4 Aug 2019

Text & Translation: Corinna

#The Term Race in Legal Texts

‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.’ – Article 2 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Photo: Luigi Morante/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

‘In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’ – Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

‘The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.’ –  Article 14 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Photo: Luigi Morante/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

In the context of human beings, the term race has a negative connotation throughout (especially in the german language), but it is still used today in international and national legal texts, especially in the field of human rights.

#What is a race?

To divide people into races lacks any scientific basis. Genetically and biologically there is no evidence for the different race theories, nevertheless the race concept persists stubbornly in the social context and is still cemented in the minds of humans.

The term race has always been associated with a claim to domination and withdrawal. Since the late 17th century, the term has been used to categorize and hierarchize people. This division was and always is connected with social and political interests. Groups are divided and demarcated from each other, but which categories we form is learned. For racial division, physical characteristics are linked to character traits, thus creating a supposedly homogeneous group. Races are said to have different physical characteristics as well as different psychological, social and cultural abilities. As a result, it is thought that some races are superior to others: discrimination, segregation, exclusion and violence are thus legitimised on the basis of nature. In the era of colonialism, the cultural and civilizational superiority of the white people over people of colour was used as a justification for the expansion of the European rule and to legitimize expulsion, slavery, and genocide.

By 2016, the Earth was home to some 7.44 billion people – an incredible variety of biological, genetic and character traits. With the simple classification into races such as ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘red’, ‘yellow’, ‘brown’ (or whatever), this diversity cannot be grasped at all. It makes no sense to define people in different groups on the basis of their skin colour and to assign socially constructed characteristics to them. The shape and size of the eyes, nose, mouth, hands or the like are as little linked to the colouring of the skin as character traits, mentality or economic and cultural performance. Cultural differences between people are based on biogeographical conditions and not on biological or genetic traits. A division into races is arbitrary, senseless and above all socially constructed.

‘The average genetic differences between the groups defined as races are smaller than those between individuals within the group defined as race.’ – Prof. Dr. U. Kattmann, Biologist & Anthropologist

Nevertheless, many people are still systematically opressed today. Everyday racism and institutionalised racism are not uncommon, because racism is based on the belief that people can be legitimately evaluated and treated differently. Above all, racism is solidified in the characteristic of cultural difference, which is apparently insurmountable. This is a further development of biological-racist thinking. Religious affiliation is often used as a racial-geographical category to distinguish certain population groups from each other and to conceive hostilities. Religion is instrumentalized and politicized today just as it used to be.

Photo: Loïc/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

#Race in National Socialism

In times of National Socialism, the Nazis developed their own race theory and were convinced that the Aryan-Germanic race was entitled to world domination. While other races were regarded as inferior, the Jews were declared their own race and attributed the lowest and most dangerous character traits to be eradicated. This alleged race struggle ended in the genocide of about five million Jews in Europe. Race and anti-Semitism have been inseparably linked ever since, especially in Germany. Historically, the term is thus extremely strained.

#Race in Legal Texts

There are no human races, but nevertheless, the term race appears again and again in national and international legal texts. If, however, discrimination on the basis of race is prohibited, the prohibition follows the concept of race, which is the basis for discrimination. Today, cultural diversity is a worldwide reality and a need for recognition by politics and law.

A modification of the legal texts and the deletion of the word race will not banish racism from society, but will make it impossible for state institutions to invoke the concept of race and call on the state to distance itself from any race theory. Racism cannot be fought credibly and seriously as long as the term is adhered to. Legal texts have an exemplary function, especially when it comes to human rights texts that want to combat racism and discrimination. Old patterns of thought and language habits must be questioned and broken up, especially against the background of rising racism worldwide. Racist, xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric has become part of European politics and seems almost commonplace.

Photo: Habib M’henni/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

European and German legislators have already developed an awareness of the problem with regard to the word race, but are sticking to the use of the term. Thus, the legislator awakens the association that humanity can be divided into races.  Especially in legal texts against racial discrimination the use of the term race seems absurd. Therefore, as early as 1950, UNESCO published its Statement on Race in which it pointed out that the term race stands for a social myth that causes an enormous amount of human and social violence.[1]

Meanwhile, besides the awareness of the problem, there seems to be a will in Germany to no longer use the term, but it has still not disappeared from legal texts. This could be partly due to the fact that the legislator has not yet found a satisfactory alternative in dealing with the term race and is therefore sticking to it. The terms ethnicity, ethnic origin or ethnic belonging are not ideal for paraphrasing, since they are also carrier terms of racism. Nevertheless, there is no obvious or scientific reason to adhere to the term race. Some European countries, such as Finland, Sweden and Austria, have deliberately banned the term from national legislation. The German Institute for Human Rights proposes to use the term racist discrimination instead of race.

Sources and more information:

# Dr. Hendrik Cremer (2009) Policy Paper “… und welcher Rasse gehören Sie an?” Zur Problematik des Begriffs „Rasse“ in der Gesetzgebung. Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte. Abrufbar unter: http://www.institut-fuer-menschenrechte.de/uploads/tx_commerce/policy_paper_10_und_welcher_rasse_gehoeren_sie_an_2_auflage.pdf (16.03.2018)

# Human Rights Watch (2018) “Europe’s Climate of Intolerance” https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/06/europes-climate-intolerance (16.03.2018)

# Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kattmann (Biologe & Anthropologe mit den Forschungsschwerpunkten Rassismus und Rassenkonstruktion) in „Rassen? Gibt’s doch gar nicht!“ (2005) www.bpb.de/politik/extremismus/rechtsextremismus/213673/rassen-gibt-s-doch-gar-nicht (13.02.2018)

[1] UNESCO (1950) „The Race Question“, S. 8 http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001282/128291eo.pdf (16.03.2018)

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