“The Perpetrator is a Southerner”: “Südländer” as Racial Profiling in German Police Reports

Clara Ervedosa


This article represents the first study of the German category “Südländer,” or “Southerner.” It demonstrates that the police use this term as a form of racial profiling in police reports in order to characterize specific perpetrators’ phenotype. Typically, this implies ‘olive’ skin color, dark hair, and dark eyes. Ostensibly, the term is used to enable citizens to collaborate with the police in the process of identifying and apprehending a criminal. This inductive and digitally supported study offers an example of the persistence of racialized thought in German society after WWII. It reveals how the police, as one of the most significant state institutions in Germany, contribute to this process of racialization by frequently employing the term “Südländer.” At the same time, the article illustrates the degree to which older racializing systems of knowledge that used constructs such as the “Mediterranean Race” and social configurations such as the “white/brown” color-line still resonate in this ostensibly post-racial terminology. (CE)

“Südländer” as Racial Profiling in police reports: Introduction

In August 2017, a group of men with “südländischem Aussehen,” or “Southern looks” caused uproar among the residents of an Austrian village close to Salzburg. A massive police operation involving a helicopter and five patrol cars was set in motion by the residents’ alarm as they thought that the “Southerners” were refugees, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported. Upon arrival on the site, the police found out that the people with dark complexion were “just” scouts from France, camping on the edge of the forest near the village. With hindsight, the Angst and the enormous police effort that the mere sight of people with “Southern appearance” triggered appeared so disproportional that the newspaper chose the ironic title: “Pfadfinder lösen in Salzburg Flüchtlingshysterie aus” (Scouts in Salzburg trigger hysteria over refugees). As its closing punch line its author quoted the police’s statement to the press: “They were French. Thus, there were Southern guys (südländische Typen) among them.” (Neuhold)

Such a negative reaction to “Southern looks” is no single episode, despite what the report’s anecdotal tone may suggest. A look at the neighboring country, Germany, with 20.8 million people with a “migration background”1 underscores the prevalence of discrimination based on skin color. Despite Germany’s ostensible Vergangenheitsbewältigung, its membership in the E.U., and three generations of migrants from Southern Europe, descendants from the so-called “guest workers,” this became obvious after the “Euro crisis” and the “refugee crisis” in 2015. These recent episodes triggered a media shockwave through the country and brought the forgotten Mediterranean space into the focus of attention of the Atlantic-orientated Germany and E.U. Just one month after New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne, when a group of migrants sexually assaulted women and sparked a media outcry that unveiled repressed layers of prejudice and racism,2 Spiegel online, the online news portal with the second highest reach in Germany with 3.8 million unique users (Schröder), observed that the pattern “young, male and southern traits” had become synonymous with a criminal’s profile and “Southern looks” even a stigma (Hengst et al).

Such reactions raise the following questions: Why do “Südländer” in general pose such a threat? What do the terms “Südländer” and “Southern looks” mean? What is a “Südländer” at all?

If one looks in the most well-known German dictionaries Duden and Wahrig to seek an answer to these questions, one finds that “Südländer” are briefly described as people from the South, mainly from the Mediterranean area (Duden 3316; Wahrig 1199). But why do people from Southern and Mediterranean countries provoke such powerful and conflicting emotions and associations? This question is more pertinent if we take into consideration that Europe’s mental map has been centered on a North-South axis for centuries (Richter, Der Süden); the South has been constitutive for the German nation-building and has long been a “Sehnsuchtsort” (place of longing) and a source of inspiration particularly for the educated German middle class. Yet, we still do not know why there is, on the one hand, the positive idea of the South that mainly the educated middle class nurtured, and on the other hand the negative image of the criminal that one finds particularly in everyday discourse. Whereas the first has been widely studied (Richter, “Das Bild;” Meier; Esch; Beller), no contribution has been made so far on its negative connotation, neither from a linguistic, literary, cultural, historical or sociological point of view. Neighboring subjects such as sociology, history, postcolonial studies, critical whiteness studies, which have dedicated attention to processes of “othering,” have also largely been silent about it.3

The present article intends to fill this gap by focusing on the pejorative representations of the South in the German context, to be more precise, on the semantics and function of “Südländer” in police reports in the last decades. I argue that it is used as a form of racial profiling, that is, as a method of using a person’s appearance such as skin color or facial features as the basis for certain police actions such as identity checks, investigations, or surveillance (Cremer 4). It aims at marking the perpetrator’s phenotype as not German or not “real German” so that readers can collaborate with the police in the process of identifying the criminal. Even though the category suggests a geographical space, in reality it is an historical construct, an anthropological, racializing topos for designating a phenotype, namely dark hair, dark eyes, and especially a darker skin color. All the signs are that “Südländer” and “südländisches Aussehen” are German police’s internal working categories.4

The present work will thus show that a central institution like the police imagine German people as white not only in contrast to Black people, but also in opposition to a darker complexion such as the so-called Mediterranean type. Having darker skin, black hair and dark eyes suffices for the police to exclude someone from the nation, regardless of whether the person might have been born in Germany, be Christian, speak German perfectly and possess a German passport or be from a country of the European Union.

I thus argue that although, as W.E.B. du Bois observed in the first half of the 20th century, racialized thinking in Germany does not need the color line to exist and be effective (instead using, I would argue, categories such as anti-Slavism, anti-Semitism, and, as Shooman has already pointed out, Islamophobia), there are nonetheless color-line racisms that work analogously to the Black-white color line. Whereas the Black-white color line has been analyzed extensively thanks to Black scholars’ and activists’ pioneering and engaged work in initiatives such as Adefra or Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland Bund e.V. (Black People Initiative Germany) as well as in publications (Oguntoye et al.; Piesche “Black and German?”; Piesche et al. “Euer Schweigen schützt Euch nicht”; Sow), the Mediterranean phenotype has been circumvented so far, or pushed into the background in this field and Humanities in general. Although this affects a larger number of people in Germany, mainly with “migrant background,” this has not been tackled yet explicitly nor engaged with, not even in German critical whiteness studies (Eggers et al.; Ha et al.; Arndt, “Dem Rassismus widersprechen;” King).5

State of the Field: Awareness and Analyses of Race in Germany and in Germanistik

Unusual as it might seem to focus on police reports in a German studies article, I regard it as a meaningful contribution to the field. First of all, I tackle the semantics and the function of the category “Südländer” and its derivate “südländisches Aussehen,” two terms in the German language that the police and media frequently use, which have, however, not been studied so far. Second, I also analyze one of the most relevant topics in German literature and culture, namely the topic of the South, more precisely its negative representations in police reports and its semantics in the German context. This is not only important by itself due to the relevance of the South in the German literary and cultural imaginary, but also because it touches upon a central topic in German Studies and German society, namely, who is German and how is that determined. By using the category of “Southerners,” the police as a central state institution define ex negativo who is German and thus further consolidate a certain image of the German population.

In fact, Germanistik with its focus on the study of German language, literature, media and culture, is best equipped to understand the complex semantics around the use of geography to represent culture and race, as well as their impact, given the discipline’s attention to the study of language as well as the interdependence between language and thought. Indeed, understanding these connections constitutes one of the most central contributions of the humanities in the 20th century in their different innovative ramifications such as poststructuralism, feminism, postcolonialism, critical race theory, whiteness studies, etc. Yet, there has been almost no interest of Germanistik in the topic of this article so far, even though this discipline often takes a critical stance towards the German past and (intellectual) history6 and has focused on the study of the other, as for instance, in the so-called imagology, migrants’ literature, Interkulturelle Germanistik (Intercultural German Studies) or postcolonial studies in the last decades.

