Racism in German Children's Literature

Thursday, November 13, 2014
Dominique Guillory

This research project is about German public opinion of racism in children’s books- based on a small selection of opinion and other newspaper articles pertaining to the topic.

The project was originally intended to analyze children’s books from after the fall of the Berlin wall, which contained racist language or depictions specifically of character of African descent. These would need to be popular children’s books. Popular children’s books written after the Wende, containing this racism proved quite difficult to find.  After visiting most major libraries and bookstores in Berlin, I came to the conclusion that most children’s books written after the fall of the Berlin wall did not contain obvious racist language or depictions. I was unsure of how to continue with the project, but knew that I did one to stay with the topic of racism in relation to German language children’s books.

Over the past few years there has been some debate about whether to remove the word “Neger” from a few classic German language children’s books like “Pippi Langstrumpf” and “Die kleine Hexe.” I decided to specifically focus on the word “Neger” in more classic German language children’s books, and public opinion about the debate mentioned above.

For my research I analyzed three articles from the German newspaper “Der Spiegel,” three from “Die Welt” and three from “Die Zeit.” All of the articles were written between January 1st 2012 and July 31st 2014.  I also reviewed a significant number of comments beneath the newspaper articles. 

For some articles I was able to read every online comment written underneath in response to it. Other articles had hundreds of response comments and I was unable to read all of them.

Some of the comparisons are simply exaggerated. For example one author compares the removal of the word “neger” from German children’s books to Terrorist defamation/desecration of sacred Buddha statues. Some of the articles were poorly written, although often still provoked much response. Some authors put more thought into the article that they wrote. Many of the authors expressed strong emotion towards the subject.

Based on my small research project I am forced to say that in Germany there is an overwhelming preference to keep the word “Neger” in books written for children ages 9 and below.