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  • Who Can Speak and Who is Heard/Hurt? Facing Problems of Race, Racism, and Ethnic Diversity in the Humanities in Germany ed. by Mahmoud Arghavan et al.
  • Ervin Malakaj
Who Can Speak and Who is Heard/Hurt? Facing Problems of Race, Racism, and Ethnic Diversity in the Humanities in Germany. Edited by Mahmoud Arghavan, Nicole Hirschfelder, Luvena Kopp, and Katharina Motyl. Bielefeld: transcript, 2019. Pp. 300. Paper $40.00. ISBN 978-3837641035.

The last five years have seen the rise of publications examining the history of and conditions for racism at German universities. This work has appeared in various contexts, including German-language newspapers, reports by public foundations, as well as academic periodicals and scholarly presses. Of note is the advocacy and scholarship of Kien Nghi Ha, Daniela Heitzmann, Kathrin Houda, and Natascha A. Kelly, among others. These scholars and scholar activists have sought to uncover the systemic features in the German education system that complicate or obstruct access to higher education for migrants and People of Color. In effect, their work sought to stimulate additional inquiry about systemic racism in German higher education, hoping to mobilize a wave of critical scholarship in the service of transformative social justice. Who Can Speak and Who is Heard/Hurt? Facing Problems of Race, Racism, and Ethnic Diversity in the Humanities in Germany is firmly positioned in this scholarly and activist landscape. Drawing on critical discourse on diversity work as well as insights from postcolonial, critical race, and decolonial theory, the volume is a comprehensive assessment of structural racism underpinning the teaching and research in the German academy's humanities disciplines. It features a comprehensive introduction and fifteen contributions by scholars and scholar activists working in the German higher education system as well as those with ties to the international academy.

In the discussions and debates about systemic racism at German universities, scholarship has productively reflected a paradox also at the heart of Who Can Speak and Who is Heard/Hurt? The volume's editors and contributors make a compelling case for stronger representation of migrant scholars and scholars of color at German universities while recognizing that the racist structure itself is a toxic place for them. For the contributors to the volume, this conundrum requires multiple strategies to advance its call for social justice. On the one hand, it requires dedicated support structures for the migrant scholars and scholars of color currently employed by or enrolled in university programs. By strengthening their success rates and providing representation including at the professoriate rank, universities would strengthen a support structure for future migrant scholars and scholars of color. On the other hand—and this emerges clearly in the introduction of the volume and in select chapters—German universities are not the only place to address an issue part and parcel of the total education system leading to university studies. Of note here is that Germany's three-tiered secondary education system provides multiple structural [End Page 448] hurdles for migrant students and students of color to enter academia. As such, approaches to diversify the academy will have marginal success rates unless they entail strategies to build a secondary education system more attentive to the statuses and lived experiences of migrant students and students of color.

Among the merits of the volume is its sharp critique of American studies in Germany. In particular, the editors and contributors deftly demonstrate how even though impulses from US-based American studies form a point of orientation for its German counterpart, the process falls short of embracing some of the US academy's features more conducive to transformative antiracist work: when it comes to scholar activism, the import of US-based models falls short. That is, instead of embracing critical tendencies of postcolonial, decolonial, and critical race theory and directing these to examine the epistemological and pragmatic frameworks of the university itself—as has been done in the US academy through, for example, the #BlackLivesMatter movement—American studies in Germany on the whole subscribes to a purported detached objectivism in the German idealist tradition. The volume rejects scholarly praxes claiming epistemic distance such as those enacted through an insistence on objective truth, arguing that the commitment to...


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