(Bonner Querschnitte/Bonn Profiles 07/2012) The last blog featured a press release from the World Evangelical Alliance and a report by proKOMPAKT on the English translation of my book “Racism”. Here follows an interview with BQ.

Bonner Querschnitte/Bonn Profiles (BQ): Is a new book against racism necessary?

Thomas Schirrmacher: First of all, racism is such a seriously mistaken position that there simply cannot be enough written against it. However, you would really be astonished at how few books in the German book market there are on racism. And most of them are very technical, very specialized, and hardly understandable for the man on the street. I wanted to redress this situation.

BQ: An Evangelical opposing racism?

Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes, naturally. The word “Evangelical“ was first used for a movement in Great Britain that called for the abolition of the slave trade and then of slavery. The movement finally achieved this under the leadership of William Wilberforce (1759-1833). Evangelicals played a central role in the anti-slavery movement in the USA, for instance free-church Quakers and Methodists. The best known book about it is the Evangelical classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In my book I quote a historian who demonstrates that racism had a greater chance in France and Germany due to the fact that there are few Evangelicals there. In the 18th century, William Carey (1761-1834) fought the racism found in Christian churches in India under the caste system, and his language and cultural research led to the preservation of numerous Indian languages. Many view this British missionary and language researcher as the father of Evangelicals.

BQ: So everything is just history?

Thomas Schirrmacher: Nowadays the internationalization of the Evangelical movement means that racism does not have a chance. In my Evangelical environment, from the time I was small, there were Indonesians, Kenyans, and Latin Americans whom I got to know as role models, so racism was obsolete before I got to know about it on the school playground. Additionally, the World Evangelical Alliance has repeatedly and clearly taken a position against all forms of racism.

BQ: I can agree that this is the case on an international level, but in Germany?

Thomas Schirrmacher: In any event, it is a fact that the Pietists always had a better relationship to people of other cultures than the majority of the people around them. And Evangelicals in Germany have inherited that from the Pietists. The longtime leading German Evangelical missiologist Prof. Peter Beyerhaus wrote a small book in 1972 with the title Racism and Its Reasonable Evangelical Conquest (translated title of Der Rassismus und seine evangeliumsmäßige Überwindung). The Young Christians’ Offensive in Reichelsheim grew up during the time of its ecumenical struggle to overcome apartheid in South Africa – mind you, only with peaceful means. As far as the present is concerned, I really would not know where racism could be expected to find a home in Evangelical churches. For a long time we have been used to reading books from all over the world, taking the foremost spiritual leaders from all cultures as role models and welcoming people of all cultures and ethnic groups. Since the majority of the Evangelical movement stems from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, they have long since set the tone in many committees.

BQ: But what about Evangelicals in the USA?

Thomas Schirrmacher: When the Evangelical movement in the USA is criticized, a lot of people forget that there are not only ‘white’ Evangelicals. Rather, a lot of African-Americans have been and are Evangelicals, and today this additionally applies to Latinos and Asians. Unfortunately, in the USA there is a broad right-wing extremist spectrum that says that America is white, English-speaking, and Christian. The only thing is, that has little to do with Christian churches. And it is far removed from the National Association of Evangelicals and the US Evangelical Alliance.

BQ: But don’t Evangelicals view Islam very critically?

Thomas Schirrmacher: As a religion, yes, but they can still treat Muslims with dignity, can’t they? I would like to brazenly maintain that no German group of people is as often a guest of Turkish families as Evangelicals are or invite Turkish friends over as often as Evangelicals do.

BQ: What distinguishes racism from other forms of discrimination?

Thomas Schirrmacher: The core of racism in comparison to other ideologies that are used to oppress people (such as class, religious hatred, or disdain for the handicapped) is that what makes the other person different is allegedly in the individual’s biological ancestry and for that reason is unalterable. Racism has namely two core elements. It constructs ancestral groups with allegedly common features and evaluates these groups and differences for the ends sought by the racist. This occurs to the detriment of the victim, legitimizing privileges and aggression.

BQ: Constructs?

Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes. In my book I compile the growing number of arguments arising from investigations into different peoples and modern genetic research. For centuries there have been attempts to classify races, but the division mostly only convinced the researchers themselves who conducted the work. Something has been clear for a long time: there is only one human race.

