The citizenship law has been changed, but the label "migration background" is still used to record non-German origin up to the second generation. What do Syrian refugees have in common with someone like you, born in Germany of a Greek father?

Terkessidis: Of course, having a migration background does not make for a homogeneous group. But statistically if you have a migration background your risk of poverty is more than twice as high. Your prospects regarding jobs, education, health, everything is much worse. The proportion of decision-makers with a migration background is well below average. If you have a Turkish surname, you are demonstrably less likely to be invited to job interviews. You can't talk about the situation in Germany without including acknowledging such things.

Doesn't this mean that we are insisting on the old definition of being German?

Terkessidis: It is true that the use of the "migration background" classification also perpetuates the division. A class in which 70 percent of children have a migration background is considered a problem. Why not say: 100 percent children? This also puts the children of German origin at a disadvantage. A quarter of them have the same language problems as those with another mother tongue. But they are taken less seriously, because language problems are linked to "foreign" origin.

You may also like: Dissecting the toxic concept of Heimat

What was your own experience?

Terkessidis: I always used to be considered a foreigner. Now I have a migration background, which is progress (he laughs), but at least my affiliation is no longer in question. Speaking with an accent also used to devalue people. I no longer experience that at parents' evenings at my son's school in Kreuzberg. Or take the integration conferences I often attend: in the past it was considered unseemly for me to speak there as an expert. After all, as an affected person I could not be "objective". That was really crazy. Today, the composition is very different. I am not completely satisfied, but something has changed.

Also a success of anti-racism?

Terkessidis: Yes, though lately I've been bothered by the apparent need to lecture people. Every wrong word is taken as an opportunity to educate "white" people about their privileged status. If I'm a professor at the university and I'm not of German origin or BPoC and take the janitor to task, then I should also be aware of my privilege, my class affiliation.

Do you support the Greens' initiative to delete the term race from the Basic Law?

Terkessidis: Yes. The term is part of the biological tradition that German scientists followed until the nineties. Geneticists then showed that races do not exist. But I find the discussion a bit cheap. What role does the term ultimately play in the Basic Law? The improvement of our anti-discrimination legislation would appear to be more urgent.

 
Berlin has just re-introduced the cornerstones of the EU anti-discrimination directives, namely the reversal of the burden of proof and class actions. In response, police representatives said they could no longer do their job. That is borderline undemocratic.

If the concept of race is out-dated, why do we cling to the concept of racism?

Terkessidis: The word racism extends far beyond the term "race". It is the term we use to address illegitimate divisions between "us" and "them". Like sexism, it is about one of the great inequalities of modernity.

One dilemma always remains: if we name things, we renew discrimination; if we do not name them, we pretend there is no problem.

Terkessidis: We have to live with this paradox. It is similar with gender, disability or sexual orientation. It shouldn't really matter that a person is female, but if only men work at the next higher level of the hierarchy, how can this be addressed without talking about gender? It remains complicated, but we have to face this complexity.

More on this topic