Discrimination

Four arms with different skin tones grabbing each other
Update 27.05.2024

How can I cope/react?

Discrimination is prohibited in Germany –nevertheless, many are affected by it. Whether when looking for accommodation, dealing with authorities, at work, schools, doctors' surgeries, during leisure time or with the police. Discrimination can occur in all areas of life. Am I not allowed into the club because I have a disability? Did I not get the job because I wear a headscarf? Are my children treated worse at school because they speak little German? Does the police pick me to check on the long-distance bus because I have a different skin colour? Does the cab driver refuse to take me because I am trans*? Experiences like these lead to feelings of anger, powerlessness and helplessness. Such discrimination also harms social coexistence. 

However, you do not need to simply accept discrimination: you have the legal right to defend yourself against it – everyone in Germany does; regardless of their origin or residence status. This right is enshrined in the German Basic Law as one of the human rights. It is also regulated in the General Equal Treatment Act ("Allgemeinen Gleichbehandlungsgesetz" or AGG). You can take legal action against discrimination - and in certain cases, it is worthwhile to do so.

What do I need to know?

What is Discrimination?

If a person is disadvantaged, marginalized, devalued or harassed because of certain characteristics or because of their actual or perceived membership of a certain group, “discrimination” (also known as "group-related misanthropy") is happening. Many are discriminated against, for instance, because of their origin, their language, their sexual identity, their gender identity, their religion, their body, a disability, a chronic illness, their age, etc. 

Discrimination is based on prejudices, made-up concepts and false thought patterns. This is the case, for example, when someone is discriminated against because of their "race". Scientifically speaking, there are no different races among people. Nevertheless, some claim that there are different "races" and that people of deficient races are of different value. That is why they subject others to discriminatory racist behaviour. 

It also happens that a person is discriminated against because of several characteristics. For instance, one may be discriminated against because they have a foreign name and are a lesbian. That is multiple discrimination. But if I can't get into the club because I'm a young migrant man, that's intersectional discrimination. I am discriminated against in this situation because of the combination of several characteristics. People with a history of flight and immigration, as well as BIPoCs (an acronym for the English terms Black, Indigenous, and Person of Colour), are often affected by multiple discrimination and intersectional discrimination. There are various forms of discrimination, and we are only naming a few of them here.

Discrimination also has social consequences. Prejudices, false information and fears that arise as a result can lead to a hostile division in society. One group ascribes negative characteristics to "the others" that are seen as in contrast to their own group. In science, this phenomenon is called "othering".

You can also find more information in the sections: "Who is affected by discrimination?" or "Why is it important to stand up against discrimination?"

What is linguistic discrimination?

“Linguistic discrimination” refers to when people, media, authorities and politicians discriminate against others through words. It confirms and reinforces actual discrimination: when you describe a group with negative words and associations or ignore them in language, you show that they are supposedly less valuable than others. Discriminatory language is, therefore, the first step and a sign of dehumanisation. Here we give some examples of discrimination through language:

 

  • Racism in language

In Germany, for example, it is not okay to refer to Sinti and Roma people as “Zigeuner” (“Gypsies”.) Because the term evokes a racist image of an enemy. Even when the media reports on the issue of asylum and speaks of the “refugee crisis”, “flood of asylum seekers”, or “economic refugees”, they repeatedly create images of negative, insurmountable catastrophes and dangers for society. This way, a group of people (asylum seekers) with every single person in it are dehumanised and racially discriminated against.  

 

  • Hate Speech/ Discrimination on Social Media

Social media is often full of hateful comments and disinformation. The ban on discrimination also applies on the Internet. Hateful comments are punishable by law in many cases. For instance, insults, threats or incitement to hatred are considered “relevant under criminal law”. 

 

What can I do?

  1. Complaint:

You can file a report with the police on-site or online (also anonymously). 

Important: collect evidence! Take screenshots. The URL, time, date, username, or user ID must be visible on them. You should also open the perpetrator's profile and capture the full URL address.

 

  2. Offer counterargument:

Refute their claim by active counter-speech and argumentation against hate speech. This is crucial because if no one says anything, the hatred becomes normalised over time. It also means solidarity with those affected. And people who read along silently can be reached and informed in a positive way. Responding with humour is also a good option; it shows that you are above the hateful comment written. And you can show the weaknesses in the arguments. Humour is also helpful to try not to let the hateful comments get to you.