There are at least three reasons for this lack of interest of Germanistik. First, the reception of the cultural and postcolonial “turns” has been basically restricted to academia. It resulted mainly from the pressure that German Geisteswissenschaften felt to innovate and to internationalize, following the English-speaking episteme (Böhme et al.; Gutjahr 351). Thus, they have not been so strong as to deconstruct the essentialist, ethnological concept of culture that is dominant in Germany, a category that is still largely defined by descent or heritage and often leads to latent or open racism (Walgenbach). Neither did a broad civil rights movement against discrimination and racism, comparable to those which took place in the UK and in the U.S.A. in the sixties, precede the German academic interest in questions such as “othering” and “difference.”7 Although the growing demographic diversity of German society, an object of heated and anxious debates in media and political discourses from times to times, has certainly boosted and legitimized interest in the topic, it has hardly had a considerable impact on academia.8

Moreover, Germanistik and the German Geisteswissenschaften in general have been mainly positive towards the European project. Thus, focus has been rather on the idea of a common European cause and identity and attention diverted from asymmetries, historical divisions, and tensions between North and South, center and periphery to use Immanuel Wallerstein’s concepts (Wallerstein). Consequently, there is a tendency to overlook that the South, including Southern Europe, has gone through the experience of a further growing asymmetrical power as the result of the loss of political, economic, and cultural relevance in the last decades. Nothing symbolizes this better than the Mediterranean Sea, once admired for its cultural exchange and diversity, nowadays often associated with crisis, refugees, frontiers, and even death. Similarly, voices beyond the academic mainstream and Germanistik, especially voices from the South, that drew attention to the frictions between North and South or even to the existence of a “Southern Question” (Gramsci) or a “Southern Theory” (Connell), or a postcolonial theory from the South (Cassano; Todorova; Dainotto; Santos) hardly penetrated German discourse, with its continued preponderance of theoreticians from the Anglo-American space (Dürbeck and Dunker).

Post-war German amnesia about racism constitutes in my view the third reason for the lack of interest in the topic of ‘Southerners’ as a stand-in for explicit mention of race. Race thinking and racism continues to be present but unspoken and unexamined in Germanistik and in the German intellectual landscape as well as society, although Germany was a “hyperracialized society” before 1945 (Chin and Fehrenbach 5). Despite the impact of the Allies’ post-war attempts at re-education, the process of coming to terms with the past concentrated basically on anti-Semitism, which overlaps with racism in many ways, but not all. In reality, the word Rasse almost disappeared from post-war German day-to-day vocabulary, leaving the impression that racism and thinking along racial categories had evaporated, too (Chin and Fehren-bach, “Introduction”). This stance led to a climate in which racism has been constantly downplayed or even hidden under the euphemisms Ausländerfeindlichkeit or Fremdenfeindlichkeit [hostility towards foreigners] or just associated with right-wing extremism. Black German author and activist May Ayim’s professor’s remark in the 1980s that racism was a problem in the U.S.A. but not in Germany summons up the prevailing attitude towards race in post-war Germany (Loh 2003).

In fact, thinking along racialized patterns of thought and racialized language never disappeared in Germany, although openly racist categories have been banned or avoided. Actually, racism, mainly in its anti-Muslim cultural form, has been experiencing a renaissance (Shooman; Weber; Plumly), mainly since the success of Thilo Sarrazin’s book Deutschland schafft sich ab (2010), the founding of the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in 2013, and the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015.

It’s undisputed that the Anglo-American episteme assisted in granting visiblity and relevance to experiences of othering in Germany, as already touched upon above.9 Again May Ayim is a good example of this: after years of loneliness in Germany, she found an anchor and adequate means of expressions for her experiences in Audre Lorde’s life and work. Lorde became her inspiring “soul sister” (Ayim “Soul sister,” 56), regardless of their different backgrounds and the Atlantic Ocean dividing their lives.

Despite the relevance of Anglo-American research, scholars who deal with German topics at US universities tend to look at Europe as a whole or concentrate on “Core Europe” as pars pro toto, which often has an unintended essentialization effect, overlooks the tensions inside Europe itself, and ignores research from or on the South (Santos, “Between Prospero and Caliban; To-dorova; Dainotto), even if published in English and at North-American universities. Chin et al.’s After the Nazi Racial State and El-Tayeb’s European Others can be seen as an example of this. Although they are compelling in calling attention to the “continued salience of notions and practices of ‘race’ both for post-1945 period and for contemporary German and European society more generally” (Chin et al. VI) and in challenging the “myth of European race blindness” (El Tayeb European Others, XV), they convey the idea that “race”—or racialization as I prefer to call it following Robert Brubaker—is basically a German European versus an extra-European issue.10 The role of Southern countries and the relevance of the Mediterranean space in German culture, its quality as “internal others” (Hall 188) and its place in the dynamics of German and European thought is hardly on the mental radar— even less in its racialized and color-line form. This is all the more surprising as the United States itself struggled at the end of the 19th century to classify Southern European immigrants, mainly from Southern Italy, as “white” (Staples).

Besides, U.S.-based scholars tend to see the German problem influenced from the US perspective with its incisive focus on so-called “ethnic groups,” Jews, Black, Asians, etc., and lately also on Muslims (Gelbin, Campt, Adelson, El-Tayeb, Chin, Lennox, Weber) rather than on racialization processes (Brubaker) that triggers this process off and affects all groups even if to different degrees and in various forms. This approach runs the risk of not only suggesting to the general public, not trained in sociology or poststructuralist theories, that these groups do exist as homogeneous communities but also can have a negative—even if unintended—cementing effect in the German context—namely that Jews or Muslims are not as German as other groups, but something apart from the rest of society. It also makes it difficult to develop necessary, all-encompassing strategies to tackle racism in its various forms.

Generally speaking, the specificities of German racialized thinking and its impact on the German language need to be taken into greater account, such as the pre-modern differentiation between “Volk” and “Bevölkerung,” how the organization of key state institutions and understanding of the German state, even of the welfare state, contribute to segregation and discrimination, the different racialized “groups” in comparison to the US and the UK, the considerable weight of culturalism in exclusion processes, and the different “color line” that dominates in Germany, which is not defined mainly along the Black and white population or Asian and white population as in the U.S., but between the white and “brown” or “olive skin.”

Methodological Considerations

Generally speaking, I identify with Said’s position in The World, the Text and the Critic (1983), where he strives to find a balance between the extremes of structuralism, which hardly gives space to non-textual experience, and the traditional realistic stance, according to which the text is basically a reflection of the world out there and ignores the fact that language mediates and determinates what is seen. Said negotiates the two positions by dealing with the text as a cultural production, embedded in relations of power, within which it is produced. He does not see the text and categories as outside the world, but as part of the world of which the text speaks.

Accordingly, I see the category “Südländer” not as a mirror of a real existing social unity but as the result of a process of group-making in Rogers Brubaker’s sense, namely “[…] as political, social, cultural and psychological processes” (167). The category is the product of deep histories, “long durées,” that is, of long historical processes built over the centuries, in this case related to the Mediterranean space and adjacent areas, that underlie the collective mental frame. They may remain dormant under the surface for a long period of time, but be reactivated and re-interpreted according to the circumstances. As Brubaker points out, this reactivation occurs mostly after dramatic events or moments of conflicts. Such moments, as in our case the Euro and refugee crisis, serve to “galvanize and crystallize a potential group, or to ratchet up pre-existing levels of groupness” (Brubaker 171).

