Blonde on blonde: State elections in Bavaria

So we have state elections here in Bavaria this week.

Yeah, I know. Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

There are political signs here and there around our small town, but not as many as you’d expect. A surprisingly high number are for the nationalist, anti-immigration Republican Party. I say “surprisingly” because the Republicans only got between 2% and 3% of the vote in the last election. On the other hand, that’s compared to less than 1% nationwide, so I guess they’re focussing their efforts in a state where they have some small chance.

I suppose I should talk about how the Landtag is dominated by the CSU, and has been forever, and about the internal power struggles there, and what it’s like living in a de facto one party state. But, eh, don’t feel like it. So instead I’m going to talk about blonde children in campaign ads.
Last week we had the first day of school. Germans make a huge deal out of this, at least for the six-year-old kids who are arriving from kindergarten. It’s rather sweet! The kids get special cones full of school supplies mixed with toys and treats, and also a nice welcoming ceremony with music and lots of picture-taking.

Now, my German is not so strong. So during the ceremony, I sort of drifted to the back of the crowd of parents and kept an eye on the baby. (We have a baby.) And then, because I got bored, I counted the different hair colors in my son’s class. 21 six-year-olds broke down as follows:

Blonde: 6 or 7
Light or medium brown: 7 or 8
Red: 1
Dark brown: 6
Black: 0

Okay, so: all the political parties have posters with children on them. Not all posters have children, but each party has at least one that does.

Now, the Republicans — “Unser Land fur Unser Kind!” — have a poster showing five kids, of which four are blonde. Hmm. The Socialists, three kids, blonde/light brown/dark brown — okay. The CSU have a poster showing five kids… and they’re all blonde. Assuming my son’s class is a representative sample (not unreasonable — we’re near the geographic and demographic center of the country), this is pretty unlikely from a random sample.

Of course, political ads aren’t random! So the CSU is trying to say something. But what?

Also of interest: official German government literature makes a point of showing the occasional nonwhite face. So, when you go into the local Landsamt or Stadtamt, and you pick up a pamplet about, say, vocational training, the front cover will have a photograph of a dozen workers, and at least one will be obviously not-ethnic-German. The nicest example of this was a poster I saw in the Bad Neustadt state insurance office. It showed half a dozen attractive young adults, very ethnically mixed — one black, one swarthy-Mediterranean, one Eurasian — with the simple caption “typically German”.

But that’s official government iconography. What about the political parties?

Well, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The Socialists, the Greens, and the Ecological Democrats all have posters showing nonwhites, or at least people who look not-quite-ethnically-German. The other parties just don’t. Everyone in the CSU, NDP, FDP and Left posters is German. (In some cases ostentatiously so — there’s an NDP poster that seems to consist simply of a busty blonde in a traditional outfit. As an American, this makes me think “St. Pauli Girl, which is a positive association but maybe not the one they had in mind?)

Here’s the interesting thing: while some parties have posters showing a few non-German-looking adults, not one single poster anywhere shows a non-German child. Kids, in German political iconography, are always white, always German-looking, and usually blonde.

Why? I don’t know, but here’s a guess. The nonwhites in official state publications and in campaign posters are always very non-threatening: either attractive, very respectable-looking, or both. You could imagine them as colleagues, friends, neighbors. But kids, no matter how cute, carry an implicit message: there are a bunch of us here. We’re going to be here for a while. And your kids will be growing up with us, like it or not. Dark kids raise all sorts of fraught questions about things like immigration and integration. The parties of the left don’t wish to raise these questions; the parties of the right might, but not in a way that would make a good campaign poster with kids.

Or so it seems from a small town in northern Bavaria. Thoughts?

21 thoughts on “Blonde on blonde: State elections in Bavaria

  1. Psst.. conservatives are racist!

    Seriously, I don’t know about the hair stuff. Is it generally that rightwing posters feature more blondes or was that just one example? The selection of one type of White kid over others would feel rather Naziesque..

    The non-ethnic kids posters makes me think that Germany still thinks of itself as an ethno-nation.

  2. I remember the last time I was in Germany and went to vote. I received the most annoying looks that said:

    “She can’t be German. Why is she here?”

    Once I open my mouth, the assumption is that I was one of the “lucky” ones that was allowed to naturalize. The possibility that I was born in Germany and that German is my native language and culture.

  3. I dunno – by my standards, most Germans look dark and swarthy (not that there’s anything wrong with it). My default assumption is that an occasional Teutonic blonde owes his/her hair colour solely to bi-component methods. But then again, I’m characteristically Nordic myself.

