Spotlight on bridge-builders: Tahir Della

Campaigning in Germany for "a society of the many"

Tahir Della of the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative of Black People in Germany) fights for the self-empowerment of black people, a resolute confrontation with the colonial past and greater sensitivity to the many forms of racism. Ceyda Nurtsch for

Tahir Della is tall and speaks with a rolling "r". As spokesman for the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative of Black People in Germany), he talks about a racism that is still deeply rooted in German society. He talks about racial profiling and the links between racism and Europe’s colonial history. Della has been talking about these things for more than 35 years. Over and over again.

Della was born in Munich in 1962. His mother is German, his father from the United States. Just as in the case of many people of colour, racist experiences run like a thread through his life. He began to take an interest in politics as a youngster. It was his grandfather who made him keenly aware of the subjects that determine his identity and his everyday life: marginalisation, racism, the history of slavery, colonialism.

His watershed moment came while reading

The watershed moment came in 1986, when Della was reading the book "Farbe bekennen. Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte" (Show Your Colours. Afro-German Women Explore Their History – published by Katharina Oguntoye, May Ayim, Dagmar Schultz, Orlanda Frauenverlag). In the book, black women relate their experiences in Germany. "It was very moving for me to read, because it closed a loop," says Della. "What the women do with their experience of discrimination. That they say, let’s get politically active and take control ourselves. We can’t wait around hoping that mainstream society does this political work for us."

That same year saw the founding of the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland and ADEFRA, an association for black women in Germany. The black community had taken the first steps towards establishing its own structures; Della was involved from the outset. The aim was and still is self-determination, rather than determination by others.


A narrow understanding of racism
Since then, he has seen some positive developments, says Della. "It’s easier to address the issue of racism these days," he adds. But there is still much scope for change. Racism is often primarily assigned to the political right, although this is not the only source. In addition, the prevailing perception of racism is narrow; that it emanates from a conscious intention to discriminate. But there is such a thing as an unintentionally racist comment, says Della.
There is still much room for improvement within the judiciary and police, he continues. He cites the right-wing extremist NSU (National Socialist Underground) murders as an example. "There were no consequences on a political level, or for security and investigating authorities, despite the fact that in the NSU case, investigations were sluggish across the board due to racist attitudes," says Della, adding that people would still rather talk about individual cases than systematic, structural racism.
And there have been repeated setbacks. For example, when German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer rejected an investigation into alleged police racism with the argument: what is forbidden does not need to be investigated.
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