I will go even further in terms of “worldliness”: whereas Said chose mainly literary texts for his analysis, e.g. in Orientalism, I will focus on police reports, as I justify in more detail below. These are non-literary texts whose authors represent a central state authority with a considerable portion of both real and symbolic power. Further, I will take into consideration not only mechanisms of exclusion on the basis of cultural(istic) bias, but also phenotypic traits, including skin color. To admit that the racial taxonomy, which divides people into types and associates them with certain physical characteristics, is still valid in the collective unconscious in Germany and that visual patterns of racialized thought still guide social interactions today has been almost taboo in German Geisteswissenschaften. Particularly given the Nazi’s use of categories of race to implement genocide, German humanities discourse is constrained by the fear of reproducing or validating racism by naming and analyzing race. A radical constructivist argumentation, which sometimes elides the impact of racialized phenotypes in society, as well as the strong text-orientation of humanities and social sciences that sometimes fail to acknowledge the power of visual and somatic elements in social relations into account, likewise plays its part.

Against these tendencies, the present work will demonstrate the importance of taking phenotypic and therefore visual aspects of racialized thought into consideration because they are still at work in social—thus textual— relations, long after the ‘science’ of classifying human population in races, phenotypes and arranging them in semantic hierarchies has proved invalid and despite the genocide of the Holocaust as the outcome of this ‘science.’ Although the associations visually-attributed race evokes are ‘only’ an inhumane anthropological construct, they remain very powerful and their influence in social interactions cannot be ignored.11 The German white population’s fear of extinction or being replaced by other “non-White” populations that drives the supporters of the AfD and PEGIDA has shown that this dormant reality can erupt brutally.

The perspective on group-making processes rather than on groups has the advantage of avoiding unilateral lines of argumentation. First, it makes clear that processes of racialization might happen intentionally but also unconsciously, reproduced in social structures, institutions, and discourses— what sociologists call institutional racism. Although police might not have the intention of being racist and discriminating by using the category, it is doing so nevertheless, as words and categories have a certain history and unfold a certain meaning in the context in which they are used. In order to signal both the intended as well as structural, circumstantial forms of racism, I use the terms “racialized thinking” or “process of racialization.” The focus on the process of group-making rather than on clearly contoured groups also avoids producing new groups and new essentialisms and hampers the galvanization of groups to a static victim-status, which would be a contradiction to the constructivist approach. It avoids producing new essentialisms and a new minority group, e.g. of the “Südländer,” to be added to the existing ones which run the risk of mirroring and cementing an inhuman and outdated racial typology.

I thus give preference to intersectional approaches that highlight the mechanisms of “othering” in Germany society that affect all “groups,” albeit in different forms and degrees, and enable to put them in relation to each other in order to get a complex picture of how racism in Germany works. Some examples are Wilhelm Heitmeyer’s concept of “group-focused enmity” (Heitmeyer), Hito Steyerl’ “principle of montage” (El-Tayeb et al. Undeutsch, 326), the former Kanak Attak network’s program against the “Kanakisation” of specific groups (Kanak Attak), and Ha’s attempt to make the concept “people of color” viable for activist work in the German context (Ha et al). May Ayim, with her concept of “entfernte Verbindungen,” that is, “remote connections,” was also pioneering in such all-encompassing approaches. The German reunification—Burbaker would denominate it a period of rupture— with its eruption of nationalism and racism, made Ayim aware that it simultaneously affected non-German Blacks, Jews, migrants, and refugees: “das wieder vereinigte deutschland/feiert sich wieder 1990/ ohne immigratInnen flüchtlinge/ jüdische und schwarze Menschen.…/ es feiert in intimen kreis/ es feiert in weiß.” (Ayim “blues in schwarz weiß,” 82).

Inductive, Digitally-Supported Approach

In order to put the above formulated goals into practice, I have opted for an inductive approach that combines a digitally supported, close-text analysis with a broader social reading in an interdisciplinary way. An inductive reading proves particularly advantageous as it helps to resist the temptation of applying interpretational models from other countries to the German context. Furthermore, it enables the necessary patient decoding of categories in their contexts. This is important given that the reification of groups as implied in “Südländer” is rarely openly articulated, but rather suggested—or might even occur unconsciously.

Pursuing an inductive approach, I first look at the most frequent use of the terms in concrete textual situations in Germany during a specific period of time, namely the last decade, work out the most common patterns of use, conclude that police reports are the written source they mostly turn up, determine a representative corpus, and subsequently perform a text analysis. In doing so, I will seek answers to the following questions: What does the term “Südländer” in police reports mean? What is its function? Which process of “othering” does it set in motion? And what does it reveal about German identity?

After that, the field of analysis will be widened. As already observed, words and categories do not have a meaning by themselves but only unfold it in relation to other words and certain situations. Thus, broader contexts in which the category “Südländer” appears, including the socio-political frame, will be taken into consideration. In this way, conclusions will be drawn about its semantics and respective function in certain situations and at a certain period of time.

Police Reports as Corpus of Analysis

Thanks to the digital tools the Wortschatz Universität Leipzig (WUL) (Vocabulary Lexicon of the University of Leipzig) and Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache des 20. Jahrhunderts (DWdS; Digital Dictionary of the German Language of the 20th Century), two relatively recent electronic dictionaries, the strenuous task of looking for the context in which the category “Südländer” most often appears and ascertaining its patterns of use were considerably made easier. Digital dictionaries support the analysis of terms and discourse formations by quickly showing the context in which a given term most often appears and how frequently it turns up within a certain period of time. The result of the search, the “swarm” so to say, is the iconic reflection of its discursive use. Due to the relevance of two digital dictionaries for this work and the sequent selection of the corpus of analysis, they will be shortly presented here.

Founded in 1995 at the University of Leipzig by Uwe Quasthoff und Gerhard Heyer, the WUL is based on a relatively recent corpus from 2011. Drawn from German newspapers, including regional newspapers, it thus includes police reports, making it highly advantageous for the present work. In addition, the WUL provides the most common co-occurrences of the term and a multitude of sentence examples that allow the context and the discourse type in which the term mostly appears to be identified and analyzed. The DWdS, a project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Science Academy, is based on a larger electronic corpus, the six volumes of the Wörterbuch der deutschen Gegenwartssprache (Dictionary of Contemporary German) combined with further reference and special corpora. These include selected text corpora from 1600 to 1900, a selection of texts from the 20th century, and corpora of the 21st century. They also provide a newspaper corpus and draw on special sources, for example from the former GDR, from spoken language registers and even blogs. It is an important source for looking up varied word meanings at different times and in diverse contexts, an advantage that comparative diachronic works could fully exhaust. Both dictionaries provide data on frequency of use as well as meaning groups of the terms, contain numerous sample sentences from large corpora, and offer statistics of word frequency and the respective contexts that cover the course of more than 400 years.

Looking up the term “Südländer” in the Wortschatz Universität Leipzig, the most common co-currents of the term reveal a semantic field that coincides with that of police reports. That is, the words that mostly appear in association with it—in essence its lexical context—are: “Täter,” “1,80,” “groß,” “be-schrieben,” “dunkle,” “Haare,” “alt,” “Jahre alt,” “kurze.” The attributive form “südländisch” also turns up in similar lexical constellations. The most common word combinations are “aussehend” and “Täter,” that is, “looking like” and “perpetrator”—words that are typically used in police reports (“Südländer,” WUL).

The DWdS confirms those findings, although its corpus is larger and goes beyond newspapers. According to the DWdS, the word use profile of „Südländer” is the following: “alten beschrieben als feurigen handelt um heißblütige stürmte temperamentvolle Tater unbekannter zog.” This means that it most turns up combined with: “handelt” (it was involved), “alten” (old) “Tater” (perpetrator), “junger” (young), “zwei” (two), “beschrieben” (described), most as predicative of “Täter” (perpetrator), and in the propositional group “handelt um” (concerned/ was about) (“Südländer,” DWdS), that is, the kind of vocabulary used in police reports and is reproduced by other media such as Bild, Welt, and Berliner Zeitung.

