Racism comes in many forms. Some strains mask themselves in institutional legitimacy and free speech. Others advance claims of victimhood, loss of religious freedom, or champion assertions that they are defenders of local custom and tradition. Regardless of its shape, however, racism is always the product of two forces: ignorance and malevolence. Racism is perpetually ignorant because it relies on ahistorical constructions of difference to advance universal assertions of racial, cultural, social, or national superiority. In this manner, racism is also always malevolent because it seeks to impose hierarchical configurations of ‘race’ in an otherwise multicultural, multiethnic world.
Genocide is a familiar topic to Germans. Today, it is almost impossible to visit Germany and not confront remnants of the darker chapters of the country’s history. Germans interact with and recognize a variety of tangible reminders of the crimes committed by the Third Reich. Countless memorials stand as physical evidence of a violent “past that will not go away”—a past that a majority of Germans publically acknowledge should not go away.
But what about Germany’s other genocide? What place does its memory have in German society today? Between 1904 and 1908, German colonial soldiers carried out the first genocide of the twentieth century in what is now the present-day African state of Namibia (German Southwest Africa). This systematic campaign against Herero and Namaqua peoples—regarded by some scholars as the “Kaiser’s Holocaust”—claimed the lives of over 100,000 men, women, and children through starvation, imprisonment, exile, and murder. German colonial leaders’ impetus for the genocide arose during the so-called Herero-Namaqua Aufstand (Herero-Namaqua Uprising), which began in January 1904 when Herero leaders revolted against the German administration in Southwest Africa. The Namaqua joined the campaign several months later.