What Germany’s Lack of Race Data Means During a Pandemic

Article by Edna Bonhomme: “What do you think the rate of Covid-19 is for us?” This is the question that many Black people living in Berlin asked me at the beginning of March 2020. The answer: We don’t know. Unlike other countries, notably the United States and the United Kingdom, the German government does not record racial identity information in official documents and statistics. Due to the country’s history with the Holocaust, calling Rasse (race) by its name has long been contested.

To some, data that focuses on race without considering intersecting factors such as class, neighborhood, environment, or genetics rings with furtive deception, because it might fail to encapsulate the multitude of elements that impact well-being. Similarly, some information makes it difficult to categorize a person into one identity: A multiracial person may not wish to choose one racial group, one of many conundrums that complicate the denotation of demographics. There is also the element of trust. If there are reliable statistics that document racial data and health in Germany, what will be done about it, and what does it mean for the government to potentially access, collect, or use this information? As with the history of artificial intelligence, figures often poorly capture the experiences of Black people, or are often misused. Would people have confidence in the German government to prioritize the interests of ethnic or racial minorities and other marginalized groups, specifically with respect to health and medicine?

Nevertheless, the absence of data collection around racial identity may conceal how certain groups might be disproportionately impacted by a malady. Racial self-identities can be a marker for data scientists and public health officials to understand the rates or trends of diseases, whether it’s breast cancer or Covid-19. Race data has been helpful for understanding inequities in many contexts. In the US, statistics on maternal mortality and race have been a portent for exposing how African Americans are disproportionately affected, and have since been a persuasive foundation for shifting behavior, resources, and policy on birthing practices.

In 2020, the educational association Each One Teach One, in partnership with Citizens for Europe, launched The Afrozensus, the first large-scale sociological study on Black people living in Germany, inquiring about employment, housing, and health—part of deepening insight into the ethnic makeup of this group and the institutional discrimination that they might face. Of the 5,000 people that took part in the survey, a little over 70 percent were born in Germany, with the other top four being the United States, Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya. Germany’s Afro-German population is heterogenous, a reflection of an African diaspora that hails from various migrations, whether it be Fulani people from Senegal or the descendants of slaves from the Americas. “Black,” as an identity, does not and cannot grasp the cultural and linguistic richness that exists among the people who fit into this category, but it may be part of a tableau for gathering shared experiences or systematic inequities.“I think that the Afrozensus didn’t reveal anything that Black people didn’t already know,” said Jeff Kwasi Klein, Project Manager of Each One Teach. “Yes, there is discrimination in all walks of life.” The results from this first attempt at race-based data collection show that ignoring Rasse has not allowed racial minorities to elide prejudice in Germany….(More)”.