The recent protests against police brutality and racism in the United States of America have galvanised people in anti-racism movements across Germany, Europe and beyond. We at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History want to make it clear that we stand together with the Black Lives Matter movement that is still tirelessly working for justice for the victims of police brutality, marginalisation, and embedded racist social, cultural, and economic structures.
It is also clear that the highly-publicised events of May and June, 2020 are far from isolated incidents. They are the product of a long colonial history that pervades Euro-American society. Germany also has a long and ongoing record of racial discrimination, one that is felt deeply by its Black communities, as well as other racialised minorities.
We are all parts of these systems, whether we recognise it or not. This is particularly the case given that we are an Institute that houses researchers working in archaeology, linguistics, and genetics, fields that have long been tainted by racism and oppression. Notions of biologically-determined difference and inferiority were central to the early establishment of all of these branches of anthropology. These notions can still filter through in diverse ways to present-day perceptions, interpretations, and practice and we hereby commit to playing a role in actively and sincerely addressing the problem of racist and colonial practice across our research areas.
We have also taken time to reflect and consider how our organisation can do better at rebuilding a more just academic and social environment within Germany. The Max Planck Society is an international organisation that wants to attract the best and brightest from all backgrounds. However, we can only do so once we acknowledge that we operate within a world where the odds are often stacked against minoritised and discriminated groups. We can also only do so when an environment is created that ensures that Black and People of Colour (BIPOC) feel safe, comfortable, and heard while they study and work with us. Only in this way can our academic setting reach its true potential.
Because we are aware of the discriminatory language that has been long used in anthropological, genetic and linguistic research, we will pay particular attention to the way cross-cultural and biological diversity is described in academic articles and in the popularizing media. We will consider carefully how events, people, socio-cultural practices are contextualized, how group and cultural identities are described and reported in the press, either through texts or through images.
We outline a series of measures, some short-term and some long-term, that we hope will provide concrete changes to our structures of work and academic practice, and our research. We are setting ourselves a series of pledges and actions to address racial inequality, and will set in place ways to self-assess our progress regularly.
1) As a European Institution, we pledge to follow and uphold the European Union’s Race Equality Directive 2000/43/EC that demands the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.
2) As a German Institution, we pledge to follow and uphold the “Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz” (AGG) which seeks to remove discrimination based on race, among other things.
Acknowledging that the effectiveness of these laws is dependent on the changes in the structures and practices that uphold them, we have also developed the following more proactive policies:
3) We will immediately be investing in Diversity Training for all staff across our Institute, and will seek the support of local organisations such as the Bund für Anti-Diskriminierungs- und Bildungsarbeit (BDB e.V.) that are committed to fighting discrimination and racism in Germany.
4) We will produce and adopt an anti-racist code of conduct that demands all employees at the MPI Science of Human History create a safe, inclusive, and respectful working environment for BIPOC. We commit to ensuring accountability should any discriminatory treatment experienced by People of Colour arise due to transgressions of this code of conduct.
5) We will undertake a self-critical Diversity Impact Assessment to determine our risk areas for bias and unfair treatment, allowing us to address appropriate solutions, across different axes of marginalisation and levels of our Institute.
6) We will be upgrading the curricula covered by our International Max Planck Research School, Seminar Series, and Lecture Series to reflect a more even balance of scholars from different backgrounds. This will be made available online in order to provide a further resource for researchers working elsewhere in our disciplines.
7) We will be developing our hiring practices and advertisement protocols to address the limited number of applications received from BIPOC from around the world.
8) We commit to addressing the retention issues across the career pipeline and the absence of BIPOC from senior academic, professional, and support roles within our Institute.
9) We commit to addressing the negative consequences of short-term contracts facing BIPOC, who may often take risks moving to new countries and working environments, to ensure their progression and retention in academia.
10) We will train interviewing panels explicitly in self recognition of bias and cultural diversity appreciation to give BIPOC the fairest opportunities during the application process.
11) We will work closely with the local media and Thuringian government to provide a platform for the research of our minoritised colleagues in order to ensure these changes not only change our Institute, but also the wider German society within which it operates.
Beyond these Institute-wide statements, each Department and each Service Group will also commit to evaluating their own practices and develop their own more specific plans to actively combat systemic racism within their own fields and scientific practices.
See, for example, the recent statement by the Department of Archaeology:
Below we also provide resources in relation to self-reflection on systemic racism, discussions of racial discrimination in Germany, and guides to more inclusive hiring procedures and curricula development. We will be using these in our own actions and reflections but also want to make them widely available to our colleagues so that the burden is not placed on BIPOC to continuously circulate them.
Self-reflection on systemic racism
Discussions of racial discrimination in Germany
Guides to more inclusive hiring procedures and curricula development