BQ: Do you have a vivid example you can give me?

Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes, for sure. The same blood groups are found throughout all people groups. If you have blood type A, you had better not let a ‘white’ with blood type B donate blood to you. However, the blood of a ‘black,’ ‘yellow,’ or ‘red’ with your blood type can save your life. And a person with blood type O can be a so-called universal donor for any person on earth.

BQ: But can’t races be identified by their skin color?

Thomas Schirrmacher: If you take the time to study the history of classification according to skin color, you will quickly realize that it has little to do with the actual skin color. All the constructed color charts founder on reality’s diversity. ‘Yellows’ are often lighter than ‘whites,’ ‘reds’ are not red, but rather their spectrum of lighter to darker is found in other ‘races.’

BQ: What about the IQ tests in the USA which supposedly demonstrate that blacks on average are less gifted than whites?

Thomas Schirrmacher: If one takes IQ tests to be a measure, Jews and Japanese score about 10% higher than whites. However, one would rather keep that quiet. There are problems, however: 1. There are no culture-free IQ tests, no neutral, international intelligence. If you ask questions that relate to what is relevant for Eskimo children, Germans will always stand there and look like the dumb ones. 2. It is always only a question of averages. The same extreme spectrum is found in every group. It‘s just distributed differently. 3. Additionally, it is still an open issue as to where the differences come from. Do they lie in the educational system, in the family, or truly, as is alleged, in the genes?

BQ: How does one argue against racism?

Thomas Schirrmacher: One has to argue against racism on two levels. First, there is the argument that even a demonstrated difference among human races says nothing about the common dignity found among people. And secondly, no evidence can be produced to support the assumption that such biological differences between divisible races exist at all, much less that any such attempts at evidence would be in sympathy with the assumption. Actually the second point should suffice. Still, although it is the case that with every decade the scientific evidence increases that says there are no races, it is common up to the present day to continue to use the ancient and frequently refuted division according to skin color, for lack of an alternative. Leading encyclopedias explain under the ‘racism’ heading that there is no such thing as races, only to then nonchalantly continue to refer to the differentiation under the ‘race’ heading or the headings of these individual ‘races.’

BQ: What are the most frequent forms of racism?

Thomas Schirrmacher: There are three types of racism that are the most internationally widespread and can be tracked over the course of many centuries. They are directed against so-called ‘blacks’ or people with darker skin color, against Jews, and against so-called ‘gypsies,’ which is to say against the Sinti and Roma, and members of other gypsy-like peoples.

The three international forms of racism are the defamation and fight against or oppression of

1. ‘Blacks’ (or of people who have a darker skin color than oneself ) – they are allegedly dumb, barbarian, and uncivilized;
2. Jews – they are allegedly devious, greedy, and domineering;
3. ‘Gypsies’ – they are allegedly asocial and thievish.

BQ: But aren’t there Germans and French and for that reason a Germany and a France?

Thomas Schirrmacher: We are all half-breeds with a long cultural history. We are the result of centuries of migration, especially Germans, the French or, for instance, the Turks. The French and Germans are culturally and historically distinguished from each other, but thirty generations back we are talking about the same ancestral mix. Charles the Great is seen as the progenitor of the French and the Germans, but for the longest time both sides acted as if there were two different people, the king of France and the emperor of the Germans.

BQ: Are you against right-wing extremism, then?

Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes, naturally. It is scientifically indefensible, ethically questionable, and it does not escape the scrutiny of human rights questions. But I do not want to make it too easy on myself. Racism is everywhere, not just in rightwing extremism, which places it in the center. A leftist can also go hunting for votes with racist language. Just think about Lafontaine’s comments regarding Polish workers in Germany, or think about the Marxist dictator Mugabe in Zimbabwe.


Thomas Schirrmacher. Racism – With an essay on Caste in India by Richard Howell. The WEA Global Issues Series 8. Verlag fuer Kultur und Wissenschaft / Culture and Science Publ.: Bonn, 2012.

For ordering go to www.vkwonline.de.


  • The whole book (pdf)
  • Cover (front) of the book (jpg)
  • Cover (front and back) of the book (pdf)

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