 

  3. Ignore:

In order to protect yourself, it may make sense in individual cases to ignore hate speech. Hate speech is a form of violence that can cause physical and psychological harm to those affected. 

 

  4. Report:

You can report hate speech on social networks. Social networks are obliged to delete clearly unlawful hate comments within 24 hours. Moderators can also check the quality of the comments and moderate the exchange.

 

  • Gender-appropriate language

The idea of gender-appropriate language has also developed in order to respect all people equally and to counteract discrimination. In the German language, if you only talk about “Lesern” (the masculine form of the word “readers”) to refer to people of unknown gender instead of the “Leser*innen” (the inclusive form of the word “readers”), you have used the so-called “generic masculine” or a generalized male personal name; i.e. assumed "Male" as the primary audience/subject. Using only the generic masculine is criticised by many because it supports the patriarchal development of the language and makes all other genders invisible. There is no mandatory rule, but using the form, which includes both male and female forms, is a voluntary option and an attempt to treat all people equally through language. The idea has caused controversy in Germany, so much so that some federal states have now introduced restrictions against it; for instance, gender-appropriate language may not officially be used at the authorities and schools in Bavaria from April 1, 2024. Similar bans exist in Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

 

  • Simple language and multilingualism

Discrimination in the area of language can also manifest itself through language barriers. This is the case, for example, when information is not accessible to everyone in society. People who have different language requirements for various reasons, e.g., those who are not German native speakers, are often disadvantaged here.

Positive developments in this area can be seen in attempts such as the introduction of the concept of “easy language”, and the use of sign language or Braille.

Who is affected by discrimination?

People who are disadvantaged on racial grounds or because of their ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual identity are being victimised due to discrimination. This is stipulated in the General Equal Treatment Act ("Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz" or AGG). You can find out more in the section: "Which law protects me from discrimination?"

In our chapters on people with disabilities, asylum and residence for people with disabilities, LGBTQIA*, asylum and residence for LGBTQIA* or women's rights, you will find information on some groups that are frequently discriminated against.

Please note: This selection is not exhaustive. Many other people are affected by discrimination. Discrimination happens when people are different from what most people in society consider “normal.” An overview is available, for instance, on the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency's website in easy German, English, Arabic, and sign language.

In which situations different treatment is permissible?

In some cases, different treatment is allowed. This is, for instance, the case when a law gives preference to certain groups of people to compensate for the disadvantages they have been suffering. Since women in Germany are disadvantaged (and often underpaid) in the labour market, it is therefore warranted for an employer to prefer to employ women. Another example is when the different treatment in question is based on solid grounds: If fluency in German is essential for the job, a language test may be required.

Am I being discriminated against?

Sometimes, you don't know exactly whether what you are facing is, in fact, discrimination. One may become doubtful because others do not see a problem in an action or even do not see prejudice as a problem. This is where counselling can help. The staff at the qualified counselling centres take your experience seriously and can tell you whether the incident/s is legally considered discrimination. They also guide you towards the legal options available. But even if your experience is not legally categorised as discrimination, seeking help from the counselling centre is in your best interest. The employees can support you in dealing with what you have experienced and help you develop strategies for the future. You can find responsible advice centres in the section "Where can I find help and support?".

Which laws protect me from discrimination?

The General Equal Treatment Act ("Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz" or AGG) is particularly significant when it comes to eradicating discrimination. The AGG has existed since 2006, and it is the most essential German body of law to turn to in order to defend yourself against discrimination in work life, for instance, if you are discriminated against in the workplace or when signing contracts. The General Equal Treatment Act protects people against discrimination due to origin, gender, religion, age, sexual identity or disability by employers, landlords, etc. If convinced of discrimination, the court can sentence perpetrators to compensation payments or damages based on the AGG. There are also other laws which prohibit discrimination, for instance, the Basic Law. Article 1 of the German Basic Law states: "Human dignity is inviolable." This means that every person is of equal value. Article 3 of the Basic Law states that all people are equal before the law, regardless of where they come from or what residence status they have in Germany.

