In Römer, Frankfurt, Merian Mahen fights for diversity. However, the green politician sees the term as problematic. In an interview, she explained why — and what meerkats and giraffes teach us about diversity.
Her appearance at last year’s book fair made Merianne Mahn, a Frankfurt city council member for the Greens, known nationwide. In the city parliament, she fights for diversity and accessibility — not just in the cultural committee she chairs. Diversity should play a role in all areas of politics, says the 32-year-old.
In an interview with hessenschau.de, Mahn explains exactly what diversity means – and why it’s not just about skin color.
hessenschau.de: Ms. Mahen, let’s start by explaining the term. What does diversity mean?
Merian Mahn: I think there are different definitions of diversity. It means diversity and the sum of differences. For me, diversity means anti-discrimination. I never talk about diversity without talking about discrimination. Because the only reason we talk about diversity is because it doesn’t exist. It does not exist because people are discriminated against.
Discrimination is not a nice term like diversity, so we like to call it diversity. Although there’s always something that resonates like: We want this a lot right now. The point is – diversity is not something we do or want. Diversity is already there. Non-diverse spaces are not diverse because there is a distinction.
hessenschau.de: Who can or should call themselves diversified?
Mahn: I think the problem starts with classifying some people as diverse. This shows that this term is incomprehensible, because the sum of the differences does not work when applied to the individual. I’m not diverse, I’m a gay black woman.
Variety is the sum of the differences, and that means you always have to look at the rooms. Who is there? And most importantly: who is not there? And why aren’t they there? If we ask ourselves this question, we can begin to talk about diversity.
Since it is not a trait that targets skin color, but a built political and social mission, we make use of the term “black” in this article. In this context, being black is associated with shared experiences of racism and does not mean being assigned to a racial group.
The end of more information
hessenschau.de: Divers means “anyone else”.
Mahn: Exactly. Which is why you can put a problem in that term, if you want to — and depending on how you feel on the day I’m doing it — and say, Well, what does that actually mean? I don’t like to talk about diversity without talking about the perceived norm.
The now assumed norm is white, male, no disability, read cis (cisgender refers to people whose gender identity corresponds to their birth registry gender, editor’s note). But this is just a social construct, because in reality it is not.
hessenschau.de: Could you go so far as to say that the generalization of the term diversity has something discriminatory about it?
Request: no. I don’t think the term diversity implies any distinction, but we Germans have a great knack for doing bad things and inventing nice words for it. We realize that we discriminate against most of the population and that is why we now use the word diversity to pretend that we want to change that. I think the majority, especially in Germany’s cultural and political scene, don’t really want to change that.
Free economy is very different because it is about making profits and ensuring a certain quality. Free economics has recognized that if you place yourself in a diverse and intersecting niche (different, concurrent and overlapping categories of discrimination against one person, editor’s note), you have high-quality end products, and you provide high-quality services. That is why it is so stupid that it is not so anywhere else.
hessenschau.de: Diversity in politics, diversity in advertising, even a model competition with Heidi Klum takes place under the title of diversity. Is diversity a trend or a buzzword?
Mahn: Diversity is an absolute buzzword. I realized this very well about five or six years ago, when variety suddenly became hip. I think it’s funny that Heidi Klum, for example, has diversity as the theme of the season because there is now a woman who is at least 20, one black and one not too skinny. This is called diversity, although one could also say that these three tokens are the norm.
It’s very contradictory, especially in Frankfurt, I think. If you go out to Zeil or the main train station, you will see the base. But then when you go to a board meeting somewhere, you find an exception in real life. But in positions of authority, again, this is the norm. This is the cause and explanation for many of our problems.
hessenschau.de: But you also have to say that Frankfurt is one of the most diverse cities in Germany. If we go to the Swabian Alb, for example, we might get a completely different picture there.
Mahn: Yes and no. Diversity is much greater from people of color and from diverse sounding names. It is also about different bodies. If we go to the Swabian Alb, we may see fewer people of color. But I doubt that we see fewer people with disabilities, that we see fewer people with different bodies.
Classicism is part of the distinction that occurs because there are so few points of view in rooms where all these topics are discussed – and that’s the silly thing. Frankfurt Parliament is the most diverse place I come to. We can look further – in the parliament of the state of Hesse, in the Bundestag. It is worth noting that we now have three black representatives in the Bundestag. But no one is talking about how many people in the Bundestag are in a wheelchair or have other visual disabilities.
hessenschau.de: So accessibility is part of diversity?
Mahn: I don’t like talking about accessibility. I say accessibility because if we make all spaces accessible to everyone, then diversity will automatically be there. Accessibility is often confused with a wheelchair ramp and it involves much more than that. Also because accessibility is often reduced to people with disabilities. But the truth is that we are all better off when we design spaces in a way that makes them accessible to everyone.
We need to get away from thinking that if we break down racism and make places more accessible to black people, we’re doing it for these people. No, it’s a comfortable space for everyone. When we deconstruct sexism, it’s also a comfortable space for everyone. And if we break down barriers or make accessibility better, make toilets more accessible, and make spaces more comfortable, that’s better for everyone.
hessenschau.de: That’s what you say. Groups of people whose supposed privileges have been revoked don’t see it that way, but they can feel it It is difficult to deal with.
Mahn: That’s totally fine. I don’t have a problem with stairs either, but if I don’t have to walk I think it’s cooler too. For example, going up the stairs from the subway in Konstablerwache. I like to use the lift there, even if I can use my legs.
It does not mean that you are not allowed to say something, you are not allowed to do something. Take it easy, but live with the consequences. I also live with the consequences of my environment.
hessenschau.de: When will true diversity occur?
Mahn: Oh, that’s easy. True diversity is achieved when all people are good wherever they want to be. Diversity does not mean that we are now putting up a banner and saying that everyone is welcome and must attend. Instead, conditions must be created so that people can also be good at them.
This is a kind of admiration for the book fair: to say that black women are welcome, but at the same time allude to the Nazis who want to kill them. This is a bit silly. As they say in the zoo’s meerkat barn: Elephants and giraffes are also welcome. But the needs of the giraffe cannot be met in this space.
We have to change that. We need to see who isn’t there. Then we have to invite experts from the communities who are not there. Not only affected. experts. We must ask: What do you need? And then we have to listen to them and believe them.
hessenschau.de: If you can wish…
Mahn: Just one thing?
hessenschau.de: Let’s start with the most important.
Mahn: I think the most important thing is to preserve the climate. But then … I would definitely like to see more diversity in German parliaments. And in all of them.
Simply because this is where decisions are made. Because this is where the bolts that keep the mechanism of this community running are triggered. That’s why I hope that if we reflect the diversity of society in Parliament, we can also reflect on politics, life, and reality for all. I hope that. Call me naive but I’m still young. I can do that.
led conversation Kathryn Kimble.
May 31 is Diversity Day for the tenth time. The National Action Day was initiated by the “Pact Diversity” association. Among the signatories to the “Pact on Diversity” is also the master. The motto of ARD’s Labor Day is “Together we are diversity”.
The end of more information
The end of more information