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A German Obama? A Comparison of African Americans and German Immigrants of Turkish Descent in Terms of Integration and Political Participation

Hausarbeit 2012 14 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde




Integration, Political Behavior, and Inclusion

Germans of Turkish descent and African Americans in Comparison


Works Cited


Ever since Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States in 2008, it seems that minorities all over the world have gained hope in regard to the possibility of having a minority representative in their specific state's highest office. Especially in Germany, with nearly 20% of its inhabitants being of foreign descent, Obama and his achievements were looked up to. This could be seen on Obama's visit to Berlin in July 2008 when an estimated number of 200,000 people cheered Obama (Zeleni). His election in 2008 set high hopes in Germany which seem to manifest in Cem Oezdemir, one of the leaders of the German Green Party (Buendnis 90/Die Grünen).

Oezdemir is a German politician of Turkish descent. He is a representative of Germany's largest minority. From the 1960s on, Turkish foreign workers, among others, came to Germany to rebuild the state's economy. Many of them did not leave the country as initially planned but rather got their families to emigrate to Germany as well. By now, the Turkish minority is by far the largest minority in Germany. Until today, the Turkish minority is politically underrepresented. Oezedemir seems to be a glimpse of hope for this minority. When Oezdemir was 28, in 1994, he was the first German of Turkish descent to enter the German parliament, theBundestag. In November 2008 he was elected to be one of three people heading the Green Party. Thereby, Oezdemir became the first immigrant leader of a German party. His election, shortly after that of Obama's, made the German and international press compare Oezdemir to Obama. Apart from the symbolic similarities, does that comparison make sense? I think it does. This is what I will try to prove in this paper.

In the following, I will point out the similarities and differences between the Turkish minority in Germany and the African American minority in the US. I will focus on the broader groups instead of the particular persons. Since Obama functions as a symbol of a change in African American politics, I will analyze Oezdemir on the same premise. Both of them will not be compared in terms of theirvita. Rather, I will analyze their specific minority's chances in politics. Since a full comparison of both minorities would not be possible in a regular term paper, I will present valid aspects to base the comparison on. Those will be the level of integration and the level of participation of both minorities. With these measurements in mind, I will compare the numbers of citizens, the numbers of representatives in the respective parliament and the numbers of political involved minority members. I will conclude about whether a comparison between Obama and Oezdemir is reasonable and justifiable. And more importantly, I will conclude if it is possible to have a German Obama.

Integration, Political Behavior, and Inclusion

One of the fundamentals of modern day political participation, besides citizenship, is a certain amount of integration. That integration, as Heckmann defines it,

“in the context of migration [,] refers to the inclusion of new populations into existing social structures and the equality and manners in which these new populations are connected to the existing system of socio-economic, legal and cultural relations” (46).

There are different categories or measurements of integration such as cultural integration which Heckmann considers to be a “cognitive, cultural, behavioral and attitudinal change” (46f.), social integration which includes private relationships and group memberships (ibid. 47), and “identificational” integration which describes a sense of belonging and identification to the newly inhabited country and culture (ibid.).

Considering political participation impossible or at least very unlikely without any sort of integration, we further have to look at reasons for political participation. According to Kendra King, political participation for African Americans has three basic indicators (46ff.). Those is, first of all, what King calls, “group consciousness” or “linked fate”. Second of all, there is the “socio-economic status”. Third of all, there is the “fear/threat” model (ibid. 46ff.). The “linked fate” model refers to the basic similarity that all African American people in the US share, which is the history of slavery and segregation as well as the sense of otherness in a majority White society based on a darker skin color. Although there was no such thing as slavery for the Turkish people in Germany, they still are a visibly different minority due to their skin color, their different culture and oftentimes their Muslim religion. Even considering the differences, the “linked fate” model can still be valuable for them as well. The “socio-economic” model assumes that people with a higher level of education and a higher level of income are more interested in political activities and the outcome of political races. Thus, they are more likely to participate. Since that model shows parallels to the general assumption that integration fosters political participation, this model can be considered valid for the analysis undertaken here. The third model is the “fear/threat” model which refers to the fear African Americans have of retaliation for political participation. An example for this, as brought up by King, is the Birmingham Boycott of 1963. As a reaction to that, Dr. Martin Luther King was “threatened with physical harm” (ibid. 50). Although the German Turkish minorities were definitely severely harmed and threatened on several occasions, they were never systematically kept from political participation through violence or the threat of such. Hence, I would not consider this model valid for the comparison planned.

The comparison of political participation of African Americans in the US and people of Turkish descent in Germany will be based on the basic assumption that firstly, integration must be reached at least to a certain point, and secondly, that the “linked fate” model as well as the “socio-economic” model are influencing the level of participation. Without common ground on the measurements of participation, a comparison would lack any significance and validity. Having established common factors for participation, the numbers can be set in correlation.

Germans of Turkish descent and African Americans in Comparison

a) Germans of Turkish descent

Germany's immigrants consist of four groups. First, there is the group of the so calledAussiedler,the re-settlers.Those re-settlers are Germans that moved to German territory in Eastern Europe after Nazi-Germany had annexed it in World War II. After the end of WWII, those Germans fled from Russian persecution. By 1950, those refugees numbered 12 million and 16% of the German population (Geddes 80). The second group if immigrants consists of guest workers that came to Germany from 1953 on in order to work in agricultural and industrial jobs (ibid. 81). Guest workers did not get a permanent allowance to stay or even citizenship but only a residence permit combined with a work permit. These “permit[s] were subordinated to West Germany's economic interests” (ibid. 81). By 1967, 0.9 million guest workers were in Germany. By 1980, 33% of the foreign population consisted of Turks (ibid. 81). At this point, and until 1981, there was no law that provided family reunification on German soil (ibid. 81). Thus, the numbers so far include only male workers. This leads to the third major source of foreign immigrants, which are the guest workers' families. In 1980, 2 million guest workers were in Germany, but the total number of foreign immigrants was around 4.5 million (ibid. 82). The forth source for foreign immigrants was asylum seekers (ibid. 82).

By now 19.3%, or 15.3 million, of Germany's inhabitants are of foreign descent (Deutscher Bundestag “Neunter Bericht” 18). Of those, 2.8 Million people are of Turkish descent (Raschke). And of those, 1.7 million are not German citizens (ibid., cf., which means they are not allowed to vote.

Since the end of World War II, Germany has been a country of migration without being acknowledged as such (Geddes 79). Germany lacked actual immigration policies although it was “the European country that was most open to international migration in the 1990s” (ibid.). Although there were already four million foreign immigrants as early as 1977, Germany's “political-cultural norm” and its self-understanding prohibited it from acting according to what was already real. This also led to policies that had influence on the immigrants and their inclusion and political participation.

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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
558 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Arizona State University – School of Social Transformation
Obama Özdemir Politik Deutschland USA Amerika Wahl Türkische Migranten African Americans Wahlverhalten Integration Partzipation Büdnis 90 Die Grünen Bundestag Geddes Heckmann King Hockenos




Titel: A German Obama? A Comparison of African Americans and German Immigrants of Turkish Descent in Terms of Integration and Political Participation