How can I prove that I have been discriminated against?

 If you have been discriminated against, you have the right to defend yourself– the best is to reach out to counselling centres for support. Here you can also find out how to take legal action against discrimination and, for instance, file a complaint.

When you go to court, you need evidence. Often, the other side rejects your narrative, and then it will be one person's account against the other's. The other side will usually claim in court that no discrimination has taken place, for instance, the landlord may say that he refused to rent to a family not because of their foreign name, but because the family was unfriendly during flat viewing. So you have to convince the court that what happened was, in fact, discrimination. However, references are sufficient. Clues or evidence can, for instance, include the testimony of witnesses or e-mails, letters or photos which show the discriminatory act. So-called "testing" can also help: During "testing" you check the behaviour of the other party, in this case, the landlord, once again. For instance, you can (have someone) contact the landlord with the same profile but (this time) with a German name and see whether they react differently.  If you are first told that the flat is already taken, but the other request (with a German name) gets an appointment to view the flat, that will be sufficient evidence of discrimination for the court. Please note: According to the law, you can only do such "testing" over the phone or in person. That means you cannot submit falsified written applications. For instance, doing so when applying for a job is punishable by law.

Important: If you want to take legal action against the discriminating person or organisation, you must do so within 2 months of the incident.

What can I do if I am discriminated against by the police?

One may also experience discrimination in the hands of the police. One adverse treatment people of colour may face in Germany is the so-called racial profiling. Racial profiling is when a person is stopped, questioned, searched or even arrested by the police just because their skin colour or physical features make them a subject of suspicion in officers' eyes. Discriminatory insults, mistreatment or attacks may also happen. Victims of illegal discriminatory treatment and violence by the police can report the officer/s in question. Those affected can turn to the "Campaign for Victims of Racist Police Violence" (KOP) for advice and support. Check the section "Where can I find help and support?" for their contact information.

Police officers are not above the law, and they must abide by it like regular citizens. What German police may and may not do is regulated in the Criminal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and Police Law. You can learn more about the police and their code of conduct in our chapter “Police in Germany”.

Important: You have the right to ask for the police officers' ID card and write down their details. This is crucial if you later want to file a complaint. It is also always helpful to ask passers-by to observe the situation, which means you can later have witnesses. Important: You must file a criminal complaint within three months of the incident. You can do so directly at the public prosecutor's office, so you don't have to go to the police to do so.

Where can I find help and support?

Anti-discrimination counselling centres offer support for anyone who has experienced discrimination in Germany and would like advice.

For instance, you can find a counselling centre nearby at the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency's website, antidiskriminierungsstelle.de. You can also seek advice directly from the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency by calling 0800 5465465. The counselling centre is open Monday to Thursday from 09:00 to 15:00. You can also contact the staff via email at beratung@ads.bund.de. Keep in mind that the staff speak German. The service is free and, if desired, anonymous. (You only have to pay the regular telephone charges for the call.) The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency is a federal authority, tasked to protect people against discrimination. They can provide advice directly or refer those seeking help to counselling centres in their area.

You can also ask the Anti-Discrimination Association Germany for help. The Anti-Discrimination Association is an association of independent counselling centres. As an umbrella organisation, they do not provide counselling, but can refer you to a counselling centre in your area.

Alternatively, you can also contact a Counselling Service for Adult Migrants or a Youth Migration Service (JMD). The staff often speak various languages ​​and can help you with any issues related to life in Germany. You can find their offices in your area at bamf.de. To search for a counselling centre for young migrants nearby, visit jugendmigrationsdienste.de.

 Here are some counselling centres that you can turn to, for example: 

 

How can an anti-discrimination counselling centre support me?

The anti-discrimination counselling staff will provide you with information on how you can take action against discrimination. In some cases, the staff can support you to effectively defend your rights, for example, by securing evidence and information, writing letters of complaint or accompanying you to mediation meetings. They will also, for instance, help you if you want to take legal action against the discriminating person or organisation and can put you in touch with expert lawyers. Their service is free of charge.

What are the responsibilities of the state and society?