    Anyway. Caucasian children often start out as blonde, and get darker when they grow up. Hell, even the colour of the eyes changes over time. So, of course the children in the posters are more likely to be blonde than the adults who are featured in the posters.

    As for the question why the election posters don’t feature non-Caucasian children… have you considered the possibility that immigrant families _themselves_ may also find the idea of allowing their children to be used in political propaganda slightly repulsive?


    J. J.

  4. “Caucasian children often start out as blonde, and get darker when they grow up.”

    …this is why I mentioned the breakdown of my son’s class. Blonde kids aren’t a majority, or even a plurality.

    Doug M.

  5. JJ,

    As to your last question – doesn’t this lead to the assumption that non-Caucasian people who live in Germany are “immigrant families”?

    There are many people of color in Germany who are not immigrants. While some immigrated as part of the post-45 labor scarcity, others have called Germany home for numerous generations.

    Why would showing a more accurate ethnic representation of Germany be repulsive? I grew up with absolutely no representation of children or adults who look like me in the media. Well, there were various 30 second crime reporting clips on the nightly news. I would have appreciated seeing someone who looked like me represented in a positive light in the media.

    Showing more diversity in campaign media would be a great step towards illustrating diversity in the electorate.

  6. This reminds me of the old joke, that going by the actors and announcers who appear on Spanish-language television in the United States one would be excused for thinking that Mexico is part of Scandinavia.

  7. Kathrin, I don’t think that I stated that “showing a more accurate ethnic representation of Germany would be repulsive”.

    What I stated was that immigrant families themselves – especially those of the first generation – may find the idea of posing for political advertisements slightly off-putting. People who are busy integrating and getting accustomed to the society may not be all that interested in making statements or getting involved in local politics.

    In light of potentially violent racism, the desire of the immigrant families to keep a low profile may even be perfectly understandable. I admit that I haven’t followed the German events all that closely in the past years, but I did spend time in the country during the ’90s, when certain events in Solingen received attention.

    As for your first question, well, good point. Non-Caucasian people are obviously not inevitably immigrants by definition.

    That’s something that I should have actually remembered for personal reasons. I live in Finland, and the first pediatrician that I remember having from my childhood back in the ’70s was black.

    I don’t have the slightest idea where he was from – either from the United States or from Africa, but he spoke Finnish perfectly.

    After that, well, there followed a period in my life when I thought that doctors in general were black.


    J. J.

  8. JJ,

    The doctor you saw might actually have been from Finland. The color of his skin should not preclude him from that. I am a woman of color. German is my native culture and language. I was born and grew up in Germany. I also speak fluent English. However, I do always get “where are you from” when I am at home in Germany, and I find the question ridiculous, given that Germany is my home.


  9. You can’t assume that the distribution of haircolour is even. If i look at my country, which is much smaller than germany, than the people in the northern part are mostly blond while the in the south of my country blonds are rare and mostly bottle blond.

  10. From the New York Tribune, August 22, 1886: “Professor Rudolf Virchow, the learned surgeon and physicist, has lately prepared some interesting tables concerning the color of the hair, eyes and skin among the German schoolchildren. Six million seven hundred and fifty-eight thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven pupils were examined, being nearly four-fifths of all the youth of ‘A. B. C.’ age. Of these 2,149,027 — 31.08 per cent — belonged to the blond type, 949,822 — 14.03 per cent — to the brunette, and 3,659,978 — 54.15 per cent — to the blond-brunette mixed type, distinctly showing that more than one-half of the entire number are in the latter category, two-thirds of the remaining 46 per cent being blonds. The territorial division of the principal types corresponds accurately to the geographical boundaries of North, South and Middle Germany: 43.3-36 per cent of the pure blonds being found in the northern districts, 32.5-28.3 per cent in the middle, and 24.5-18 per cent in the southern ones. The River Main thus comes an anthropological bias of significance. In general, the further south one goes the more brunettes he meets — South Bavaria muster but 14 per cent blonds. Among the 75,376 Hebrew children the mixed type predominates also, the pure brunettes outnumber the pure blonds, however, three-fold. Whereas the relation of the blonds to the brunettes among the Christians is 31.8 to 14, that among the Jewish children is as 11.29 to 42. The gray-eyed and dark-haired predominate in the mixed type. Many other results were brought to light of more interest, however, to Germany, than to the world at large. Professor Virchow has devoted years to study of this material and his deductions may be accepted as categorical.”