Thus, the co-occurrences and sentence examples of both electronic dictionaries clearly indicate that police reports are indeed the context in which the pejorative term “Südländer” and related expressions such as “südländi-sches Aussehen” are mostly used in written German. A look at Blaulicht, the Police’s, the Federal Police Force’s, the Federal Criminal Police Office’s, and the Fire Brigade’s main online press portal, supports this conclusion. Blaulicht is part of the leading press service www.presseportal.de, a dpa-subsidiary of news aktuell with circa 9 million accesses per month, the participation of 12 thousand companies and with 65.000 mail subscriptions. An electronic search in Blaulicht for uses of the term “Südländer” on December 12th, 2018 between January 1st and December 12th, 2018 showed that it appears 243 times, while the word “südländisch” appears 459 times. In the month of November 2018, for instance, the word “Südländer” turns up in 18 police reports, including in police reports of larger and more diverse cities such as Stuttgart or Essen.

The high frequency of use of the category “Südländer” in police reports raises the question of why the category often turn up in this context and what the police intends with it, which is the primary reason I focus on them here. Police reports are, further, an expression and reflection of collective knowledge and language usage. Police reports as pragmatic and institutional forms of text have the advantage of being a segment of an epistemic social formation; they are not the product of a single, individual linguistic manifestation or language logic ideals. On one hand, the police draw on collective knowledge by recurrently using the category as a matter of fact without further explanations. For instance, the police often rely on witnesses’ testimonials and how they describe the perpetrator they have seen. On the other hand, police produce the “genre” police reports, which reveal a certain pattern of information and linguistic characteristics, reproduce it repeatedly and thus contribute to the dissemination and solidification of the category.

On the top of this, the police are one of the most powerful German institutions in real and symbolic terms. Police power is not only linguistic, embodied in knowledge and “regimes of truth,” as Foucault describes it (Foucault 63), but also direct, deterrent, sometimes coercive and punitive. Consequently, this symbolic and real police and state power confers legitimacy and impact on the genre “police reports” and the categories used in them. This is the more relevant as the police try to reach a broader audience by publishing such crime reports in media with considerable coverage such as newspapers and internet portals, which create a multiplying effect.

In the light of these conclusions, I have selected three police reports published in newspapers and police press portals to illustrate the use, meanings and function of the category. Since the recurrence and common pattern of use have already been worked out electronically, and since police reports are a “genre,” as the next section demonstrates, I focus on these three exemplary texts to avoid repetitions. I selected recent texts from 2015, 2016 and 2017 in order to illustrate that “Südländer” is still used nowadays and that its semantic flexibility makes it easily adaptable to new contexts, for instance to the German context after the “refugee crisis.” Although it would be certainly important and rewarding to deepen the diachronic dimension of the word, in the scope of a single article I can only touch upon a diachronic dimension when absolutely necessary.

Textual Analysis

In the text examples provided in the following pages, the term “Südländer” and its corresponding lexical variation “südländisch” are marked in bold letters. Since the reports have been translated from German into English, the respective sentence in German will be added in brackets after the English translation.

Example 1 Two aggressive Southerners hit a couple

Bielefeld—On the night of Saturday to Sunday, January 18, 2015 around 01:45am, a middle-aged couple were walking along the main road in Brack-wede when they saw two ca. 30-year-old Southerners in the immediate vicinity of the Deutsche Bank. One of them kicked a mailbox while speaking loudly on his mobile phone. The moment he saw the couple, he shouted at them. When the female answered him, the aggressive man crossed the road. Accompanied by another Southerner, he went towards her, insulted her and hit her on the back of her head. The female’s companion tried to help her by pushing the attacker aside. Thereupon the thug attacked the 44-year-old man from Bielefeld, and both offenders hit him. Their blows struck him mainly on the face and he suffered a strong nosebleed. He was given ambulatory treatment at the hospital. Both men are described as being circa 30-year-old Southerners, probably of Turkish origin. [Beide Personen werden als circa 30 jährige südländische Manner, vermutlich türkischer Herkunft, beschrieben.] One of them is ca. 175 cm tall, had a full beard and dark clothes on. The other one was slightly taller than the first one. He had a dark blue down jacket with a fur hood up. If you have any information, please contact the police Bielefeld KK 14, 0521-545-0. (Polizei Bielefeld 2015)

Example 2 Rape in Dresden-Gorbitz—Police are looking for witnesses

The Dresden Criminal Police are looking for witnesses of a rape that occurred on January 9th in Dresden-Gorbitz. According to a 48-year-old woman’s statement, three men forced her to stop on the way between Kirchenstraße and Robinienstraße. Shortly afterwards, the perpetrators beat and raped her, the police reported. The 48-year-old woman suffered injuries. Some days later, on January 14th, she notified the police. The perpetrators were between 25 and 45 years old, all had black hair and were described as having Southern appearance. [Die Täter waren zwischen 25 und 45 Jahre alt, hatten alle schwarze Haare und wurden als südländisch beschrieben.] They do not speak German.

If you have any useful information, so please contact the police direction in Dresden on the telephone number (0351) 483 22 33. (“Vergewaltigung in Dresden-Gorbitz – Polizei sucht Zeugen”)

Example 3 The police ask for support

A 46-year-old woman reported to the police that she was victim of a rape at the Alster. According to her, the sexual attack occurred on the shore of the Lombard bridge on Sunday at 11:00pm. She was strolling there when two Southerners attacked her. (Dort sei die Spaziergängerin plötzlich von zwei Südländern angegriffen worden.)

The police spokesperson Christiane Leven informs: “The 46-year-old woman has reported that the strangers attacked and hit her. Further, she depicted that she had been victim of a sex crime.” And: apparently, there were witnesses of the crime who did not help her at that moment. The police spokeswoman added: “The woman said in the inquiry that an old couple passed by the site of the crime when it was occurring.” If you have useful information, please contact tel. 040-42865789. (Knoop)

As these examples show, police reports are factual short texts whose function is to inform the public about a criminal offence and get useful indications from their readers so that the perpetrator can be caught. These three police reports—like all police reports—follow basically the same pattern: they all begin with the information about the time and place of the offence and are followed by a description of the crime and the perpetrator. At the end, readers are asked for useful information and the police’s contact number is provided. As these examples illustrate, the terms “Südländer” or “südländisch” are primarily used to denominate a phenotype, so that readers get an idea what the perpetrator looks like. In text 2: “The perpetrators were between 25 and 45 years old, had black hair and were described as having a Southern appearance.” In Text 3: “She was strolling there when two Southerners attacked her.” And in text 1: “Both men are described as being circa 30-year-old Southerners, probably of Turkish origin.”

It is striking that the texts do not indicate explicitly what these looks stand for. This means that the German police presuppose that most readers in Germany know what the Southerner phenotype is as part of collective knowledge. Indeed, only text 2 does so by mentioning “black hair” and adding: “[…] and were described as having Southern appearance.” This indicates that the information “dark hair” would have not sufficed to classify a phenotype as “Südländer.” The skin color, that is, the olive shade in combination with the dark hair and dark eyes, seems to be central even if the police clearly avoid giving this information on skin color explicitly. Thus, the additional information “[…] and were described as having Southern appearance” conveys this information implicitly. There is only one vague indication in one of the texts (text 1) that the perpetrator might be from Turkey, but even this information is not presented as certain. However, this does not hamper the police from classifying the perpetrator as “Südländer,” since the complexion is decisive factor—regardless of whether the foreigners have any accent.

