IMAFREDU – IMage of AFRica in EDUcation

The impact of the portrayal of the African continent in textbooks on racism against students of African ancestry in German schools

buchauszug DEUTSCHBUCH, CORNELSEN 2001, S. 69

The image of Africa in German textbooks and curricula is based on racist stereotypes, which can be traced back to the colonial era when dehumanisation of African people served to justify the colonisation of their continent. Poverty, violence and underdevelopment are the prevailing images of Africa in German history and geography textbooks. Pre-colonial African history, African cultures and philosophies are not covered by the Eurocentric curriculum. Classic and modern western literature is interspersed with stereotypes about African people; these stereotypes often pass uncommented by the teachers. This project investigates the portrayal of Africa in German textbooks and teaching materials and the impact of this portrayal on racism against the ethnic minority students of African descent in German schools. “Scientific racism”, as a legitimization for colonisation, exploitation and slavery has long been disproved; however, it still remains an inherent part of today’s European portrayal of Africa. “Africa” is usually constructed based on European norms, refusing Africans and their descendants the reconstruction of historical facts. In constructing Africa, History, in its most human aspect, seems to be denied to Africans and their descendants who lack the essential attributes that define “Humanity” in “Western culture” in general and in “European culture” in particular. The “historical rationality” (Hegelian view) denying the Humanity to Africans can be found in the passages of many German textbooks subtly teaching students that Africans are “savages” with a “pre-logical mentality” living their “primitive life”. An empirical case study in an urban school in Hamburg is carried out with 7th year students, their teachers and their textbooks using combined qualitative methods – questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, focus groups and ethnographical observations. The content of textbooks in social science, languages and biology is analyzed in terms of their presentation of Africa and black people, using predefined categories. We want to show that behind the explicitly professed anti-racist system, another system is concealed, albeit sometimes unconsciously and unintentionally, which serves as a vehicle of racist ideology and prejudice. Our objective is to develop recommendations for a new unbiased tutorial on Africa. The aim of this tutorial will be not only to correct the biased information on Africa and to include missing knowledge, but also to support the students in developing a frame of reference and a conceptual basis for understanding and dealing with problems resulting from racism in the society and to help them develop the skills to distinguish between knowledge and propaganda. The novelty and the relevance of this project is that we will go beyond revising the image of Africa to actually apply the new tutorials in real school lessons. Thus this research will contribute to a better education and will directly benefit curriculum developers, educators and students.