological and ideological violence, legitimised by discourses of »race« or culture (Castro Varela/Dhawan 2005, 13).

Further reading:

Osterhammel, Jürgen: Kolonialismus. Geschichte – Formen – Folgen.
C.H. Beck: München 1995.

Castro Varela, María do Mar / Dhawan, Nikita: Postkoloniale Theorie. Eine kritische Einführung. transcript Verlag: Bielefeld 2005.

Colonial revisionism

is the attempt or the desire to reinstate a relation of dominance between colonised and colonising parties.

While the history of the German colonial enterprise may have come officially to a halt with the Treaty of Versailles(1), it lived on as a wishful thinking. Already directly after the formal loss of the colonies, the national assembly of the Weimar Republic demonstrated colonial revisionist thought when the delegates appealed with 414 against 7 votes in opposition of article 119 of the Versailles Treaty, demanding the »reinstatement of Germany's colonial rights«. Thereafter, a small yet well-organised group of colonial revisionists thumped on a (re)acquisition of the former German colonies as settlement areas, commodity and output markets. This lobby understood how to make use of the colonial issue in the question surrounding the international rehabilitation of Germany. When until the 1940's the hope of many was fuelled that one day the former colonies could be taken back into possession, in 1943 any German ambition for colonial territories was however formally abandoned through an order issued by Martin Bormann, the chairman of the National Socialist Party, on the instruction of Hitler. After the end of the second World War, the colonial desire lived up again and while the independence of many African states in the 1960's dampened, there can be identified and sensed nevertheless traces and consequences of durable colonial revisionist ideas up until today.

  • (1) Literally: »Germany hereby forgoes, in favour of the allies and associated powers, all its rights and claims regarding its overseas possessions.«


Further reading:

Van Laak, Dirk 2005: Deutschland in Afrika. Der Kolonialismus und seine Nachwirkungen. In: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (APuZ 04/2005)

Osterhammel, Jürgen: Kolonialismus. Geschichte – Formen – Folgen.
C.H. Beck: München 1995.


Becoming part of German colloquial with the emergence of theories of race in the 19th century, the notion implicates until this day a derogatory view on people with a darker skin colour. It comprises a multitude of racist and Eurocentric stereotypes: inferiority, victimisation (presentation as victim, as weak), infantilisation (making-into-child) and libidinous and lifelike, especially attaining an exaggerated depiction of sexuality and lack of culture.

We abstain from writing the word here, seen that the notion through its use, even in contemporary times, has embedded the ideological imaginations, ideas and hierarchies of the time of slavery and colonialism. Furthermore, we also dismiss the use of the word in composite words and expressions. The use of this notion is racist, pejorative, reductive and discriminating. The scores of proverbs that are still common in German (be it in the arts or in advertising) only prove the influence of these derogatory concepts.

Not only are as such racist stereotypes being reproduced through the uncritical uses of the word, it is pivotal to understand that racism is in itself, its discriminating content and the colonialist origin, continuously produced by and operating through language. The linguistic debate with the notions of racism is thus no mere finickiness: the own linguistic practice has to be scrutinised, as it has real consequences.

Further reading:

dort: »Warum nicht« (pdf-Datei, 349 kB)

Susan Arndt und Antje Hornscheidt (Hrsg.): Afrika und die deutsche Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk. Unrast: Münster 2009.


Pan-africanism is a movement that seeks for all people of African origin to be part of a unity of equal, recognised citizens of the world, exempt from all forms of racist, colonial or imperial suppression. The concept has its origin in the diaspora in America and the Caribbean and its beginnings can be situated around 1900, when the first Pan-African conference took place in London, with most participants hailing from North America, Great Britain and the Caribbean Islands. After 1945, the claims of equal rights and anti-discrimination were complemented on the fifth Pan-African conference in Manchester by a call for independence of the African colonies. Aside from a stronger political orientation, the movement concentrated itself increasingly on the African continent.

Pan-Africanism is not only a socio-political worldview but encompasses a multitude of religious, political and cultural forces campaigning in different ways for equal rights for black people. What the different strands of this movement have in common is the underlying imagination of a unity through the shared vexatious experience of slavery, colonialism, racism and everyday discrimination.

Further reading:

Legum, Colin: Pan-Africanism. A short Political Guide. Frederick A. Praeger: New York 1962.

Meyns, Peter: Panafrikanismus. In: Hofmeier, Rolf und Andreas Mahler (Hrsg.): Kleines Afrika Lexikon. Beck: München 2004, 229 – 230.



The notion of race can on the one hand be traced back to the Arabic word raz (= head, leader, origin), on the other hand it can originate from the Latin word for root, radix. In the 15th century it was initially used referring to noble families and horse breeding. In the course of the Christian recapturing (Reconquista) of those parts of the Iberian Peninsula conquered by the Moors from 711 on, the notion came to have a new meaning, being used to distinct between Christians and non-Christians. The distinguishing characteristics thus alluded not anymore the lineage of a noble family – and thus the distance to the means – but integrated additional, both visible and non-visible, features like religion, culture and origin. During the 18th century the systematical application of the word takes a flight against the background of the biological classification of people, invoking a presumed »natural order« with White Europeans at the top. In the inhuman ideology of National Socialism, race becomes a criterion to determination and extermination of »degraded« lives.


Racism is an ideology that operates through an inflation of the own position, and the image thereof, by a defamation and ostracising of the other, so called stranger, which has a durable influence on the political thinking of modernity.

Already in antiquity Aristotle gave the theoretical foundation for the superiority of the Greek people by describing the Barbarians, meaning all those not Greek, as born for slavery. In the course of the Christian recapturing (Reconquista) in Spain, the prosecution of all non-Christians from the 13th century on can be seen in this light as a logical consequence. Apart from pogroms and the inquisition, forced conversions were a tool to accomplish the re-Christianisation and restructuring of Spain. Problematic for the new rulers was the acknowledgement that there could exist a difference between the externally lived confession and the »true« inner identity. As such, they needed instruments to expose the hidden forms of non-Christian (mostly Jewish) affiliation, even generations after the conversion to Christianity. In this context, descent or lineage come onto the fore as central characteristics of affiliation and belonging, becoming eventually categories for exclusion.

The racist distinction of people has been a significant argument for colonial aspirations the last 500 years, where a supposed superiority over the conquered justified an often brutal politics of expansion. Today the concept denotes the forceful discrimination of people based on a hierarchical classification according to particular features, features from which individual capacities, characteristics and modes of behaviour are wilfully deduced. The groups constructed are here assigned different priorities, different grades of attachment, with normally the own group a higher one in the hierarchy, the alien group another.

Further reading:

Antidikriminierungsbüro (ADB) Sachsen (Hrsg.): Rassismus in Sachsen. Aktuelle Perspektiven. Leipzig 2010.

Terkessidis, Mark: Psychologie des Rassismus. Westdeutscher Verlag: Wiesbaden 1998.

Geulen, Christian: Geschichte des Rassismus. C.H. Beck: München 2007.


The terms Black/White are written here consequently in with capitals, also as adjectives, to direct attention to the cultural and social implications of their use. These words do not simply refer to a skin colour, but to the implication that Black people are being discriminated whereas White people are in a privileged position.

Further reading:

»Warum nicht« (pdf-Datei, 349 kB)