A look at other recent police reports beyond the corpus of analysis dispels any doubt on this matter. Reports such as Polizeipräsidium Rostock (Police Headquarters Rostock): “POL-HRO: Körperverletzung in Rostock” (2018), Polizeipräsidium Offenburg (Police Headquarters Offenburg): “POL-OG: Kehl – Casion bestohlen” (2018), Polizei Essen (Police Essen) “POL-Essen: Versuchter Raub auf 18-jährigen. Polizei sucht Zeugen” (2018), “POL-BO: Witten: Beim Einbruch überrascht und geflüchtet – Zeuge gesucht” (2018) confirm that the phenotype suffices for the classification as “Südländer.” Moreover, the frequent alternative use of the attributive form of “Südländer,” namely “südländisches Aussehen,” “südländisches Erscheinungsbild” corroborates its primary phenotypic semantics.

Thus, the conclusion must be drawn that “Südländer” does not primarily refer to a person coming from a geographical place designated by a cardinal direction, as Richter’s book with the title The South a Cardinal Direction seems to suggest. It does not stand mainly for a nationality, political organization like the EU, nor for a religion, but is rather an anthropological, phenotypic, and racialized category. The decisive point is that the appearance corresponds to a human typology associated with people from the southern part of the hemisphere in contrast to how Germans are assumed to look. “Südländer” and “südlländisches Aussehen” are euphemistic signal words for an epistemic paradigm that overlaps with the category “human type” and even “race.” They prove that racialized thinking and racialized human typology did not evaporate with the World War II, although the word “Rasse” became a taboo afterwards: the idea and effects of race continued to exist, even if behind the mask of other categories such as “Südländer,” which at first sight seem innocuous.

Although the police’s intention in using the term “Südländer” is to fulfil their duty and catch the perpetrator, the use of the category carries negative semantic implications in the context of today’s society. As Martin Wengeler points out, topoi as discourse segments have deep semantics; that is, they also produce meaning by suggesting and implying it in a certain context instead of openly expressing it (Wengeler 47). This is particularly valid for discourses on the “other,” as they often contain a pejorative or even racist subtext, as seen above, which are often suggested rather than openly said. The following sections are dedicated to two main semantic dimensions of the category “Südländer”: On the one hand, that the Southern phenotype is not German or not “proper” German. On the other hand, that they are (particularly) criminal. In order to illustrate this, I take a broader perspective, go beyond the close interpretation of police reports and take further texts and larger contexts into consideration.

“Südländer” are not (Proper) Germans

As the text examples above show, the indication that the perpetrator is a “Südländer” ends up operating as a physical marker of non-Germanness or at least not “real” Germanness, although this is not said explicitly. Text number 3 confirms this. Whereas in texts 2 and 1 the information that they do not speak German and probably have Turkish origins (text 1) reveal that the “Südländer” are in fact not from Germany, in text 3 proof of this is dispensed with. The “brown appearance” suffices for the perpetrator’s characterization as a “Südländer.” This means in general terms that the Southern phenotype is not considered to be German or “real” German.

A look at journalist and author Jens Jessen’s comment in the Die Zeit column “Wörterbericht” (Words Report) supports those inductive conclusions. In his eyes, the word “Südländer” is often used as a marker of non-Germanness on the grounds of physical appearance, even if the person may have been born in Germany and have a German passport. (Jessen). Jessen comments that people do not lose their foreign status if they are born in Germany but to foreign parents. In this case, they are considered to be a person with foreign origins. Thus, the word “Südländer” is used as an alibi word to suggest that a person is not a proper German or does not look like a “real German,” even if he/she might be one according to the law, as Jessen observes: How long does a foreigner remain a foreigner? In any case, he won’t forfeit his foreignness in Germany by birth; if his parents are foreigners, he will be at most a person with foreign origins. That’s how the mass media language works; when journalists sometimes have scruples because the person meant is a German citizen, they bail themselves out by using the term “southern-like” “süd-landisch.” Yet, they would never speak of the “Celtic type” upon suspicion of non-German origins, as doubt would never arise from pale complexion and freckles. Whenever uncertain about real citizenship, the term “foreigner” can be easily replaced by the term Southerner [Südländer] only because the Mediterranean appearance is meant, but not Italian or Spanish people but rather Turkish or Arabic who are sometimes perverse enough to look like Spanish or Italian people (Jessen).

In fact, Germans still imagine themselves not only as white but typically as “blond, pale and blue-eyed.”12 These looks are often seen as a characteristic of a homogeneous ethnic and cultural entity, although the majority of the population does not fit in that physical profile and the idea of a homogeneous identity is ultimately a collective myth, as there have always been migration movements to the German territory (Bade 39). The escape out of the country and the elimination of people who were not considered to be German during the Nazi regime, as well as the minimal migration from former colonies (in contrast to, e.g., the Netherlands or the U.K.) and the prohibition of labor immigration of people from Afro-Asian countries in post-war Germany in 1962 (Schönwälder 257-277), contributed to the idea of ethnic homogeneity. On top of this, Germany has long maintained an exclusionary citizenship law that still stems from imperial times in 1913. Accordingly, Germans are primarily people who are born to German parents, not children who come into the world in German territory. This law was adapted to social reality only in 2000, when the jus solis principle was added to the jus sanguinis, thus allowing children born to foreign or migrant parents in Germany to become German. However, these “new Germans” are often still perceived as Pass-Deutsche only, that is, “passport Germans” and therefore not real Germans (Ataman). This is the case even if they were born in Germany and speak German with a slight accent or none at all. In short, a person with Southerner looks but with a German passport is still considered to be a foreigner or not a real German.

Only in one text can an indication be found that the perpetrator might be from Turkey, but even this is not presented as certain, as already mentioned. In fact, the nationality of the perpetrator remains unstated in the majority of the police reports. On one hand, police are often not aware of the perpetrator’s exact origins and have often to rely on witnesses’ description, which is basically visual. On the other hand, the German Press Council recommends journalists only to mention the perpetrator’s nationality when it is relevant to the case.

If one wanted to determine the precise geographical location(s) of the South, it would be an arduous and indeed an impossible undertaking. In order to get a vague idea of its spatial volatility, I turn briefly to sources beyond police reports, for instance the internet and newspapers. The internet is particularly valuable insofar as many ordinary users feel free to express their opinion online—often they even go beyond the rules of what is considered socially acceptable. Moreover, the internet favors colloquial language with fewer taboos over the formal compliant language. Newspapers are also a good source of information as they both influence and mirror everyday speech and discourse.

Recent internet pages show that most people are uncertain where so-called “Südländer” come from. Indeed, one of the questions posed on internet platforms on the topic, for instance in www.gutefrage.net, the German leading general advice forum, is where “Südländer” actually come from. Akoonnnn asks: “I don’t know whether this is a stupid or a clever question, but what are “Südländer”? People say I look like a “Südländer,” is that positive or negative?” (akoonnnn). This prompts the user under the name “Germany3005” to answer “They are people who live south of latitude 45, Southern French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Croatians, Bosnians, Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians (including Kosovo), Romanians (including Moldovans), Greeks, Bulgarians, Turks.” User “Wolli1960” responds: “Mostly people from the Mediterranean area. Greeks, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese (yes, I know Portugal has no Mediterranean coast).” “OneLove2Africa” is of the opinion: “Südländer are, well, people from the South, Turkey, Greece, Albanian, Kosovo, Macedonia, Italy, dark hair, brown skin.” The Facebook site El-ghazi with the title “Ich liebe ‘Südländer’” (I love Southerners) conveys the idea that “Südländer” are associated with people from a myriad of regions, from Southern Europe such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, but also from Turkey and Southeastern Europe, North African Countries and the Middle East (See El-ghazi).

Yet there are people who defend more restrictive definitions of a “Südländer.” The user “kickard21” argues in www.gutefrage.de that no Arabs, but only people from the Mediterranean area, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria are Southerners. “Beachboy1” restricts the semantics even further and states that only European Southerners are “Südländer”—but then excepts people from Southern France.

