What is racism?
The work of Bridging Gaps contains a critical discussion of societal structures and their consequences – the focus hereby lays on prejudices and racism. Racism can be defined as follows: It contains thinking and practices through which people are categorized into groups based on physical and cultural features or their origin/nationality. Hereby it is crucial that groups are constructed and hierarchised as intellectually, morally and socially different. A consciousness for the political and economic inequalities derived from these mechanisms is essential for our work.
How is racism inscribed in our society?
It is important to understand, that racism is particularly inscribed in what we may consider completely self-evident knowledge of the world and about specific groups (“It is known that it’s like that/that they are like this, “It has always been like that” etc.). But racism is not only rooted in simplified “everyday knowledge” but also in a long European academic tradition. The humanities such as philosophy or ethnology contributed to this grounding of racist beliefs as well as the natural sciences. Moreover, colonialism and the continuing exploitation of former colonised countries play a central role. This deeply rooted representational and practical exclusion of an “other”, who is constructed as ultimately foreign and deficient, left traces in our everyday life and in our collective imaginations.
Positioning in society
Because of this background, self-reflection concerning the own socialisation and personal behaviour plays a crucial role at Bridging Gaps. This means to consequently question the own upbringing, firm convictions and resulting action. During this process one becomes aware of his or her own position and preconditions in society (Eg. “How am I represented in society?” “Which privileges do I have?” etc.). The connection to society is central – because we see anti-racism work in no way as a purely individual affair, but as a challenge for the whole society. Unequal power relations are (globally) institutionalized and people who are affected by racism get to feel them in their everyday life through exclusion and a lack of acceptance.
The power of language
Language plays a key role in the reproduction of inequalities. Terms are not just neutral: They contain different (also historical) layers of significance and transmit concepts with certain political intentions. How one describes people, justifies actions and constructs sense influences the imagination of the “self” and the “other” and launches concrete action. Therefore, the effect of terms does not depend on the intention or the lack of knowledge of an individual using them. So, a crucial finding is that racism has performative power – regardless whether racist comments or actions are made consciously or unconsciously.
Through the described individual process of gaining consciousness we offer access to the complex topics of racism and global asymmetries, that are often just presented in an either simplistic or very abstract way. It is crucial – especially in times of populism and debates about belonging – to look at the own role and possibilities in society. We see our contribution in providing support for this difficult journey by offering (knowledge) resources and space for discussions which can stimulate reflections.