    Yes, I just happened to have a copy lying around. Sue me.

  11. Uh, Kathrin, as I mentioned, the event that I mentioned took place back in the _1970s_. The doctor was about the same age as my mother, which means that he was definitely of the pre-war generation.

    How familiar are you with the patterns of migration to Finland or the history of African-originated people in Finland? Yes, he might have been born and raised in this country – hey, anything is possible – but the odds against that are truly astronomical.

    No offense, but I know something about the relevant statistics – this would be one of those things that I do for living – and on this issue, I really don’t think that I need to be illuminated. On the other hand, it’s certainly plausible that his country of origin might have been Sweden or Denmark. Or, for that matter, as you said, Germany.

    … assuming that he had been, say, Russian or a Tatar, he probably would have been a native inhabitant of Finland. _These days_, sure, the default assumption for a black person would be that he/she is a native Finn.


    J. J.

  12. Correction: that last sentence should obviously read “the default assumption for a black person who’s fluent in Finnish”.

    As I said, the age of the person would also be of some importance in making that assumption.

    Not that I would be particularly interested in “where the person would be from”, because well, right now, he/she is here.


    J. J.

  13. There is considerable evidence that placed people of African descent throughout Europe prior to the 20th Century. This evidence challenges accepted epistemological assumptions about the demographics and demographic changes of Europe over the last century.

    I am not going to hijack another person’s blog, so if you would like me to point you in the direction of this evidence, email me.

  14. Well, interesting point Doug :). I find rather amusing the fact that in every boy/girl group comming out of “Deutschland Sucht den Superstar” or similar mediatic events (Big Brother etc.) 3 out of 5 members are generally non enthic Germans. The distribution among those 3 non ethnic Germans is geographically perfect: 1 is mongoloid, 1 mediterranian and 1 african. Statistically such a distribution is of course impossible as immigrant patterns in Germany are quite different. Anyway seeing the difference between the image that medias project and the reality led me to think that even in American movies the typical diversity of ethnicity-color (think of black and white cop type of movie etc.) is just a mediatic projection. Simply put, how the country should be, not how it is. The party-posters you see are also projections that these parties are offering to voters. However, living in a German metropolis I can say that – maybe because of unrealistic models of integration offered by the media 🙂 – the social acceptance of emigrants is rising especially in the younger generation.

  15. I have a passing familiarity with the corpus that you’ve now decided to bring up, Kathrin. I’m also well-versed enough to state with some certainty that the writings you mention are not relevant when it comes to this one particular childhood memory of mine.

    We were talking of one single black doctor, probably born in the 1930s; if one still wishes to insist that he may have been a native Finn, born and raised in this country… well, one would have to bear a rather heavy burden of evidence in order to support such a claim.

    Yes, there were black people all over Europe in the early modern age. Precisely what one might expect, given the colonial involvement and normal migration. This, however, is _Finland_, the forgotten ass-end of the Continent.

    I’ll close the discussion here, but if you want to, I can e-mail you at a later date.


    J. J.

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  17. Most Germans are dark and swarthy???This is the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard. I have lived and gone to school in various European nations for over 10 years. The reason you see mostly blonde or light hiared children, i snot because of some cockamamie left wing nut liberal “racist” accusation, but because that’s what the majority of Germans are!

    Fortunately, Germans and many other Europeans aren’t subjected to the ridiculous left wing communist stigma that the US is always subject to, forced to always have one woman and one black man in each and every add because of the racial paranoia.

    It so happens that over 60% of Germans are blonde or light haired. Next time, do some research before making asses of yourselves about “Germans are dark and swarthy”. Look up statistics on light hair color among Germans and Poles, it happens to be above 60% in both cases. You only need to look at their football teams (yes, I do mean football and not “soccer”)

    You probably saw Italians or Spaniards and didn’t realize you needed a lesson in geography, like most Americans!

  18. You presume too much and are snarky yetrest ground none of it in fact! I was born and raised in germany and not all germans are light with blue eyes! Perhaps its worth taking a trip there versus listening to antiquated and nostalgic notions about what germany used to be!

  19. You presume too much and are snarky yetrest ground none of it in fact! Iam actually german, not american! I was born and raised in germany and not all germans are light with blue eyes! Perhaps its worth taking a trip there versus listening to antiquated and nostalgic notions about what germany used to be!

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