Jens Jessen, for his part, claims in the respected middle class newspaper Die Zeit that “Südländer” are primarily Turkish or Arabic citizens, not so much Spanish or Italian people, that is, members of the European Union (Jessen). His colleague, Lothar Leuschen, section chief and vice-editor of the Wuppertal newsroom in chief of the newspaper Westdeutsche Zeitung, shares this opinion. In his commentary note “Wieso der ‘südländische Typ’ nicht in eine Täterbeschreibung gehört,” he mentions explicitly that “Südländer” are Turks, Moroccans, refugees, and not Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Southern French (Leuschen).

As can be seen, both journalists Jessen and Leuschen explicitly exclude EU citizens from “Südländer” and associate the term mainly with Muslims, whom they further identify as Arabs and Northern Africans. Jessen even comments explicitly that “Südländer” is the politically correct linguistic mask of Islamophobic resentment. He adds that it implies a Mediterranean appearance, but primarily those of Turkish or Arabic origin, not Italian or Spanish people (Jessen 46). Jessen’s and Leuschen’s definitions of a “Südländer” reflect the context in which they were made: Jessen wrote in 2008, at a time when, after 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiments were growing in Germany and Turks were more and more perceived as “Muslims.” Leuschen wrote after the “refugee crisis” of 2015. It seems plausible that these events contributed to both the expansion and narrowing of the semantic radius of the category “Südländer” by putting Muslims, North African and Arab countries in the foreground. This shift was supported by the tendency to see southern Europeans primarily as European (rather than southern) thanks to their membership in the European Union.

The impact of those events can even be found in police reports themselves, such as the following article by Wolfgang Klietz: “Party guests rescue 17-year-old girl from a male group” (Partygäste retten 17jährige vor Män-nergruppe). Based on a police report, the journalist of the local newspaper Hambuger Abendblatt explicitly compares a local sexual assault by a group of “Südländer” to the New Year’s Eve incidents in Cologne and Hamburg in 2015/16 on the basis of the perpetrators’ “Southern looks” and behavior: Kaltenkischen—The way the perpetrators behaved recalls the events of New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Cologne and Hamburg: several men with Southern looks surrounded a young woman and tried to rape her. [Das Vorgehen der Täter erinnert an die Vorfälle in der Silvesternacht 2015/16 in Köln und Hamburg: Mehrere südländisch aussehende Männer umringen eine junge Frau und versuchen, sie sexuell zu missbrauchen.] The criminal police in Segeberg investigated a similar incident in Kaltenkirchen. The site of the crime was the parking place of a Party Halle at Kisdorfer Weg, which can be rented to private partygoers. On Sunday around 3:10, a group of five to six people surrounded a 17-year-old girl. The perpetrators held her, touched her and tried to undress her, the police stated on Monday. […] A private party with ca. 100 guests had taken place. The young woman, one of the partygoers, left the party with a man, whom she knew superficially, for a while in order to get some fresh air. The other men joined him before the assault. The main perpetrator is 1.90 meters tall, slim, and has short, dark hair. He had a white shirt, light blue trousers and white shoes on. He spoke German with a slight accent and has southern looks. Please dial 04551/8840 with any clues (Klietz).

These examples from contemporary media show that the semantics of the term “Südländer” can adapt to new social contexts, in which new delimitations between us and “the rest” were deemed necessary.

Yet it should still be mentioned that Jessen’s and Leuschen’s exclusion of Southern Europeans from the semantic radius of “Südländer” is an anachronistic generalization. For not long ago, in the 1960s, the category was still employed to designate post-war migrants, the so-called “guest workers” from Southern Europe, including the largest minority group from Turkey, and it did so in more culturalistic than explicitly phenotypic terms. In her study on post-war migration, the scholar Karen Schönwälder concluded that almost all foreigners in the sixties were understood as “Südländer”: “Little was reported about their countries of origin. Foreigners were, especially in the Bildzeitung 1966/67 mainly men, they were “guest workers” and they were Südländer” (Schönwälder 191).

Giacomo Maturo, a prominent expert for guest workers questions in the sixties, also used that term frequently to denominate Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, Greeks, Turks, that is, all guest workers from Southern Europe. The category even found a prominent place in the title of his book Arbeitsplatz Deutschland. Wie man südländische Gastarbeiter verstehen lernt (Workplace Germany: How to Learn to Understand Southerners). Written on his editor Otto K. Krausskopf’s demand, the book aimed at explaining how “Südländer” behave and at building a “bridge of understanding between North and South” (Maturi 7). According to Maturi, “Südländer” are people from the Mediterranean space. In Maturi’s own words: The peoples of the Mediterranean area maintained closes ties with each other from the times of the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans until the epoch of the crusades, until the power of the republic of Venice or Spain in the Middle Ages, and the confrontation between the Christian and Muslim powers. By doing so, they influenced each other: think of the Greek colonization in South Italy, in Northern Africa and in the Middle East, think of the dissemination of the Roman political power and culture as well as of the influence of the late Greek culture and of the Roman World, and the power of Byzantium from Asia to Ravenna, of the flowering of the Arabic culture in Spain, and one will see that there are big, striking similarities between their peoples and mentalities, from Gibraltar to Constantinople, from Venice to Alexandria, from Barcelona to Athens. Despite the passionate hostility between national groups, which sometimes ignite on the same island, it is almost impossible to keep those peoples racially apart so that one can only differentiate them on the basis of their religion or other elements (Maturi 15–16).

As this example illustrates, “Südländer” are people from the Mediterranean area in Maturi’s understanding. The differentiation “Europe and non-Europe” and the national differences between those nations such as between “Portuguese and Spanish,” “Turkish and Greek” or religious ones such as Protestant (German), Catholic (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian) and Greek (orthodox) or Muslim (Turkey) play a marginal role. For despite belonging to different nations, “Southerners” have been in constant contact and intermingled. They all share the same landscape, climate, mentality and characteristics: they are individualistic, temperamental, and emotional. Maturi draws on a historical, culturalist rationale, in which the idea of race, more precisely the Mediterranean race, operates as a uniting social and demographic organization principle. That is, the common cultural and racial background “Mediterranean Space” or “Mediterranean Race” works like an umbrella that united all Southerners and put them in contrast to Germans as Northern Europeans.

An exhaustive diachronic study of the influence of the Mediterranean on German culture and the marks it left on the German language over time would certainly be worth carrying out. Although it is beyond the scope of this article, it should at least be mentioned that by all indications the representations of Southern Europeans and their differences seem not to have escaped the anthropological and racial trends mainly from the second half of the 19th century onwards. At that time, naturalistic and ethnological thinking influenced the humanities and put them under pressure (Zimmerman). Consequently, the concept of Germany as a northern country and differences from other European nations were increasingly explained with cultural anthropological and racial arguments. This so-called science reached its peak in the first half of the 20th century and was popularized in books such as Hans F.K. Günther’s work Kleine Rassenkunde Europas (Racial Elements of European History, 1925), one of the most widely read books in Germany at the time in which the Mediterranean people are described as a “race.” Designated as one of the “main races” in Europe, the “Mediterranean Race” was physically described as having “brown skin,” “brown/black hair,” “brown/black eyes” and having an emotional, superficial, cheerful and crooked character (Günther Rassenkunde, 19, 25–28, 61–62).

Seemingly, this collection of characteristics survived until the post-war era, as in Maturi’s idea of the “Mediterranean Race,” in the category “Südländer” and in the culturalistic attributes associated with the “Südländer” in general. Maturi, who mentions in his book that he was taught about the different world races with wall posters at school (Maturi 22), even employed explicitly the category “race” to explain the differences between people from the North and the South. He called them “Rassenunterschiede” (race differences) and saw the “hot blood of these races” (heiße[s] Blut dieser Rasse)] (Maturi 46) as one of their salient attributes.

In light of such examples, it seems plausible to conclude that the making secondary or even the exclusion of Western Southern Europeans from the semantics of “Südländer” as this occurs in Jessen’s or Leuscher’s definitions is thus less a historic fact than the result of a process of “gentrification” or making-white of Southern Europeans in the public eye, mainly as the result of the European unification process. In fact, the category still entails that semantic dimension, even if mostly hidden in culturalistic arguments. Despite the improved image of Southern European people in comparison to the sixties (Janz and Sala), the so-called “Euro crisis” showed how quickly old tropes and stereotypes could be reactivated. Old lines of conflict, such as that between Northern and Southern Europe suddenly experienced a swift revival. In media and political discourse, diverse European countries were lumped together and homogenized into one group, and classified pejoratively as the “PIIGS,” “ClubMed” or the “Südländer” (see Ervedosa, “The Canabilization”).

A process of essentialization became visible; that is, negative characteristics such as being lazy, emotional, irrational, and wasteful were attributed to Southerners. Moreover, these characteristics were suggested as innate and immutable, that is, as a second nature. Especially the Greek prime-minister Alexis Tsipras and his then-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis were presented as the prototype of the “Südländer”: irrational, irresponsible, unserious and aggressive. Accordingly, physical characteristics such as their attractive looks and their outfits were often highlighted. This “downgraded” Greeks and Southern Europeans discursively and questioned their ability to belong to the European Union. The casting of the “Südländer” into the role of the “other” established an opposition to the industrious and rational German, which became a model to follow during the so-called Euro crisis. Therefore, while the Greeks deserved to be patronized and punished, so the subtext, the Germans had the right to dictate the rules and be rewarded (Ervedosa, “The Canabilization”).

“Südländer” are Criminal

As the word search in the digital dictionaries Wortschatz Universität Leipzig and DWdS in showed, the most common co-current of “Südländer” is “Täter,” or perpetrator. This and the other most common co-currents such as “1.80,” “tall,” “described,” “dark,” “hair,” “age” led to the conclusion that the category “Südländer” mostly occurs in police reports, that is, in context related to wrongdoings, thus establishing a strong semantic nexus between “Südländer” or “südländisches Aussehen” and criminality. This inductive insight is not surprising, considering that “Südländer”—and foreigners in general— are indeed strongly associated with criminality in Germany. As already shown, the Spiegel’s article “Unter Generalverdacht” (Hengst et al.) as well as the chief editor of the Westdeutsche Zeitung, the journalist Leuscher, go even further and claim that the media contribute to those prejudices e.g. by collaborating with the in publishing police reports with such categories in newspapers.

In fact, numerous studies already came to a similar result. They demonstrated that media—along with politicians—are largely responsible for the prejudice towards foreigners and the migrant population as being especially criminal (Delgado, Merten et al., Jäger and Cleve et al., Geißler). German media broach the issue of migration almost exclusively in a negative context, whereas migrants’ contributions to society are silenced. Not only is the main media impetus a negative event (Bonfadelli), but criminality is also clearly overrepresented. Furthermore, media often use a generalizing culturalistic approach when tackling this issue: the criminal is barely presented as an individual but rather as an anthropological prototype of a certain ethnic group. In contrast to this, when a crime is committed by “real Germans” there is usually no explicit mention of his/her ethnicity or nationality (Jäger and Cleve et al.). In fact, white Germans hardly apply “ethnicity” and related categories to their own population, which is revealing about how they regard self and other. As Immanuel Wallerstein observed, sociological terms (such as “nationality”) have been traditionally reserved for the so-called “civilized’ societies,” with anthropological and ethnological categories such as ethnos and culture for “primitive ones” (Wallerstein 8–9). In accordance with this logic, when German perpetrators are mentioned in the media, they are presented as individual cases rather than as representatives of a certain culture in opposition to the “Südländer” (Ruhrmann and Demren).

At the same time, the media tend to be silent about factors concerning foreign criminal statistics that would soften prejudice among the population: for instance that younger people, especially men, might be overrepresented in crime statistics because elderly foreigners hardly migrate. They also do not mention that central vital areas for newcomers’ integration into German society such as the labor market and the education system have always been very hard to permeate due to their lack of transparency, heavy bureaucracy, and protectionist restrictions, because of obstacles in the recognition of foreign qualifications, discrimination and racism. Discrimination in the labor market (Höhne and Bushoff) and in schools is especially striking in Germany and known to bring about harmful and long-term effects for this group (Lüders and Schlenzka).

Furthermore, offenses committed by people with a non-German (that is, dark-haired and non-white) appearance and from a lower socio-economic status, to which many people with “migrant backgrounds” in Germany belong, tend to be the object of more sensationalist media visibility than if committed by national and white collar groups, as a comparative study on the media coverage on German banks, automobile industry frauds versus coverage of refugees in the last two years would certainly bring to light. Media often explore those crimes sensationally (Jäger and Cleve et al.; Brosius and Esser) in order to fulfil political expectations, catch the readers’ attention and divert attention from other issues as well as augmenting the number of “clicks” and thus advertisement revenues.

All this happens in a context in which migrants and people with a “migrant background” lack political representation and participation. This begins with the fact that they are not adequately represented in the German media, although they pay taxes and obligatory state broadcasting fees. Besides, they are underrepresented or even absent in almost all key state institutions, although they constitute 25.5% of the population, in many cities even 40% or more. Since the foreigners among them cannot vote, they are basically irrelevant or invisible for politicians and journalists which makes them particularly vulnerable (Statistisches Bundesamt 24, 36).

Despite all those scholar studies, there is still little awareness of discrimination and institutional racism in central areas of society among journalists, politicians, and within the German authorities and in German society in general. The media debate in 2016 whether journalists should start mentioning the ethnicity and nationality of perpetrators can even be interpreted as a backlash in terms of discrimination awareness. Confronted with the critique of the far-right that called the press “Lügenpresse” (Fake News) for allegedly not reporting the truth, especially after debates concerning the New Year’s Eve 2015/16, the German Press Council felt pressure to explain their decision to continue to respect rule 12 of the Press Codex that states that nobody should be discriminated against on the grounds of gender, disability or belonging to a certain religion, nationality or ethnicity or social background and that the ethnical or national background should only be mentioned if relevant to the case (Gasteiger). However, it also felt forced to change this rule in March 2017 to a more vague formulation that gives leeway to the indication of the perpetrator’s religious or ethnical belonging if public interest requires it—which is defined very broadly. This relaxation had already indirect consequences on the use of the category “Südländer” and proves that a mere Press Code recommendation is incapable of preventing and protecting citizens from discriminatory and racialized categories. When the Integrationsrat (Board of Integration) of the city of Bielefeld, one of the few bodies where foreigners or citizens with “migrant background” are represented, accused the police and the media of fomenting resentments by using the term “Southern looks” in their reports (Buck), Carten Heil, a journalist of the newspaper Neue Westfälische argued using rule 12 of the Press Code. In his readnig of the rule, there is no prohibition on using “Südländer” and it is the newspaper’s responsibility to decide what is more important: the public interest or the danger of discriminating (Heil).


As can be seen, “Südländer” stands mainly for a phenotype that is imagined as typically from the South (dark hair, dark eyes, darker skin) and distinct from the white German ideal. Given that social interaction in today’s German society often does not go beyond the fleeting glance or quick gaze, as is the case with the “encounters,” that is, witness statements, which police reports often rely on, the mere visual perception of darker skin or the “non-German phenotype” overrides potential cultural, religious and political belonging to Germany to interpret the individual as ‘non-German.’ For perceived biological categories such as phenotype, ancestry of the German “Volk” still counts as the main requisite to accept someone as a ‘real German.’

The spatial meaning “people from the Mediterranean area” still resonates in the term, as Duden and Wahrig confirm. It can mean Southern Europeans, but its semantics is not confined to Mediterranean countries in the strict sense of the word any longer. It can also comprise people with the same phenotype who, however, are not from Mediterranean countries, but rather from somewhere nearby or even from a space vaguely imagined as the South or what we would call today the Middle East. As the result of the globalization of migration in the last decades, the category has thus experienced a semantic expansion and shift to include migrants from these areas. Meanwhile Southern Europeans, especially EU-Europeans, might even be excluded from the category, depending on their appearance and which tropes are activated by recent events.

Crucially, phenotype and skin color mark a difference in contrast to the Whiteness most Germans identify with. This explains why not all people from the Southern hemisphere, for instance white Australians or New Zealanders, would be categorized as “Südländer” because they do not correspond to the profile “südländisch” as used in police reports. And there are people who correspond to that phenotype and can be “Südländer” who, however, are not immediately associated with the South, but rather with the Middle East, like Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan or from Africa.

The article has thus drawn attention to the need for the police as a state institution to develop more sensitivity towards the language they use and its impact on social integration or discrimination, especially in a society which is getting increasingly diverse. It has also demonstrated that people from the Southern European “peripheries” and from the Mediterranean area in a wider sense with the above-described phenotype can also be affected by racialized thought and racism in Germany. It makes a case for considering this category in studies on racism, including German whiteness studies, and not reducing or suggestion a reduction of the understanding of racism to colonial racism (Terkessidis) and to anti-Black racism (Arndt), in the course of the overdue study of the colonial legacy in Germany in recent decades.13 After racism or rather racialized thinking in Germany has been already almost narrowed down to anti-Semitism in the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, a further narrowing down would hamper its understanding in all its complexity.


  • Dr. Clara Ervedosa, University of Coimbra, Centro de Estudos Sociais (CES), Praça Dom Dinis, 3000-995 Coimbra, Portugal, Email: claraervedosa{at}gmail.com claraervedosa{at}ces.uc.pt

  • 1 The official category “Migrationshintergrund” means German and non-German citizens who migrated to Germany after 1949/1955 or are descendants from at least one parent who migrated after that time.

  • 2 The heated media and political reaction to it marked the replacement of the “welcome culture” towards refugees with a climate of growing resentment.

  • 3 Although El-Tayeb and Terkissidis mention the word en passage, thus signaling that they became aware of its pejorative dimension, they do not engage with it. (El Tayeb, European Others XXX; El Tayeb, Undeutsch 62; Terkissidis 168).

  • 4 After New Year’s Eve in Cologne 2015/2016, the police of North Rhine-Westphalia confessed that “Nafri” was an internal working concept to designate people from North Africa. This leads to the assumption that German police may have further internal working categories such as “Südländer” for classifying certain population groups in Germany (sms/dpa 2017).

  • 5 In order to denominate discrimination based on skin color in Germany that is not necessarily anti-Black racism, scholars and activists from the U.S.A. often employ the category “people of color,” which stands for the bond of solidarity between various minorities in contrast to the white population. Although “Südländer” might also rightly consider themselves as being “people of color,” I will refrain from applying this category in this work, as its advantages from a political and activist point of view would be disadvantages from a scholarly one: whereas I try to find out the meaning and function of “Südländer” in texts and contexts in an inductive manner, the category “people of color” implies a deductive use of an imported category in a gesture of solidarity that elides categories such “Südländer.” In addition, not primarily the phenotype as in police’s “Südländer,” but the experience of discrimination is central to legitimate the use of “people of color.” Further, the agency contained in the use of “people of color” is not present in the police’s “Südländer,” in which people from the South are the mere object of representation. The following examples illustrate how deductive categories might lead to areas of non-awareness in the understanding of racism in Germany: Arndt’s and Ofuatey-Alazard’s (K)erben des Kolonialismus (2011) and the campaign “Ban! Racial Profiling” by the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland and other organizations in 2017. The category “Südländer” does not turn up in Arndt’s and Ofuatey-Alazard’s list of racist or racializing categories. Although the campaign was against police’s “racial profiling,” “Südländer” is not mentioned.

  • 6 E.g. the critical study of literature and National Socialism, particularly Trümmerliteratur and Literatur der Stunde Null, the confrontation of the Nazi past of Germanistik itself at the Germanistik Conference in Munich 1966, or in Christoph König’s Marbach’s investigations.

  • 7 The Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, Postkolonial e.V., ArbeitskreisHamburg Postkolonial (Work Group Postcolonial Hamburg), Forschungsstelle Koloniales Erbe (Research Centre Colonial Heritage) at the University Hamburg have been doing important work in this field, but, they cannot yet be classified as a grass-roots civil movement with wider impact on public opinion.

  • 8 Lecturers with a migrant background are widely underrepresented at German universities and particularly in Germanistik; non-white lecturers are basically non-existent. See for example chairs in Interkulturelle Germanistik, scholars in the central positions in the Gesellschaft für Interkulturelle Germanistik (Society for Intercultural German Studies), in the Zeitschrift für Interkulturelle Germanistik (Journal for Intercultural German Studies), and at the International Investigation Centre Chamisso at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. (See Ervedosa, “Ornament, nicht Ferment”).

  • 9 It is important to note that migrants themselves such as Gino Chiellino, Franco Biondi, José Öliver and Aras (Oren were the first to call attention to and give voice to their experiences. However, migrants’ literature played a marginal role in Germanistik within Germany for decades. The breakthrough came from works from the English-speaking world, mainly after the cultural and postcolonial turn. UK and US “based” scholars, strikingly most of them female, such as Sabine Fischer, Moray McGowan, Elisabeth Boa, Margaret Littler, Cathy S. Gelbin, Ruth Mandel, Leslie Adelson, and Sara Lennox, to list only a few, made an important contribution to make the others’ voices and representations in German literature and culture visible.

  • 10 See for example Eley’s “The trouble with ‘Race.’” Despite central debates on the relevance of colonial heritage in German history and mentality in the last decades and scholars’ thesis that German treatment of Eastern Europe is very similar to a colonial space (Zimmerer, Kopp), Eley does not deem an explanation necessary for addressing only Northwestern European countries and leaving Southern and Eastern European countries out. El-Tayeb acknowledges that migrants from European peripheries such as the so-called guest workers have been subalternized in Germany. Yet the focus of her work is clearly on the imagined line between Europeans and non-Europeans, as the titles of her works already suggest. El-Tayeb’s “Europe” is very much based on examples taken from Northwestern Europe such as France, Netherlands, and Germany. (El Tayeb “The Birth of a European Public;” and European Others). Particularly striking is Weber’s article “We Must Talk about Cologne,” in which no other context than the German is analyzed; nevertheless it is seen as representative for the whole of Europe.

  • 11 The exception that confirms the rule is Plumly’s “Refugee Assemblages” on the impact of body politics on representations of the nation and the “other.” However, the use of the category “People of Color” as well as the focus on refugees erases the questions addressed in this article.

  • 12 See e.g. Der Spiegel, which depicts Germans mostly as blond and fair-skinned. Revealing, for instance, is the article “The changing face of the country” from April 19, 2018 on how immigration demography is changing “the face of the country.” Although phenotype and skin color are not mentioned explicitly, Spiegel uses other means such as pictures and descriptions of migrants to suggest the idea that the phenotype of the German population is changing, too (Bartsch et al).

  • 13 Arndt does not consider discrimination against Portuguese and Polish people to be racism as they are white in her eyes (Arndt 224).

Works Cited