Germany is a democratic constitutional state. It is the task of the state to ensure that all people are treated equally. This applies to society and also to state institutions. Everyone is obliged to treat each other with respect and have no prejudices. That is why discrimination is prohibited in Germany. Studies show that people who belong to a minority are more frequently confronted with prejudice and discrimination. This often makes life more difficult for them. It is the duty of society as a whole to show solidarity. Article 1 of the German Basic Law states: "Human dignity is inviolable." This means that every person is of equal value from birth. The dignity of every person must be protected, regardless of whether they are young, old, poor, rich, a German citizen or not, and what their religion, origin, and external characteristics are. It applies to everyone. You can find more information on this in the section: "Why is it important to stand up against discrimination?" and in our chapter on the Basic Law.

Good to know: Minority is a term used in politics and sociology. It refers to a smaller group of people in a society. This means that there are fewer people in this group than in other groups. There are different groups in society that are distinguished by different characteristics. These include, for example, social, political, religious or ethnic differences. The Federal Agency for Civic Education offers a detailed explanation of relevant terms.

Why is it crucial to stand up against discrimination?

It is scientifically proven that discrimination weakens democracy. In a democracy, all people should live in freedom while respecting the freedom of their fellow human beings. 

But sometimes, people have prejudices, false information and fears that lead to hostile divisions in society. The “other” are attributed negative characteristics that are in contrast to their own group. This phenomenon is known in science as “othering”. It particularly affects social minorities or disadvantaged groups. This is how, for example, various forms of racism arise, anti-Muslim racism (Muslimophobia), anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews), anti-black racism, discrimination against people of colour, Antiziganism (hostility especially against Sinti and Roma people) and many other forms of discrimination. The hostility towards the groups exists not only in open discrimination and attacks by, for example, right-wing radicals, right-wing populists or extremist groups but also in other forms among larger parts of the population; as is proven by scientific studies and reports. There are clear connections between anti-Muslim sentiments and anti-Semitism, especially in the ideology of right-wing extremists. A lot of people in Germany are campaigning against discrimination. There is also a scientific and political debate on the need to strengthen social diversity and equality. Information in German is available, for instance, in the report published by the 'Independent Expert Group on Muslimphobia', the National Strategy against Anti-Semitism and for Jewish Life' or the 'National Strategy: Fighting Antiziganism, Ensuring Participation!' published by the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland.

Keep in mind: Any form of hostility towards people speaks against the values and norms of the Basic Law, the constitutional basis of the Federal Republic of Germany. 

However, these values and laws cannot be taken for granted and must be actively protected and defended by people in society. You can find further information about this in our section “What can I do to fight discrimination?” as well as in our chapter on the Basic Law.

What can I do to stand up against discrimination?

If you hear discriminatory comments from family members, acquaintances or colleagues, make them aware of the discrimination. It helps if you are well-informed yourself so that you are aware of the proper arguments. You can also react against misinformation or conspiracy theories. Taking action against discrimination also requires the ability to self-reflect and question your own thought patterns. If you see anyone subjected to discriminatory treatment in your daily life, you can support the person concerned and show moral courage. But always be careful not to put yourself in danger. In an emergency, call the police. If you are being discriminated against, get help; contact a counselling centre. If you see hateful comments on social media, you can provide a positive counter-argument– it may positively affect other users who are reading. Extreme hate comments can often be reported to the police. Insults and hateful comments can be punishable. Collect evidence, for instance, by taking screenshots. Further information can be found in the section: “Hate Speech – Discrimination on Social Media”.

You can also take action by supporting anti-discrimination campaigns, civic initiatives, or attending anti-discrimination demonstrations. Last but not least, the most important tool in democracy is to vote.

Good to knowCorrectiv has an interactive map of Germany (in German) that shows how society is trying to demonstrate commitment to democracy and fight back.

Important

It is scientifically proven that discrimination weakens democracy. In a democracy, all people should live in freedom while respecting the freedom of their fellow human beings. That is why it is very important to protect the rights of minorities. Even people who are not themselves affected by discrimination should show solidarity with those affected. 

If you want to take legal action against discriminatory treatment in your work or everyday life, you need to act quickly and report the incident within two months. If you want to report police officers for mistreatment and discriminatory behaviour, you have to do so within three months.

Ein Projekt von:

Gefördert durch: